Crackdown was one of the unsung heroes of the Xbox 360's early years, garnering more attention for the included invite to the Halo 3 multiplayer beta than for the game itself. That was a bit of a tragedy, because the game was a whole lot of fun, showing what you can do when you combine an open-world action formula with a maddeningly addictive progression system that has you seeking out agility orbs up and down buildings to become an ever-more-powerful force of destruction. The sequel, developed by Ruffian Games, is due out for release this year, and we just had a look at it earlier today at Microsoft's X10 preview event.
The demo was divided into two distinct halves. The first showed how some of the new story missions will work, while the second was of the free-form sandbox variety, showing what sort of trouble you can get up to when you cast aside any preconceptions that you're a force for the greater good. The story mission involved a relatively low-level agent (that is, before you've picked up too many of those agility orbs) attempting to infiltrate the stronghold of a group called The Cell. This faction is a sort of militia made up of people who are angry at the Agency (you, in other words) and blame them for the zombie freak outbreak that has plagued the city. With the city totally cleaned of gangs after your work in the first game, these two groups are your only enemies in the sequel.
The mission involved gaining entrance to a Cell stronghold in order to procure a piece of valuable technology that they'd stolen from the Agency. It all took place in a shipping yard filled with steel crates and hinted at a couple of the new features you can find in story missions. One is the new goal structure that has you going through multiple objectives and sub-objectives, as opposed to the extremely minimalist approach to mission design from the first game that was more or less just "Go here, kill these thugs, and then kick the gang leader off a building to win!" Now there's a bit more variety to these objectives, and you'll find some storytelling during the missions as well. Another new feature: midmission supply crates, so that you can stock up on weapons and vehicles without having to run back to the Agency building.
With this mission over, the demo turned to the type of activities you can pursue when you take things at your own pace. Crackdown 2 offers a day-night cycle that changes the world substantially when darkness hits. The zombie freaks take over the city at night, turning the streets into an ocean of shambling monsters. Ruffian producer James Cope, who was manning the controller for the demo, made it a point to hop into a car and quite simply plow through this wave of freaks. They bounced off the front fender like pinballs, which, well, might be something you can technically do with civilians in the game, but now you can do guilt-free with freaks. Later in the game, you'll eventually take to the freaks' underground lairs and fight them on their own turf, where you might find some more-powerful enemies. As an example, Microsoft Game Studios lead designer John Noonan hinted at the idea of former superpowered agents becoming infected. All we know is that if there's one thing scarier than a guy who can climb skyscrapers, it's a guy who can climb skyscrapers and has a thirst for human flesh.
After violating every traffic rule known to man, the demo moved on to some high-flying antics. One of the new pieces of equipment available to you when you progress to a fairly high level is the wing suit. This beauty effectively turns you into a flying squirrel when you leap from a tall building. You can glide, swoop, or simply dive-bomb straight to the earth below, with different-colored contrails coming off your limbs to denote whether you're delaying or accelerating the effects of gravity. As in the first game, you can strike the ground with a devastating thud and clear out a large radius of enemies.
The team also managed to get their hands on the new agency helicopter, which looks like an average helicopter until you stop to realize that, like the rest of the agency vehicles, its look and function will drastically improve as your driving level ranks up. We're eager to see what else Crackdown 2 will offer in terms of the leveling up and agility orb system, as the original game seemed to have struck a great balance with those progression elements. You can expect to see more coverage leading up to the as-yet-unannounced 2010 release date.