Sometimes when you review a game, it's easy - you play it, you write a review, you smack a score on the whole thing and call it a day. I'd love to do that with Crackdown 2 and for the first few hours with the game I was quite certain that it would be just like that. I went to bed content, the first few lines of my upcoming review popping into my head. I planned to use the word "mediocre" at some point.
But no, things are not that easy with Crackdown 2 because what was first a few hours of glaring mediocrity turned into a giggling, violence-filled action fest with guns, high jumps and hordes of zombies. And cars. Super fast cars called "supercars". And while some things still fell on the mediocre side of the review line, I had fun. Oh, I had fun.
Here's the thing - Crackdown 2 will not hold your hand, will not present you with some nicely narrated missions and then tell you where to go next or what to do. It will just dump you in the middle of a big city, give you a few starting pointers and then let you scamper along to find your own fun. Sure, there are objectives, and some form of story, but the game won't tell you in which order to do them or if you should even care about actually doing them.
Take the cars, for example. The more people you run over (enemy people, that is, not civilians), the higher your driving level gets. The higher that gets, the more powerful vehicles you can request at drop points. You can also store vehicles that you hijack, either from the enemy - the terrorist organization Cell - or from the perfectly innocent bystanders. Then you can request these vehicles as well. It doesn't really serve a purpose, except for it sometimes being fun to drive a Volkswagen bus off a cliff. Which I guess is purpose enough.
As a free roaming action shooter, Crackdown 2 works pretty well and the shooting is better than in a lot of titles in the genre - even if the auto-aim can decide to aim at stuff you didn't even knew it could latch on to and you find yourself shooting at cars hundreds of feet away while a Cell-member is pumping you full of shotgun shells inches from your face. It's mostly about bouncing around, climbing tall buildings, collecting orbs that upgrade how far and high you can jump...and then shooting people.
It's absolutely brilliant when it manages to mix all of these at the same time.
At the same time, the lack of direction and the sense of repetition both work against Crackdown 2 from time to time. It's not really good for longer sessions, unless you use the seamless co-op mode to dive into a chaotic romp through the city with a friend. It's a big sandbox, absolutely, but I often found myself stuck in a rut - aimlessly bouncing from rooftop to rooftop, hunting for orbs, attacking whatever tactical location I accidentally stumbled into.
That's when you take a break, go pet your dog, read a book and then come back and giggle yourself silly as you jump into your supercar and run over as many zombies as possible in one pass.
There's no real AI to speak of, most of the time enemies either are mindless zombies or act like they are. While Cell terrorists often call out "grenade!" when one lands at their feet, it's not like they bother to actually move away from it. Neither does the big, armored man that is rushing towards them carrying a pickup truck seem to impress them.
Crackdown 2, taken in moderation, can be incredibly addictive. Every kill nets you experience points in one of several categories, depending on how you carried it out, and after a break for an hour or two I keep finding myself back at it. It's not a game I would lock myself in my apartment for a weekend for, but it's not a game I want to dismiss outright either.
I always thought that some critics misunderstood Prototype, that the game design in that game was centered around a firm understanding of "fun" - that from the moment you pick up the controller you're in the action in one way or another. Crackdown 2 tries to do the same thing, but fumbles the ball a bit before reaching the goal. It still lets you free to do whatever you want, but a rather annoying narrator (your mileage might vary, he can be hilarious at times) and a camera that refuses to play nice at times can get in the way just as much as the repetition can.
Some people have said that if you enjoyed the first game, you might enjoy Crackdown 2. I wouldn't know, I never played the first one (insert gasps of shock here). If you can live with the rather bland graphics and at times repetitive gameplay, if you are able to craft your own fun or just enjoy creating complete havoc with three friends (or strangers)...then Crackdown 2 is a game for you. If you want a more directed game experience, there's a rather big chance you will hate it. Not even throwing cars at zombies can change that.