I got a bit confused as I wandered into the conference room on the top floor of the New Otani Hotel next to Makuhari Messe just outside Tokyo. I was supposed to see Crackdown 2, but although the logo on the posters looked familiar the title said Riot Act 2. A second later I recalled that it was the Japanese title of Crackdown, and producer James Cope explained that the reason for this was that Sega held on to the trademark of an old Mega Drive (Genesis) title in Japan. Naming your games without infringing on any rights is becoming harder with every passing year...
But let's start from the top and explain how it came to be that James Cope and his mates at Ruffian Games got the call to create Crackdown 2, while the studio who made the original, Real Time Worlds, were left behind.
As rumours of a Crackdown sequel began circulating late last year it stirred up some drama in the small town of Dundee in Scotland. Microsoft had initially opted not to let original developers Real Time Worlds do the sequel and the developer moved on to work on the soon to be released APB (All Points Bulletin). However, Crackdown became a bit of a surprise hit on the Xbox 360, and fans started demanding a sequel. Meanwhile, a new outfit consisting of numerous members from the original Crackdown team and people from Xen Studios started Ruffian Games in the same small Scottish town. Were they making a sequel to Crackdown?
Rumours said so, but Real Time Worlds when confronted with this claimed they were still talking to Microsoft about the possibility of a sequel and Real Time World's Dave Jones expressed that he would be very disappointed if he wasn't involved with a Crackdown sequel and that he didn't think that Microsoft would want to damage their relationship. Turns out Microsoft wanted Crackdown 2 to be made more than they valued the relationship with Dave Jones and Real Time Worlds, since Ruffian Games are indeed making Crackdown 2.
Fans of the original should remain calm as most of the lead positions on the team responsible for Crackdown 2 worked on the original. And only time will tell whether Microsoft made a wise decision in funding Ruffian Games instead of renewing their relationship with Real Time Worlds.
Crackdown sees us returning to Pacific City, but a lot has transpired during the ten years that have passed since the Agency cleaned it up and assumed control in the first game. Mutants or freaks from the research facility roam the city and are completely in control during the night, while the city and its inhabitants have descended into full blown anarchy.
Ruffian Games allowed us to try the 16 player multiplayer component and it was a very high paced and high flying experience. Although it was labelled a simple death match it came with a special Crackdown twist. Not only does the premise of super charged special agents jumping like a Lunar Mike Powell mix things up, but Ruffian have also added jump pads that sends you flying through the air in an even more gravity defying manner. These pads can be moved, and the fact that they always come in pairs also means player movement can be predicted and traps set. It's always hard to judge a multiplayer component from just a brief session with others who are equally inexperienced, but from the brief testing it is apparent that Crackdown 2 will at least bring something different to the table when it comes to multiplayer.
The main campaign and story mode is still playable in co-operative mode, but this time up to four players can take on the challenge of reclaiming Pacific City. The co-operative component has also transferred into vehicle design where there is now a huge armour plated truck with a turret. Of course, given the conditioned of Pacific City, armour plated is a bit of a stretched. It's a truck that has been equipped with whatever piece of sheet metal someone could scavenge and that is something that runs throughout the design of Crackdown 2. The colour palette is still slightly cartoonish, but there is a heavier and more worn feel to the environments. Ruffian Games have also opted to build more verticality into the game, although the main layout of Pacific City will have a familiar feel to it although a lot has happened to change the look of it.
"We wanted to create a feeling of familiarity, and we wanted to be able to tell a story through the city and it's something that we are really proud of the fact that you're going to recognise key locations in the game, you're going to revisit them, but it's all new", adds producer James Cope.
There will also be underground locations in Crackdown 2. Adding another layer to Pacific City. It's a bit like an onion that way. A rather tasty one.
Overall it looks like Crackdown 2 is an evolution of the promise shown in the original game. Crackdown was always meant to be a series spanning over several games, and with a solid foundation in some simple, pure and fun gameplay mechanics such as jumping up buildings and kicking cars we sure want to return to Pacific City regardless of what the developers are called. Or whatever the game is called for that matter. Riot Act has a rather nice ring to it.