My review of Crackdown 2 is up now at thephoenix.com.
I liked the first Crackdown even before it was cool, with the added cred of not having played it to get a Halo 3 beta code. Time has been kind to that game: in my mind, it's grown in stature to be one of the best of this generation. Three and a half years later, it's just about the only non-new game I still take for a ride once in awhile. I'm still hunting for that last freaking agility orb.
So obviously, as a raging fanboy, I'm a candidate to love the sequel. Or, wait, am I a candidate for being unnecessarily critical? I can't keep these things straight. I'm even sympathetic to Lewis Denby's thesis on sequel syndrome, that sequels definitionally cannot be as good as the original because they lack the element of surprise. (Even though his primary example of BioShock 2 is one of the worst he could have given. That game rocked.)
In every big way, Crackdown 2 is identical to the original. None of the major mechanics have been overhauled. And there is that twinge of familiarity, especially since the game takes place, once again, in Pacific City. Isn't it strange, though: when I play the original Crackdown, familiarity is exactly what I want. It was new once, and it isn't now, and that's what I still like about it. When I played Crackdown 2, I didn't exactly feel thrilled to be back, but neither was I disappointed.
There are lots of tweaks to the sequel though, nearly all for the worse. Contra Joystick Division, I didn't feel the game was too open; I felt hemmed in by the hands of the designers. I felt like they (or their surrogates, like the narrator) were constantly butting in. In the original game, if you couldn't reach an agility orb, you knew because it was too high to reach. In the sequel, you might see a message onscreen that you need to be at a higher agility level. Thanks for bursting my bubble.
At one point, I grabbed something called an "ultra assault rifle," and laid waste to an underground horde of mutants. Nice. Then I took it back to one of my tactical locations so that I could store it for later use. Sorry, some onscreen text informed me, you need to be at a higher firearms level before you can store this weapon.
This I don't get at all. If I'm not powerful enough to use the weapon, find a good reason not to let me use it. Don't arbitrarily prevent me from saving it. What's the concern here? That I might become too powerful too early? Isn't that the point of the game? This stuff never happened in the first Crackdown.