Deja vu all over again

Crackdown 2 trades the GTA aspirations for zombie hunting

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Crackdown 2

(Ruffian)

Xbox 360

GAMER In a case of super-stealthy marketing, Microsoft placed access to the eagerly-anticipated 2007 Halo 3 beta on the disc to Crackdown, a then-unknown IP. Gamers bought the unproven game for a sneak peek at the biggest game of the year, and found themselves ensnared by Crackdown's hyper-realistic superhero universe and carrot-on-a-stick gameplay, which rewarded gamers for exploration. Three years later we get Crackdown 2, developed by an offshoot from the original team, and not much has changed in the game's fictional Pacific City. Set 10 years after the first title, once again you play an agent for a shady company called simply the Agency and are tasked with saving the city from destruction.

While Crackdown was a stylized take on the Grand Theft Auto series, the sequel is influenced by recent zombie successes like Left 4 Dead, trading gangsters for undead "Freaks" who now litter the city and its numerous underground caves. Other than the new enemies, Crackdown 2 is pretty much the same game we saw three years ago, with a slew of brand new problems. Setting aside the numerous bugs and frame rate issues I experienced in Pacific City, it's disappointing to see that there remains little story beyond the above one-sentence synopsis. With no incentive for their actions, players are forced to make their own fun in an open-word environment that they probably visited just a short time ago. Repetition has always been the name of the game — dispatching foes is secondary to hunting down hidden orbs scattered throughout the city, increasing your stats and making your agent leap higher and live longer — but playing Crackdown 2 is itself an exercise in repetition, because it's the same city and the same stats as the first game.

Crackdown 2's development cycle was reportedly somewhere in the range of eight months, and in that time developer Ruffian has given the game an unattractive facelift and added the ability to play against 16 other players. Granted, eight months is not long enough to build a full-blow sequel, but Crackdown 2 is a full-priced, glorified add-on to the first title and that's likely to upset gamers expecting bigger and better. Since 2007 a number of companies have taken a stab at the idea of an open-world superhero, most notably Prototype and Infamous, but the spirit of competition has not done Crackdown any favors. If you liked the original, you might be able to look past the problems its sequel tosses at you for the pure joy of collecting stuff, which remains the series' best feature. But if Ruffian doesn't make a big change in the franchise's next iteration, it's going to find itself left in the dust.