(This is something of an experiment with structure and word-count. Your pardon is pre-emptively begged.)

CRACKDOWN 2 (Xbox 360)

A free-roaming third-person action game, Crackdown 2 casts you as the ultraviolent cyborg enforcer for a fascist police state. Your mission is to keep the citizenry of Pacific City safe by bounding around the streets and rooftops raining ballistic death on the mysterious monstrous “Freaks” who roam the city at night and the malcontents who roam it by day. This is exactly as much fun as it sounds. And a useful insight as to what the country will look like after 5 years of Tory government OMG TEH SATIRE.

Crackdown 2 gives you a big, varied gameworld to fool around in. While the setting lacks the authenticity, nuance and humour of the Grand Theft Auto games which were an obvious influence, Pacific City’s neighbourhoods range from rickety shanty-towns to glittering skyscrapers with each district presenting a different challenge to traverse effectively.  The game has an attractive comic-book aesthetic – all flat colours and thick black outlines – which rather suits its knockabout b-movie storyline and over-the-top action.
Sensibly given the multitude of threats it throws at you, Crackdown 2 starts you with superhuman strength, resilience and leaping ability then only makes you stronger as the game goes on. Killing enemies bestows “experience points” which improve whichever method you used to carry out the kill – firearms, explosives, melee or vehicles. Your foot-speed and jumping are primarily increased via collecting “agility orbs” which are scattered on rooftops around the city, the collection of which becomes almost a game in its own right – part free-climbing, part scavenger hunt.  You’re never explicitly directed to carry out a specific mission, rather the game scatters tasks to be performed all over the city and leaves you to pick your own path through them. However, they are all variants on a few basic themes – vehicular checkpoint races, footraces over the rooftops, attacking an enemy base or defending a point from waves of Freak attacks – and even given that moving through the city is fun in and of itself, by about halfway through you have seen everything the game has to offer and the action has begun to feel somewhat samey.

That’s something of a wider theme. Crackdown 2 lives by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to an even greater extent than most sequels. This is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. Crackdown was an awesome game, and everything that made it fun – orb hunting, stronghold assaults, bouncing from spire to billboard to tower like a cybernetic fascist super-kangaroo – has been transferred to Crackdown 2 with a bit of extra polish and some rough edges taken off. I would have no hesitation whatsoever to recommend it to a newcomer to the series. However, anyone who played the original will likely find that the relatively minor additions and innovations aren’t enough to dispel the nagging feeling that you’ve been here and done this before. Personally, it’s been three years since Crackdown and I was ready for another one. Of it. Your milage may vary.