The past week began with me wholly immersed in Super Mario Galaxy 2; I was anxious to get through the first batch of 120 Stars before the arrival of Crackdown 2 later in the week. Tuesday night saw the final two stars (including the terrifying cousin of Luigi’s Purple Coins) succumb; a replay of the divine final level then unlocked the Green Star Challenge, another 120 collectible stars. Then I discovered that playing through levels as Luigi unlocks staff ghosts, full of nifty tricks & techniques… so now the target is to play through the whole game again as Luigi, collect all the Green Stars, and polish off whatever else gets in the way.
So – a long term project, then.
Thanks to JB Hifi reliably breaking street-date again, Crackdown 2 was welcomed into The Moobaarn… and first impressions were mixed. The opening cutscenes felt muddled, and first steps were disappointing; the once cheery and vibrant Pacific City was now decaying, decrepit. The distinct gangs of the original were sorely missed, replaced by an anonymous night-time foe that annoyed me so much in my early progress that I feared the in-game darkness.
But, technically, the game looked amazing; the graphics harken back to those on display during the original Crackdown‘s development, a gorgeously solid cel-shaded-lite. And the draw-distance is incredible… incredible. Looking from atop the Agency Tower, it’s possible to spot details of action within each of the three islands… it’s really quite an amazing achievement.
The gameplay, though…
Initially, I was nonplussed – run here, cause some damage, open up progress to the next little bit. But then comes the first big Freak battle, defending your beacon from the oncoming hordes – and I’m lost. I get mercilessly pummelled, confidence shattered, and my desire to continue evaporates.
So I decided to sidestep those particular battles and play the rest of the game instead. Orb collection, rooftop races, stunt rings… all the side-quests that are so memorable from the original. And that was genuinely enjoyable – my OCD kicked in, I started collecting away like a busy little bee, and the hours flew by.
Strength was my first attribute to max out at Level 5, unleashing a wonderful ground-pound that has since become my signature get-out-of-trouble move. Agility soon followed, allowing all the freedom associated with unrestricted bounding around the city… but it also allows access to the biggest gamebreaker in Crackdown 2: the helicopter.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the helicopter, I really do, but its inclusion in this game (along with the new “orb-sonar” ping that can be performed using the minimap) butchers the OCD-aspects that made the original Crackdown so satisfying. It’s now possible to cruise around the world eyeballing for Agility Orbs, making the quest to find all 500 quite straightforward (it took me less than four days, maybe less than 20 hours game-time). Hidden Orbs are a little trickier, but a regimented scan-and-sweep dug them up without too many problems.
So – with most of the game done (except for those loathsome beacon protection battles), OCD thirst quenched, and my head sore from beating it against the wall from the frustration of some of the later rooftop races, I was pretty down on Crackdown 2. I considered it a passable attempt at carrying on the legacy of the first game (my game of the year from 2007, I remind you), but bits had been changed for the worst without any improvements being added. Kinda like No More Heroes 2 in that regard, I guess, but nowhere near as disappointing…
But still disappointing.
And then a friend of mine popped online – he’d snaffled Crackdown 2 last Tuesday. I ping him; his world or mine? He joins my game, and all of a sudden everything changes. We leap into beacon defence situations and blast through them with barely a scratch. We fall back into old Crackdown habits of attempting a silly stunt then failing then blowing the crap out of each other with rockets, then attempting the stunt again. It’s brilliant with a partner by your side; all the depressing bits about the game are forgotten, you revel in the fun. My game gets finished in short order, so we switch to his, more objectives conquered and Orbs sought and experiments performed. Give me a pair of mag grenades, a helicopter, and an SUV, and I’ll show you two men laughing their arses off at the result.
I’d be hard pressed to think of a game that manages to change so drastically with the presence of a second person; Crackdown 2 manages to transform from a grind-to-the-finish experience into something that I wish I was playing right now. Sure, there’s still a stack of Achievements that need achieving, races to be run, and rings to be leapt through, but what I really want to do is grab a UV Shotgun in one hand and Cluster Grenades in the other, sitting in a car suspended beneath a helicopter until the pilot takes a turn too quickly tossing my SUV into the heli blades destroying them both, resulting in a five minute rampage around Pacific City while I try to stuff a grenade down his throat. Then we beat up bad guys.
What a great week :)