Ploughing through a horde of monsters in a pimped-out tank is a very satisfying experience. The roar of the engine, the sound of splattered guts, and the sight of gore flying through the air is not to be missed. But maybe you're not into roadkill. Don't worry, Crackdown 2 has you covered. Whether you're a fan of murderous rampages or prefer to glide effortlessly onto your enemies, its open-world gameplay allows you to play however you like. Fancy using a car as a giant slingshot? Want to beat monsters to death with a street lamp? The possibilities are endless.
The story of Crackdown 2 takes place in Pacific City, the fictional metropolis that was featured in the original game. A dangerous virus has been released into the city, creating grotesque zombielike creatures known as "freaks." The city's law enforcement, the Agency, is unable to keep the problem under control. This has given rise to an underground vigilante resistance group that goes by the name Cell, which has taken matters into its own hands to tackle the freaks. Cell distrusts the Agency, which has led to a three-way power struggle between the two groups and the freaks. You play as a newly recruited agent tasked with destroying the freaks and restoring peace to the city.
We joined the game as a fresh-faced recruit, and a training section took us through the basics of being an agent. We were guided through the training by the booming voice of the head of the Agency, who was quick to make fun of incorrect button presses or errors. His sarcastic tone follows you throughout the game as he guides you through the city, commenting on your progress and explaining missions. We learnt to shoot, jump, launch melee attacks, and throw grenades during the short tutorial. The grenade section in particular was a lot of fun. We were told to make our way to a large black room where a group of freaks were holed up inside a pen. We had to pick up grenades and practice throwing them into the pen, which blew the freaks up into a gooey mess. They constantly respawned, allowing us to keep hammering them and creating piles of dead bodies on the floor. The controls remain the same as in the previous game, so Crackdown veterans will have no trouble picking them up. We were also taken through the Agent's regeneration ability. This was represented by a small bar and functions like a shield, allowing you to absorb a number of hits. If you stop taking hits, the bar goes back up, but if you take too many, it's game over.
The training finished with us getting into a car, after which a helicopter picked us up and took us over the city to our first mission. We arrived at a Cell stronghold, an area filled with crates by the docks. Cell had stolen a prototype beacon, which was part of an Agency project known as Sunburst. The project's aim was to build a massive solar-powered energy weapon, which could take out all of the freaks in one fell swoop. With Cell in possession of the only prototype, it was the Agency's number-one priority to get it back. However, before we could call in air support to pick up the prototype, we had to secure the area. The entrance to the stronghold was surrounded by Cell members, all of whom were armed with guns. We set about taking them out, which gave us our first taste of combat.
By default, you're armed with a standard-issue Agency rifle and armour. Though not massively powerful, the rifle does hold a reasonable amount of ammunition, and it reloads quickly. As you progress, you're able to upgrade your weapons and armour with much more powerful versions by levelling up your character. Each time you fire weapons, drive a vehicle, or launch melee attacks, you earn points. The more points you earn, the better you become at handling weapons, driving cars, or beating up people. When you level up a skill set, you are issued with new items from the Agency. A number of new weapons have been introduced, which include a UV shotgun, mag grenade, and wingsuit.
The UV shotgun uses electromagnetic bursts to project a massive shockwave. It's particularly useful for ripping freaks apart in crowded areas because the blast does not affect humans. However, it does produce kinetic energy, which you can use to fling cars, lampposts, and other objects into enemies--freaks or otherwise. The mag grenade is a sticky remote-detonated explosive that you can use to tether objects together. You can throw one onto a lamppost, throw another onto a car, then rip up the lamppost, and use it as a giant flail. You can also create a giant slingshot by attaching grenades to opposing buildings. By attaching a grenade to a car, you can pull back on it and let it fly through hordes of enemies, creating a massive gooey mess. Finally, the wingsuit lets you glide, swoop, or dive bomb down from tall buildings. If you dive bomb straight down, you strike the ground with a massive thud, which creates a huge crater in the ground and destroys any enemies in the vicinity.
To make full use of the wingsuit, you need to get up high. Like the first game, the verticality is as important as its horizontal size. At first, you can only jump a small distance, but by collecting agility orbs, you can leap to tremendous heights, scaling buildings and clinging onto window ledges. The orbs themselves are scattered across the city, usually in places that require a small amount of platforming to reach. There are also purple driving orbs that zoom around the city requiring you to chase them in a car. There are a range of vehicles you can drive, ranging from small civilian cars to armoured Cell trucks. As an agent, you have access to the best vehicles the game has to offer. There are standard vehicles, such as the supercar, truck, and agency buggy, as well as more pimped-out ones, such as the Agency helicopter or tank. The helicopter is armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, allowing you to rain down bullets on crowds of enemies. The tank, meanwhile, is a heavily armoured four-wheeled behemoth, which is especially great for ploughing through freaks.
The freaks themselves only emerge at night. Crackdown 2 employs a full day-and-night cycle as you play. Streets that once seemed safe are overrun with freaks at night, and we found driving through them was one of the most fun ways to spend our time in the game. Car handling is pretty forgiving, having an arcadelike feel, so we found it easy to stick to the road. This handling coupled with the splat sounds from running over a freak brought back memories of violent racer Carmageddeon. Each street had hundreds of freaks on it, which showed off the improved graphics engine that has been expanded to allow for more enemies onscreen at any one time. Fortunately, this hasn't affected the same huge draw distances that were present in the first game, allowing you to leap to the tops of buildings and spot agility orbs around the city.
After taking out the Cell from our first mission, we spent some time free roaming around the city, checking out landmarks and causing chaos. You can take out common civilians or even fellow agents if you like, but you are penalised for doing so. The announcer warns you to back off, and if you continue to ignore his advice, he sends the law after you, which will relentlessly hunt you down until you're dead. After which, the announcer tells you he hopes you've "learnt your lesson." We sometimes ran into Cell-infested areas when driving around, which proved to be a costly mistake. As the most hated enemy of Cell, you will not be greeted with tea and biscuits when you stray onto its turf. Instead, we were met with streams of bullets and a dose of car shunting. Though we fought back, the sheer number of Cell units made it difficult to escape alive. Once we'd had enough of being pummelled, we took on some more missions. These are clearly marked on the minimap at the bottom of the screen, so they're easy to find. One mission required us to activate some absorption units at the top of a tall building. The building was heavily guarded by Cell, and we chose to sneak up the building via a set of platforms to launch a surprise grenade attack. Because the game is open world, you are free to tackle missions as you see fit, using whatever equipment you have at your disposal.
Visually, the game is much like its predecessor. Characters and objects have a thick black line around them, but realistic-looking textures are used to give them a unique look. It's looking a little long in the tooth, but it does boast massive draw distances and large enemy numbers. As well as single-player, Ruffian Games has confirmed there will be four-player co-op, complete with seamless drop-in, drop-out support. There will also be 16-player deathmatch with a new mode called Rocket Tag, though we were unable to see these in action. Crackdown 2 is due for release on the Xbox 360 on July 9.