The same thing happens every day. The sun, rising unseen, illuminates Pacific City with a vague, generic glow. In this unwashed daylight, Pacific City’s buildings, which glower with foreboding imperialism in the darkness, are revealed to be charmless monoliths — a warren of cardboard box offices and oatmeal can towers. An occasional flock of paper scraps churn through the air in the otherwise featureless corners and alleyways. As the light emerges, so do the city’s sanest residents. I say “sanest,” though I would be hard-pressed to defend the mental health of citizens who insist on loitering in the streets like herd animals — a meandering obstacle course the game admonishes me for mowing down.
Then the same thing happens every night. The streams of citizens evaporate as darkness oozes into the streets along with a dense backwash of mutants: pale, bulbous men studded with bony spikes and screaming, wiry women with frazzled hair. Outnumbering the healthy citizens, the freaks clog every corner of nocturnal Pacific City. Throwing punches at them results in a dense flurry of motion as I flit from one to the next, and it’s a simple matter to leap to the roof of a nearby building and target them with firearms. But that maneuver is likely to summon a carload or two of the game’s gang of human rebels, with their automatic rifles, endless ammunition and ability to track me across rooftops.
The same thing happens every year. I find myself leaping from rooftop to rooftop, from skyscraper to street and back up again, as I bounce and climb around crime-infested cities. But unlike the truly epic scale of last summer’s inFamous and Prototype, the feeble heights and featureless skyline of Crackdown 2 present me with limited opportunities for super-powered heroics. I’m no longer impressed that I’m able to leap to the top of tall buildings in a single bound. In Crackdown 2, I’m merely a bundle of offensive maneuvers ricocheting around a mock-up metropolis, pretending to save the day and night when all I’m really doing is going through the motions.
THE GOOD: At first, I was frustrated with my limited abilities to rampage through Crackdown 2’s cityscape. I could barely leap up a single story, my available guns were feeble little firearms, and every vehicle I drove swerved like it was rolling on ice. But as I achieved each rooftop, blasted each enemy and careered through the street-level “races,” I obtained points in the corresponding skills. My avatar, in the tradition of Oblivion and Fable 2, was being shaped by my actions.
THE BAD: Crackdown 2 calls to mind the inconsistent 3-D modeling and animation of early PlayStation games. My avatar snaps from one action to another with no fluidity between. I’m able to edge around corners while hanging on the outside of buildings, but unable to move along horizontal pipes and poles in the same position. And using the game’s targeting system is a fussy, frustrating cycle of locking-on, unlocking, re-aiming and re-locking. The game itself seems to insist on deciding whom or what I want to attack.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Crackdown 2 is a mindless summer rampage that deadens its potential blockbuster energy with low-budget production values.