'Crackdown 2'

The original Crackdown was released in 2007 and sold more than 1.5 million copies, but its success was debatable. The majority of those copies were sold early with the promise of access to the online-multiplayer beta test of Halo 3, a promotion that left many people calling Crackdown a road apple. But those critics misjudged the game, which was a solid experience with a large open city to explore. The recently released sequel adds four-person cooperative play and a tighter focus on over-the-top chaos, so this rickety sequel still offers plenty of fun.

Crackdown 2 tells its story in brief tidbits, but the narrative is so paper-thin and generic -- with gangs to battle during the day and zombie-like freaks at night -- that players barely need to pay attention to it. Instead, just fight back against anything that tries to kill you.

The game gives you many types of violence to use, and your skills can grow to ridiculous levels. Shooting enemies increases your accuracy to sniper-like proficiency. Hand-to-hand combat makes you stronger over time until you can pick up cars and toss them like softballs. Agility orbs placed in high locations (on building tops, antennae, etc) increase your jumping power and running speed to the same absurd limits, eventually making the multiple-island city seem smaller because of how quickly you can navigate it. Your driving skills can be built the same way, but when you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, what's the point? After a while, you realize that the later parts of the game are designed for you to screw around with your Superman-like powers -- a playground for you to tear up as you please.

It's this bizarre freedom that makes the game so enjoyable. I could be cleaning up the streets, but why not instead throw all the cars in the street onto rooftops? Instead of fighting gangs, my friends and I can play a game of rocket tag. While I do normally prefer story, it's nice to get a game that says "Shove off!" to traditional gameplay and focuses instead on mindless yet therapeutic madness.

Where the game begins to take a tumble is in the actual mechanics. It isn't so much one big problem as it is many small, annoying problems. You're free to tackle missions in any order you please, but the game's map only highlights areas it wants you to go, no matter how far away. Why give me freedom then tell me where to go? Dying rewards you more than it penalizes, moving you a block away from where you were with full health and ammo for all your weapons, making the missions almost too easy because you're practically the Highlander.

But these issues are nothing compared to the game's frustratingly lazy design and sound flaws.

The methods of travel work in Crackdown 2, but the foundation has some serious bugs. Ledges can be climbed on, but there are random times where your agent seemingly has lost his fingers and can't grab anything. Even identical ledges on different buildings cause problems: You can grab some but not others. It's as if a quick copy-and-paste job was done with the building artwork.

On the sound front, the agency director is in constant communication with your agent and never shuts up. While his input felt minimal in the first game, he grows more grating as you play in the sequel, telling you where to go and what to look for, or dropping terrible one-liners. In addition, citizens and gang members spout off the same one or two comments anytime they're within earshot. It was enough to make me start blowing up everything so explosions would either drown them out or silence them. I would've muted the game, but I was worried I might actually miss something important.

So even though Crackdown 2 is often good, chaotic fun, it's sometimes like pulling teeth. I doubt it will light the world on fire, but it'll at least cause some smoke damage to a few rooms.

Crackdown 2 is now available on Xbox 360 for $59.95. For this review, the author completed the main story, reaching maximum levels for all abilities.

Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at ssj_4luke@hotmail.com.

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