Crackdown was the very definition of a sandbox action game. It gave players the ability to quite literally leap from building to building, throw cars like they were baseballs, and basically just go nuts on the city. With all that destructive freedom at a player's fingertips, it would seem like a tough game to follow up on because, really, where do you go when a player is already the most powerful force in the city? Well, if you're developer Ruffian Games, you make it so that's no longer the case.
Here at Tokyo Game Show 2009, a few members from Ruffian Games led a demo to highlight some of the new features in Crackdown 2. Chief among these features is a new day/night dynamic to the city designed to add more of a challenge to the player's powers and hopefully make things a lot more fun as a result. The story takes its cue from the end of the original game when players--as members of a federal crime-busting task force--unknowingly unleashed a virus onto the city just as it seemed everything was going to be wrapped up nicely. That virus has created a race of mutated zombies Ruffian has dubbed the “freaks,” and they make up a new class of enemy that comes out at night to challenge you in ways Crackdown's gangsters and criminals never could.
What sets the freaks apart from normal enemies is that they come at you in droves, which Ruffian calls the “Freak Breach,” creating a miniature riot zone around the players. While the original game had plenty of non-player character pedestrians, they were meant to be protected because you were ostensibly a member of the police looking to keep order in the city. Now, though, these freaks can be mowed down in droves without the slightest pang of remorse. What's more, they're able to follow you up and down buildings, thanks to those powers of mutation, so there's not really anywhere you can run off and hide during the game's night cycle.
The onset of freaks has resulted in a city that looks much more beat-up and run-down than the original because even during the day when all you see is normal human beings, it's clear these people's lives have been adversely affected by the new plague that's hit the city. We were shown a fly-through view of the ironically titled “Hope Springs” neighborhood of the city. This new area was actually quite miserable in its rusty signs and citizens gathered around flaming barrels. Ruffian then showed an area from the first game, the Observatory, which time had clearly not been friendly to as it lay mostly in ruins.
After explaining some of the changes to the city and its denizens, Ruffian then took to showing some of the new weapons. The team members want more potential for everyday found objects to be picked up and used as weapons, so one example they showed was a piece of rebar with a few giant chunks of cement on it that was able to carve through giant chunks of freaks. They also showed the UV shotgun, which fires energy blasts that can propel enemies backward in huge numbers.
But the real star of the show was the new MAG grenade, which is a sticky remote-detonated grenade that has the ability to tether objects together with a beam of electricity. You can throw one on a car, then another on a building, and watch as the car flings toward that building and dangles from it, which you can then detonate remotely. But for real fun, you can chain together even more objects to create an explosive chain of cars, people, buildings, or whatever you might find in the world. Ruffian even showed how you can tether a gas canister to the ground, shoot off the cap, and watch it fly around like a self-propelled rocket going in circles. It was quite a sight.
Now take that sort of freeform chaos and imagine the entire game done in four-player co-op, with players able to work as harmoniously or as discordantly as they choose. That's the sort of experience Ruffian is aiming to provide in Crackdown 2, which it claims is “fundamentally a four-player game.” Ruffian is banking on that freedom of player interaction providing the real thrust to propel the experience forward. Because like the first game, the narrative will be less of a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end and more of a series of open missions that you can take on however you like. Thankfully, Ruffian also recognizes that the stat-building orbs scattered throughout the city were a great incentive to keep players from getting too distracted and throwing cars at pedestrians, so it has added even more orbs into the world to help add a sense of accomplishment when you've built up your character's various attributes.
After the campaign demo ended, we were given the opportunity to get a brief hands-on taste of the 16-player competitive Deathmatch mode. This feature is more or less exactly what it sounds like, with 16 superpowered agents jumping around a large chunk of the city and blasting away at each other. This particular mode didn't seem quite as compelling as the various additions made to the campaign because it seems like we spent a lot more time searching out other players than actually fighting them. We're totally willing to see what happens with the competitive multiplayer as Ruffian tunes and refines it in the coming months, but right now, our eyes are more firmly fixed on the intriguing campaign enhancements. We'll see how it all pans out as we get closer to Crackdown 2's 2010 release.