Reporting Luke McKinney
Nightmare Mode is the ultimate difficulty level, where we look at games harder than a convicted sex offender (in equally unpleasant and worrying ways). Crackdown 2 was the worst place for unexpected hardness outside of your bride’s panties. It isn’t difficult because of guns or violence, which is a pity, because those are what the game was about. It’s more a sequel to Silent Hill than the original Crackdown: you’re reunited with your lost love from years ago, only to find that everything about it is now decaying and hates you.
Psychological horror games are never truly scary because you expect them. Not so, Crackdown 2. The first game was about throwing SUVs at rocket launchers so that you’d have an awesome explosion to land in, so the sequel was the last place players expected to endure the death of joy. If this was on purpose it would have been a masterstroke, but the design team only had the regular kind. The first game did end with the cool twist that the amazing and wonderful agents were actually horrible and evil, but no one told the designers that was only a plot point. They took the destruction of goodness as a design principle and built something more horrific than Dr Frankenstein’s failed experiments in improving the colon.
Crackdown was developed by Realtime Worlds while the sequel was made by Ruffian Games. Ruffian had about half of the original team and if this sequel is anything to go by, they set up their own company because they were tired of being ignored by the smart people. A game has never been so comprehensively destroyed. You’d swear the original had pissed off Tony Jaa: it isn’t just ruined, but every key point is identified and broken. Except if Jaa did that it would still kick ass.
RIGHT FROM THE START
Crackdown started in a garage full of ass-kicking supercars and said “turbo-boost one of those down a Thunderbirds tunnel through a bonus ring into a gunfight!” Crackdown 2 started by gluing your feet to the ground while it read War & Peace & What Those Colored Bars On The Screen Are. You know, the bars every single player already understands because this is a sequel. The only problem people had with the first game was that the narrator wouldn’t shut up, and in this one there’s a bomb under his seat designed to go off if he ever stops talking. And that bomb is the only thing in any Crackdown you can’t explode.
Whoever decided the Crackdown graphics engine could do grim and gritty either doesn’t know what those words mean or hates every single one and wants them to destroy each other. The crisp comic style of the original suddenly looks like a rusty robot carried them back to the 90s to be rendered on a 3DO, then threw up on them. This came out three years after the original and you’d swear it was a beta from six months before. Superman 64 would fly into this Pacific City and call it a $#!+hole.
Crackdown’s missions were the happiest accident since penicillin. Carefully crafted criminal compounds were filled with waves of escalatingly armed henchmen, and because you were ludicrously overpowered you could jump over them and throw the boss off a lighthouse. And that was brilliant! It was like being Superman but with balls, punting criminals off penthouses so that innocent civilians regret their karaoke demands that it rain men.
Crackdown 2 treated this wonderful freedom like a Southern plantation owner. You have to wait around nine identical Sunburst beacons, each with three even identicaler absorption stations, and at each of those you have to wait on identicalest switches to activate them. That’s fractally-repeating boredom. The subunits are specifically designed to prevent you from using the open world to choose your approach, while the beacon is cut off from it entirely in an underground cave. You have no option but to go and stand where you’re told and defend it from enemies. This game makes you fetch repetitive MacGuffins just to do an escort mission while standing still. There are assembly line workers with more variety, and when they get their fingers caught in the steam press they’re still having more fun.
Crackdown’s greatest success was orbs, though it’s odd that a game about law enforcement should addict people to virtual drugs. In the year 2007 millions of people were suddenly ignoring rocket-launcher battles with criminal warlords to play virtual hide and seek, and to this day climbing the Agency tower remains the second funnest achievement in gaming history. (The funnest was leaping off the tower into the water, and right now a thousand people are going “WHAT? DAMMIT!” and dusting off old discs to start climbing again.)
The glowing orbs were pure joy. They should have been more impossible to turn evil than Captain America, but Ruffian Games are an eviler company than the Red Skull. “Renegade Orbs” turned them into the most frustrating pain outside someone welding your zipper shut after a drinking competition. Pacific City architects have always used “an Agent’s jumping height plus one meter” as a unit of measurement but in the original that was a fun way to expand your freedom. You suddenly soared over old limitations as you leveled up. Chasing renegade orbs turns it into a guided tour of just how annoyingly unclear the game’s graphics actually are. You drop everything to chase an orb because they are to humans what laser pointers are to cats, then bounce off a wall which seemed to have fourteen separate handholds drawn on it before falling down a shaft of one hundred brown meters. And when the failure condition of a game sounds like metrics plumbers use to clear massive clogs, that’s not ideal. The only round things you’re reaching for after that are the eject button and another disc.
Luke McKinney knows booze & video games. His recent attempts to find the hottest food in the world led him to eat Murder Spice, which gave him the ability to melt through porcelain. The next day. In the bathroom. Follow him on Tumblr.
Where did all the joy and fun in kicking ass go? Luke tracked it down to prove why The Raid: Redemption is the best action film of our lives. –>