With just over a week to go before the Crackdown 2 launch, I decided to jump on XBox Live and sample the 30 minute demo for myself. Being the ridiculously devout Crackdown apologist that I am, I figured if anyone was equipped with the mindset to cast a critical eye over Crackdown 2 and compare it with its predecessor, it was me.
The demo drops you right into the action, amidst an in-progress raid on a hideout of a gang named 'The Cell' at the ship yards. The area is a maze of shipping crates, boats and cranes, and houses both Cell members and a huge helping of Agility Orbs - yes, the 'Crack' of Crackdown is back.
Immediately getting into the swing of things, I began dropping perps with guns and grenades, as well as exploding barrels that littered the entrance to the docks. Moving through the fray as I cleaned shop, I ignored several drivable vehicles in favor of my own locomotion. Driving was never the draw for me in Crackdown, and spring-loaded feet were always my preferred method of travel.
Combat felt nice, but a little crude and unrefined. It was familiar enough, taking about three minutes to get my finger-memory back, hammering the left bumper to reload and the right one to hurl a grenade. Before long I had totally recaptured my staple Crackdown combat mechanics - flourishes of airborne gunfire, interspersed with ground-based melee attacks - and I implemented them with flair.
Once this initial area was somewhat free of bad guys, the overly-chatty Voice of the Agency instructed me to stand in the nearby Tactical Insertion Point (indicated by a red graphic painted on the ground) and call reinforcements. Standing in this area and pressing the Back button calls in an Agency helicopter. The inbound helicopter, causes more bad guys spawns spawns that must be managed in order to secure the area for the chopper to arrive.
Once the entrance was secured I moved further into the labyrinth of shipping crates and gunfire to find my next objective - reclaiming an experimental Agency beacon that has been commandeered by Cell members. At this point I pretty much abandoned the main quest to instead feed my filthy, disgusting Agility Orb habit for the remainder of the demo time.
The controls remain largely unchanged, at least in terms of button geography. The stick sensitivity could not be customized in the menus - which, frankly, was disappointing. I found turning to be an awkward affair and much less tight than in the first game.
In another surprise move, the mechanics of the snap-targeting lock-on have been messed with, to the game's detriment. Let me explain: I'm an inverted Y-axis guy. Yes, I'm one of those. This isn't a problem in most games, nor was it a problem in the original Crackdown. The snap-targeting works like this: You squeeze the left trigger while your target reticule is reasonably close to a bad guy and it will snap to him, locking you on. At the same time, a HUD pop-up appears next to your target. It is essentially a rude 2D icon version of your target, broken up into key sections, like limbs, head, body, etc.
Once you are locked in with the left trigger squeezed, you can then use your right stick to target one of these body sections in the pop-up and fire at that appendage. This mechanic is still in the game, which I'm thankful for since it was my favorite part of the combat loop in Crackdown, but where in the original game I would push the right stick up to highlight the guy's head, it now aims for his legs. If I nudge the stick down, it will highlight his head. In other words, the inverted Y controls now extend to the target lock-on, too. I know I speak for all my fellow Y-axis guys when I say that this is a terrible design choice. Choosing the Y-axis is a camera-relative preference. It does not mean we all think up is down and down is up. Good grief.
The graphics haven't received any perceivable improvements in quality, which is something of a disappointment. In fact, I would go as far as to say the graphics in Crackdown 2 are worse. Granted, the visual stylings of the first game informed those of the sequel, but although I feel Ruffian were on the right track in this regard, the game could have benefited from a face-lift - this being 2010 and all. Improved texture quality and better post-rendering effects really would have improved the game's appeal to both Crackdown die-hards like me and newcomers alike.
The original Crackdown, for all its comic book aesthetics, was a pleasant visual experience. The fact that most objects in the world were outlined in a thick black line didn't detract from the overall lightheartedness of the visuals, and that had an awful lot to do with the color palette and the lighting. No area of the city was ever too depressing or looked ugly. This go around, however, there seems to be a more drastic tone to the overall aesthetic, and I think it hurts the game. For some reason there is a heavy reliance on primary colors, giving the game a less impressive sheen than in the first game. This, mixed with the severe (and unchangeable) contrast and brightness levels make Crackdown 2 a very unpleasant game to look at. It's hard to believe the game made its way through alpha and beta to a release candidate looking like this.
Ultimately, the vertical slice of gameplay provided in the demo hits the right notes in every discipline except aesthetics. Very little has been changed since the original Crackdown, and that fact alone could be a sticking point for some potential buyers. The addition of mutant hordes appearing in vast quantities during the night time cycle is a great new inclusion. It splits the core gameplay element into two extreme play styles, offering you a different way to play between day and night missions, and switching up your short-term game loops while doing it. That said, I found the character's promised savagery a little underwhelming when I discovered that the key to survival was to stab the B button repeatedly, delivering a never-ending flurry of round-house kicks, until daybreak.
The weapons featured were few and unvaried, and the vehicles were completely uninteresting. Of course, many of these complaints are unjust simply because the universal leveling-up of your skills throughout the full game gives all of your in-game activities and tools more impact, and are therefore more fun to use.
Whether or not Crackdown 2 launches to critical acclaim and great reviews will be dependent on how the second half of the game plays out. Once your Agent's abilities reach that 50% marker, your skills and much of the game world will no doubt open up and herald a richer experience than the first half. With your Agent's powers nearing max, will the draw to master Crackdown 2's world be greater than its predecessor's? Time will tell.
For me, I will be buying Crackdown 2 on launch day regardless. The initial slights I mentioned are insignificant compared with the powerful allure of more Agility Orbs.
But enough about me. What did you think of the demo? Was it all you hoped it would be, or were you a little deflated by the experience?
In either case, be sure to check back here at Game Rant for more news, as well as our review (once the game ships) exclusively for the Xbox 360 on July 6th.