I'm falling. I had been making my way up the face of a high-rise, carefully negotiating my way from ledge to windowsill in search of the neon orb perched at the top of the structure. But as I made my penultimate jump, reaching out to the window frame just a few short inches from the roof, my fingers failed to find purchase. So now I'm falling, seven stories, straight down. Funny, it really looked like a surface I could hold on to.
You should get used to this sinking feeling.
A decade on from the events of Crackdown and Pacific City is in ruins. The familiar landmarks remain, but they have crumbled in the face of wide-spread anarchy. By day, militant rebels the Cell fight running battles with police across the city, aided by armoured cars, heavily defended strongholds and Gatling gun encrusted trucks. By night, however, the mutated light-sensitive Freaks shamble out from their subterranean lairs, taking to the streets by their thousands. It's an entirely unwelcoming place.
Stuck in the middle of all this is you, a genetically engineered Agency super-cop referred to only as "The Agent." The storyline, such as it is, centres around "Project Sunburst," a mission to destroy the Freaks and bring order back to the streets of Pacific City.
Project Sunburst tasks you with re-activating a series of Absorbtion Units across the city. These units project concentrated rays of sunlight above the skyline. Re-activate three and the beams will converge over the location of a Freak lair. Infiltrate the lair, protect a light beacon from attack as it charges, watch it explode and wipe out the Freak threat. It's incredibly straight-forward.
Indeed, it's arguably too simple. The central mission thread merely involves repeating this process nine times. Do so and you'll have beaten the game. It's a distinct step down from the loose strategic options offered by the original's gang leader battles, little more than a repetitive grind.
The repetition of the main missions is only accentuated by the limitations of the side-missions, of which there are two different types. In truth, however, it is only the enemies you'll kill that offer any distinction. They merely ask you to go to a location and wipe out swarms of either Cell or Freaks. As such, they become tiresome very quickly.
However, it wasn't the missions that made Crackdown so compelling, it was those moments where the overbearing will of the designer slipped away and the desire of the player took over. Thankfully, that aspect of the original remains intact.
The sense of liberation offered by your constantly upgrading abilities is so profound that as you hang, in mid-jump between two sky-piercing monuments, you won't care what awaits below. You won't care about the generic enemies, the un-grabbable protrusions, the negligible storyline or the repetitive missions. As the wind whistles around your armour, you'll be solely focused on reaching the next ledge and maintaining the flow of your rooftop super-athletics. It's that simple.
Because, really, the Crackdown series works best as a platformer. It's the super-heroic rooftop leaps that make it all so much fun, a fact that Ruffian Games have leveraged with their development of the series' trademark glowing orbs.
These iconic spheres lay, as ever, sprinkled across the highest and most inaccessible parts of the city. But this time they come in a variety of flavours, with co-op, renegade driving and renegade agility orbs joining your standard agility and hidden varieties.
The renegade agility orbs are of particular note, doing their best to avoid your greedy clutches by zipping off around the environment. They're a true test of your platforming skills.
They also go to prove that it was never the mere collection of orbs that proved so compelling. Plenty of other games have collectable trinkets, after all. It's rather that they have a direct effect on gameplay, boosting your agility stats so you can reach ever higher ledges and ever more orbs. It's a uniquely entertaining cycle that will likely only stop when you've collected them all. Or gone mad trying.
In short, it's the platforming that drives your desire for orbs, not the opposite, despite what coverage elsewhere may suggest.
Yet this strength is a triumph of the first game, not the second. It is merely replicated here. Indeed, with a poor mission structure, sloppy lock-on targeting, a generic post-catastrophic city and zombie-esque enemies, Crackdown 2 fails to improve on any aspect of the original. Only the new addition of four-player co-op saves the day. Thankfully, it's glorious.
Charging around the city with a gang of friends, laying waste to everyone and everything around you, picking up orbs and juggling cars with your UV shotgun is just the most fantastic fun. In this regard, Crackdown 2 sets a new standard. Any sandbox game from this point that lacks four player co-op will feel like it's missing a key ingredient.
Ultimately, Crackdown 2 encapsulates a very particular brand of mainstream game development. It's a sequel that fears innovating far beyond the blueprint of the original. It offers an environment and characters so focus-grouped and market-tested as to be utterly bland. It's an open world game filled with only a limited selection of mission types. Its setting is a destroyed, decaying city. It features zombies.
In short, it bears all the hallmarks of a game created by accountants, ticking box after box of what the industry has decided appeals most to the core gamer. It's a testament to the power of the original concept that Ruffian's unadventurous additions and tweaks don't sink it. If you didn't play Crackdown, or did and loved it so much you want more of the same (perhaps with three friends), then this sequel may be worth investing in. Otherwise, think twice.