July 12, 2010

Check Your Enthusiasm – Crackdown 2

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , — Jamie Love @ 5:24 pm

Crackdown 2
It would be easy to suggest that Pacific City is one of the harder urban spaces on the videogame map for citizens to inhabit, but more accurate to paint it as a battle zone on the losing side of regaining any measure of sanity – aptly demonstrated by an obligatory introduction cinematic that invites the eyes to feast on an ultra-violent spectacle.

Ruffian’s Crackdown 2 plagues Pacific City with the tightly organized violence of the terrorist group Cell fighting against the authoritarian fist of The Agency players work for, flavored further by a setting sun that brings hordes of mutant zombie “Freaks” to the streets to infect the remaining citizens.

Continuing with the straightforward agenda of desperate times calling for desperate measures, it takes a new breed of genetically engineered enforcer to retake such streets, and players fill the heavy boots of The Agency’s human RoboCop – with the added agility needed to patrol Pacific City by street and roof top equally.

With all the turmoil immediately awaiting players in this sandbox, the most surprising aspect is how little is offered to merit the sequel. Crackdown 2 creates a vortex where time becomes meaningless not because it has no value, but rather because of just how much time is wasted in the mix of tedium and monotony that provides damning evidence that this revisit is, at best, a first draft toward a game worth a second of the player’s attention.

Crackdown 2
Crackdown’s bread and butter is offering player’s a natural evolution of skills while other titles fumble at introducing RPG elements into lackluster action releases. Crackdown 2 also doesn’t stray from the well worn action elements any sandbox veteran knows, mixing memories of web-crawlers with shades of GTA, or Mercenaries, or take your pick.

The result is that even when it feels as if you’re not really accomplishing anything while touring the city, you probably are making at least some minimal contribution to your character. Whether driving, shooting, or throwing objects across the street, any incident that reduces the undesirable elements within the city adds to skill gauges that keep making the player better at those activities along with others.

Players can also scale up any building with protrusions like ledges and windows in order to jump across rooftops and locate a healthy spread of agility orbs, as well as discovering hidden orbs and a set reserved for Xbox LIVE play. All of it adds up to players increasingly finding themselves capable of running faster, growing stronger and more deadly proficient, and jumping further to land on the pavement with an deafening boom that leaves dents that might make the Incredible Hulk nod with approval. In so many ways players become a super hero, complete with the bad PR so many costumed heroes begin their careers with.

Crackdown 2
That pretty well covers the interesting bits of the game as players are empowered to run through a near plastic city, a rough model that lacks any of the real character that so many other sandbox titles attempt to market themselves off of. Pacific City is the big empty, a place where citizens exist merely as blockages between you and the action, and beyond scaling the buildings, there’s nothing to really attach ones’ self to. It’s problematic, because for about the same amount of money I suspect one could catch a bus to Michigan and see a more authentic and impressionable level of economic urban devastation up close and personal.

Acting as a counterweight to just how much power players gain as their skills develop is a bugged targeting system – impressive for the way it allows players to quickly switch between targeted points on opponents vital limbs, miserable for the way it fails to target with any reason.

The best way I can describe this problem is to say that if an enemy is five feet away, pressing the targeting button most often locks your aim on the much more immediate danger of a stationary vehicle down the road, while that now ignored enemy empties clips into your chest. This can most often be worked around by simply kicking the crap out of enemies with fists that literally kill, but that should be a choice, not a necessity of poor design.

Crackdown 2
I can’t begin to imagine the purpose Crackdown 2 is meant to serve, what its thesis might be, or where it might have possibly derailed from some original design intention, and not for a considerable effort on my part – though a healthy mix of earnest industry assessment and sharpened cynicism says the money of course.

I’ve often been impressed by Microsoft’s ability to jam titles out the door, offering releases that perhaps didn’t shine as brightly as more expensive big budget Sony projects, but nonetheless offered interesting diversions and came out much quicker while leaving nickles in the change jar to develop even more – but this dog just won’t hunt.

That I’d have to take it online to engage in multiplayer thrill kills over those same roof tops, or have friends join in my own single-player game doesn’t change the fact that the thrill is gone from Pacific City. That doesn’t mean it is impossible that players won’t find entertainment there, so stop writing your hate mail and keep reading because it only means that unless marketed as a solely online affair and priced accordingly that angle still isn’t going to cut it here.

Some long term DLC fueled emphasis on salvaging what many have wasted on this title simply isn’t something I’d ever recommend banking on. Nor would I ever advise investing considerable time into a title to push through to better bouts of play – I truly hate arguments that defend games based on making a mortgage payment with my time.

The straight fact is that Crackdown 2’s mission structure, which asks players to activate power nodes, destroy a freak lair and then rinse-and-repeat ad-nausea, unquestionably makes Crackdown 2 the purgatory ride at Xbox 360 land this year.

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