Forget story – Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360) doesn’t have one. Or, it does, really, but it doesn’t matter. You won’t care about it even if you remember it, and the game doesn’t really go out of its way to remind you. Besides, the point of Crackdown 2 is not to experience a deep, rich narrative. The point is to blow shit up.

But on the off chance you care, here it is: You will play Crackdown 2 as a bio-engineered super-soldier called an “Agent.” You work for “The Agency.” After saving Pacific City from the three rival gangs at the end of Crackdown, something somehow went horribly wrong and the city is now infested with zombie-like underground-dwelling mutants called “Freaks.” They mostly come at night (mostly), so by day you’ll be battling a band of anti-Agency guerillas called “Cell.” Got it? Cell by day, Freaks by night. Good. Now forget all of that because, as I said, it doesn’t matter.

Crackdown 2 is as much about its story as your typical Hollywood action film – less perhaps. It’s pure, old school, comic-fueled bombast. If it were a car, it’d be a Camaro. The colors are bright, the explosions are loud and the enemies die in entirely satisfying ways. Plus, if you don’t feel like bothering with the story, you don’t have to. The world is huge and spread wide open from hour one. It’s Grand Theft Auto, except you’re Superman.

The game works because it doesn’t take itself seriously – at all. The look and feel are straight out of a comic book cartoon, complete with the loud, authoritative, yet endearingly wisecracky narrator, who will guide you along your way to becoming the strongest, fastest, most deadly agent you can be.

There are only two rules in this game, and they’re both sometimes hard to follow. The first is: Don’t kill civilians. You will want to. Sometimes it will be unavoidable. They’re everywhere, what with this being their city and all, and when you bump into one it will break your stride, taking up your precious time and putting you in danger. If you kill them (accidentally or on purpose) the consequences will be the same as if you break rule number two (don’t kill Peacekeepers): The Peacekeepers will all try to kill you.

Peacekeepers are about as dangerous to you as a gnat is to a rhinoceros. That is to say, not very. But there are a lot of them, and concentrated fire hurts. Kill too many civilians or Peacekeepers, and the entire Peacekeeper army will attempt to destroy you on sight until they succeed, at which point your tough, but fair narrator/friend will sigh and say “I hope we’ve learned our lesson.”

Crackdown 2 is not subtle, and it’s not art, really, but it succeeds extremely well at almost everything it attempts to do, which is not much, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of guns and vehicles to unlock or discover, plenty of tall buildings to climb, plenty of enemies to kill and plenty of missions to undertake. Each step along the way feels satisfying and the whole thing ends with a good, solid bang while leaving the door swinging wide open for a Crackdown 3.

Fans of the first Crackdown may be conflicted by this second installment. At first glance it feels like just more Crackdown, and it is. There are subtle improvements and some new toys to play with – not to mention the new enemy, the Freaks, who are a lot of fun to squish – but by and large this feels so much like a mere extension of the same game that the first few hours left me in a bit of a funk, disappointed that the experience hadn’t been substantially broadened.

Stick with it though and the individual improvements and additions snowball, or you may find that more of the same game is good enough because the first installment was so much damn fun. I’m not sure which it was for me, but after those first few hours my ennui diminished and then I forgot what the word ennui meant because I was having too much brain-numbing fun.

As an agent, you will improve your superpowers by using them, mainly to kill things. Kill things with explosives and your explosives skill increases, granting you the power to explode things even more explosively. Kill things with cars, and your car skill increases, granting you access to better cars, and so forth. You increase your agility skill, though, by climbing high rooftops and collecting orbs. This can easily become an obsessively addictive mini-game in itself, as there are 500 of the damn things, and acquiring them requires equal parts platforming skill, puzzle-solving and flights of imagination.

Every structure in the game can be climbed if your agility skill is high enough, and you’re creative. There are even Xbox Live achievements for doing ridiculous daredevil stunts like climbing the highest building in the game, jumping off it into a chimney stack, landing at the bottom of a deep, dark hole, in a large toilet bowl filled with water and rubber ducks and surviving. Or, if your agility is high enough, you can get access to the wing suit, which is basically a personal hang-glider. Use the wing suit to glide across each of Pacific City’s islands without touching the ground, and you get an achievement. It’s an achievement you may never get, but if you care enough to try, it’s there for you.

On the negative side, the controls are occasionally unforgiving or just plain broken. Some of the more insane climbing or gliding stunts require a precision that may simply not be possible with an Xbox controller, but in any event is frustrating in its absence. Some of the enemy weapons you’ll encounter are also controller-throwingly overpowered, but that’s forgivable considering you, as an Agent, have the ability to kill practically anything merely by touching it.

Combat in Crackdown 2 can be frustrating for the same reason Superman is boring: If you’re really invulnerable, where’s the conflict? In Crackdown 2, you’re not actually invulnerable, but you can absorb bullets better than a Bounty paper towel absorbs water, and you can jump from a 20-story building without breaking more than the pavement beneath your feet, so, you’re close enough. It’s actually a marvel that the combat is any fun at all, considering. The big guns and powerful explosions probably help.

Bottom Line: With plenty of missions, new enemies, new weapons, minor enhancements and lost of things that go boom, Crackdown 2 offers hours of satisfying, brainless fun for those who enjoy that sort of thing. Newcomers to the series and die-hard fans alike will find plenty to obsess over.

Recommendation: Rent this one if you’re not sure if it’s your thing. The demo didn’t do it justice though, so it’s worth a second chance if that left you feeling dry. If you enjoyed the first game, or like open-world action in general, buy this. You will not regret it.

[rating=4]

Game: Crackdown 2
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Ruffian Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Release Date: July 6, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon

Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.

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