Hands-on: Crackdown 2's first missions

In the beginning of Crackdown 2, the objective is simple: The Agency has developed a weapon called the "Sunburst Defense System," designed to quickly rid Pacific City of its mutated inhabitants, or "freaks," by melting them vampire-style with artificial sunlight. In order to locate the freak hot zones (various underground breeding areas for the infected humans), Agents must activate a series of beacons to triangulate the precise positions onto which the Sunburst weapon should be deployed. Unfortunately, a terrorist group known as "The Cell" are protecting the last beacons, so it's up to you -- a new generation clone soldier -- to reclaim the beacons and activate the Sunburst Defense System.

Although it starts slow, Crackdown 2 shows promise for fans of the original sandbox adventure. The introductory plot is razor thin and is in place simply to encourage Agents to explore the open landscape of Pacific City, which has been devastated by the mysterious infection.
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Traversing the world offers the same feel as the original game. Players start with a sluggish Agent, who gains abilities by defeating enemies and collecting the game's scattered orbs -- 925 orbs to be exact. Orbs are split into various categories: standard and renegade agility orbs, driving orbs, and hidden orbs; and Xbox Live-only orbs that require at least one co-op partner to be in your game to unlock. Attempting to alleviate the frustration players had with locating the final orbs in the first game, Crackdown 2 features a HUD tracker mechanic somewhat similar to the shard detection system in inFamous. Tapping up on the D-pad flashes dots of orbs in the player's radius on the mini-map.

Player progression has been simplified, too. Experience points go to upgrading abilities; and not to unlocking new vehicles and weapons, as in the original. Instead, players are free to select any weapon -- including the new magnetic grenade -- or special Agency vehicle from the game's respawn menu.

While players can jump into friends' games at any point, only the host player will earn mission progress in the single-player game. Ruffian Games creative director Billy Tomson explains that this decision was made to ensure that any joining players who decide to abandon the host's mission (and create havoc in different parts of the city) would not close off story content in their own single-player campaigns as the host completed missions in the match. However, when players do leave a host's game, they get to take all of their experience and collected orbs earned during the match with them, which I think is more important to fans of the original Crackdown.


At a recent preview event, I played a chunk of Crackdown 2 starting from the beginning, and I was taken aback by how slowly paced it was. My fondest memories from the original game were of (eventually) leaping high into the sky and taking out enemy forces with devastating power. However, the sequel starts players as a new Agent -- from scratch. It will take time to regain all of the power and then some -- namely that new gliding ability -- that players harnessed in the first game.

Unlike the recently released Just Cause 2, the sandbox element of Crackdown 2 doesn't limit the story mode in an attempt to control the pace of the gameplay experience. Players are free to roam Pacific City and pursue whatever task most interests them at any given time -- knowing that there's always a mission waiting for them. The story is more interesting than the first game's muddled narrative, but the true appeal of Crackdown 2 is to play around in its sandbox. Ruffian Games offers the story as a tasty treat rather than the main course, reversing the trend of so many other open-world titles.

That said, Crackdown 2's opening missions do drag on. Players must arduously climb up to the location of a single beacon to activate it, and then they must repeat this process two more times to pinpoint a freak hot zone (there are nine) and call in a Sunburst weapon drop. Once the weapon is dropped at the freak lair, players must fend off attacking waves of said mutants as they attempt to destroy the weapon as it "charges" before detonation. Uh-huh, you'll do that nine times.

What I do find exciting about Crackdown 2 is the potential for my character to unlock all of his abilities and grow into a powerful Agent through the addictive grinding mechanics of collecting orbs and taking on the masses of freaks who come out at night. Plus, the ability to bring in three friends for the mission makes the action-heavy gameplay that much more appealing. While not on the level of, say, Dead Rising 2's zombie infestation, the numerous freaks are a powerful new adversary and make Crackdown 2 a much more challenging sandbox to play in.

Crackdown 2 will be released on July 6.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.