Cleaning Up The City: Crackdown 2

The original Crackdown was something of a sleeper hit with gamers. Sure, tens of thousands picked up the title on its first day of release, but that probably had more to do with the included Halo 3 beta key than any genuine affection for the game concept. Although many copies were destined to end up on the used shelf at local Gamestations, those who actually gave the game a chance discovered a manic, imaginative open-world alternative to GTA, one which forgoes narrative for sandbox lunacy. It won over players by being over and above one thing: fun.

Given the fondness with which gamers now remember the first title then, Crackdown 2 has a lot to live up to. With new start-up Ruffian Games tackling the sequel while original developer Realtime Worlds focuses on their MMO crime-drama APB, the pressure is even greater. We’ve heard little from the Dundee-based development studio regarding the anticipated release – a brief CG trailer made a welcome appearance at E3, but there was no gameplay to be seen – so I was delighted when it made a surprise appearance at this years NEoN, which Ready-Up attended in full. Rich Welsh, an AI developer and gameplay director at Ruffian Games, joined me for a demo of the game and an exclusive hands-on.

Freaks pose a real threat, even to the super-soldiers of the Agency.
Freaks pose a real threat, even to the super-soldiers of The Agency!

It’s been ten years since the super-soldiers of the Agency cleaned up the streets of Pacific City in the first Crackdown. Players with a eidetic memory might recall that in one of the later “missions” of that game, a group of mutants were released after the defeat of scientist Dr. Baltazar Czernenko. Apparently, these mutants were carrying a highly contagious virus, which has since transformed the residents of the city into shambling monsters. The remaining survivors, enraged over the situation, have banded together to form the anti-Agency terrorist group, “The Cell”. In response, The Agency has enacted “Project Sunburst”, their plan to regain control of the city and curb the infection. This is where the player comes in.

While the narrative wasn’t the strongest facet of the original game, this premise serves to push a new mission structure forward for the sequel. A greater variety of mission types are promised, but more interesting is the way in which player actions will affect other missions and players. In one example from the main demo, an agent is shown turning a factory valve to resupply fuel to a region of one of the islands. This, in turn, causes the gas supply lines to go live, creating a potential fire hazard for other players should they face oncoming gun fire around the factory. The potential for stacking dangerous elements between missions is staggering, and it’s all in the name of chaos. Some criticised the first Crackdown for its lack of enemy variety, with simplistic armed AI providing the core opposition. It was often too easy to escape topside under heavy fire for recovery, but players would be foolish to underestimate the freaks of Crackdown 2 on this basis; not only can they climb buildings, but they’ll chase you across rooftops and hunt you in packs to finish you off. Thankfully, new orbs will be available to aid the progression of your character, but unfortunately, Rich couldn’t detail what these do or what new abilities they might entail.

Combat, too, is seeing a revamp. The weapon lock-on system from before will make a return, but a smarter camera and a smoother transition between platforming and gunning down foes looks to make for a tighter experience. Fans of the melee power that being a super-soldier offers will be pleased to hear that the game is taking cues from InFamous and even Batman: Arkham Asylum, as hand-to-hand is now 360 degrees and combo-based, and includes such devastating (and satisfying) moves as an explosive ground-pound!

The unpredictable new fuel canisters will likely cause all sorts of chaos, especially as they can be spawned in "Keys to the City 2"
The unpredictable new fuel canisters will likely cause all sorts of chaos, especially as they can be spawned as part of the promised "Keys to the City 2" DLC

It would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t have some new toys to back up this combat though, and it’s in this regard that Ruffian may be most confident. Have you ever seen Minority Report? Do you remember the non-lethal, tension-powered “knock-back cannon” that the protagonist used to blast away the officers he was evading during the film? This is analogous to the new UV Gun in Crackdown 2, which is especially effective against the freaks, tearing them apart with brutal efficiency. But the real star of the show (and perhaps the entire demo) are the stunning new Mag Grenades, capable of tethering together objects, LittleBigPlanet-style. Imagine this scenario: you’re being chased by a crowd of freaks, low on ammo, and have been backed into an alleyway. You place a Mag Grenade on a nearby parked car, and then attach grenades to each of the two walls of the alleyway. By picking up the car and moving, you in effect create a functional catapult, with which you can mush the opposition against the side-walk by releasing the car. Incredible. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the vast potential this has for co-operative sandbox meta-games.

Ruffian is also aiming to spice up the less popular elements of its predecessor, such as the use of vehicles. With agents able to leap buildings in a single bound, driving skill progression was somewhat redundant in the first Crackdown. However, with hordes of freaks and The Cell populating the streets en masse, Ruffian is hoping the new heavily-armoured, turret-equipped transports will prove incentive enough to get behind the wheel. Different vehicles will be available to each faction, each with their own strengths and weaknesses; Rich also let slip that helicopters will be involved in a big way. I’m not complaining.

Scott Crackdown 2

Perhaps the most significant new feature concerns the multiplayer offerings. Like the first game, the base campaign will of course be fully co-operative, but fans of anarchy will be pleased to hear that the player count has been upped to four. More surprising, however, is the inclusion of a set of competitive modes, including eight-player PVE and 16-player PVP. I was fortunate enough to be given hands-on time with the latter mode, and it’s as chaotic as you might expect; players fight over power-ups (including an invulnerability orb) and over-the-top weapons in bordered-off sections of the main game map, blasting one-another from afar or brawling up close until one man falls. The item balance isn’t quite right yet – the winning tactic in every match I took part in involved camping over the invulnerability orb – but what’s there is promising.

Graphically, upon first impression, not much has changed in Pacific City. The visual style of the game still invokes the bold and colourful outlines of the first game, albeit with greater attention to detail, especially in the aspects of modeling, texturing and animation. The rendering engine, I’m told, has been rebuilt from scratch; this has allowed the developers to not only greatly extend the game draw distance – I noted that buildings and landmarks on other islands were much easier to identify high up – but to also generate vast crowds of enemies in the city suburbs easily. Lighting has been improved as well, with an altered day/night cycle highlighting this in the demo. This has gameplay ramifications, too – the freaks will become a far more dangerous threat at night. Watch your back.

With a greater focus on the underused elements of its forebearer while also expanding on its strengths, Crackdown 2 looks to be a real riot when it is released in the early Summer of next year.

I want to thank Rich Welsh for his time, as well as his insight into the development of Crackdown 2 and the background of Ruffian Studios. Thanks, man!







One response to “Cleaning Up The City: Crackdown 2”

  1. Tony avatar

    I’m proud to say I bought Crackdown entirely on its own strengths, and never even bothered with the Halo 3 beta included within. Looking forward to this one.

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