GamesBeat

Cracking Down on Crackdown 2 Negativity

Editor's note: Pete took offense to the disparaging reviews of Crackdown 2 staff member Aaron Thomas referenced yesterday, so he decided to write a reasoned defense of the game. Will it be enough to sway your opinion? -Brett


Hey, you. Yes, you. Guy who's been saying nasty things about Crackdown 2 after reading the poor reviews. I'm going to say why I think you're wrong. I respect your viewpoint, and I still love you, but you're wrong.

Actually, no; that's harsh. You are of course entitled to your own opinion, even if mine is better.

Here's the deal: Crackdown 2 is an open-world game, but the developers at Ruffian have said that they wanted to distinguish the game's play style from games such as Red Dead RedemptionAssassin's Creed 2, and the like.

And it's true. Those titles purport to be open-world games but actually end up having a rather tight, linear mission structure. This isn't a bad thing; as everyone knows, linear games are more inclined to have stronger stories since it's a lot easier to script something when you know the player isn't going to run off somewhere completely random.

Crackdown 2 takes the complete opposite approach. Yes, there is a flimsy justification for the Agents' presence in the city. But completing the story is not intended to be the primary purpose of the game. The primary purpose of the game is nothing more than having fun. Producer James Cope described the experience to IGN as being like playtime at school, running around, and shouting "BRILLIANT!" — and if you approach the game in this manner, then it's a hell of a lot of fun.

 

On top of this, there's the fact that Crackdown 2 is in the truest sense an open-world game. The whole world is open from the outset. Agents can go anywhere and tackle objectives in any order. Sure, some places will be harder to access without appropriate leveling-up. But it is indeed possible to run off in any direction at the opening of the game and tackle things in any order desired.

This is a good thing, particularly for a game built with co-op fun in mind. There's nothing worse than being stuck with co-op buddies and having to sit through cutscenes and lengthy conversations. When you're playing with other people, you want to be able to jump straight in. And in Crackdown 2 you can do that.

Crackdown 2 screenshot

Critics have been complaining that all of the missions are the same. Sure, the objectives are repetitive: activate three absorption units, defend a beacon, lather, rinse, repeat. But this means that anyone can jump into anyone else's game and not feel "left behind" or unclear about what they are supposed to do.

What people complaining about this also don't mention is that navigating to the beacon itself is different every time. It's normally hidden underground behind a selection of obstacles which require negotiating. Sometimes working out the best route is an environmental quasi-puzzle in itself.

Once you make it to the beacon, the defense event that occurs while you wait for it to detonate varies considerably from beacon to beacon. Sometimes there'll be swarms of close-combat enemies. Sometimes there'll be a few ranged enemies. Sometimes there are massive enemies who can endure one hell of a beating. There's variety there. Sure, you're still defending a point against a swarm of enemies. But people do that all the time in Team Fortress 2Gears of War and Halo and don't complain. So what's the problem here? 

If activating beacons isn't your idea of fun, there are also races to complete on foot and in cars, Freak Breaches to close, orbs to collect, audio logs to find, and a limitless swarm of enemies on which to take out your aggression. And don't forget the wide selection of creative and fun Achievements to attempt and a huge and detailed city to simply explore.

Now, onto the graphics. One thing that is rapidly starting to grate on me about this console generation is the level of obsessiveness over the superficial aspects of a game's presentation. It used to be that people could appreciate a game even if it had graphics that didn't look as "good" (and that's such a subjective term anyway) as titles perceived as "benchmarks." Now, it seems, if a game doesn't look as good as Assassin's Creed 2, it looks like "crap."

Crackdown 2 has a distinctive, clean visual style that is light on the detail but heavy on the draw distance. Yes, there are times when the frame rate drops a bit. But it does an important job for an open-world game set in a high-rise city: It gives the player a sense of scale. Crackdown and its sequel are two of the only games I've ever played where I've felt vertigo — proof if proof were needed that the game is doing its job very ably in representing the size of the city and the Agents' seeming insignificance within it.

Crackdown 2 screenshot

I think what I object to most, though, is the assertion that the game is "bad." People are saying that they "hate" the game, that it's a "failure," that it "sucks." But it does what it was supposed to do. It provides a solid, co-op friendly, bubblegum-pop experience that is fun. Nothing more than that. It's not trying to be high art. It's not trying to be a great narrative experience. It's not even trying to be hugely different from its predecessor. It's simply trying to do the same, but more so. That does not make it a bad game.

Remember Doom 2? That was pretty good, right? But do you remember the fact that it only added one new weapon and a handful of new enemies? Yet people still liked it.

How about the bajillion military first-person shooters out there? There's not a lot to distinguish them from each other in many cases. Yet millions of people still play them without complaint.

What about racing games? Arguably the biggest innovators in that genre recently have been Split/Second and Blur, both of which suffered very disappointing sales figures. Many gamers prefer the comfortable familiarity of Forza 3 and its equivalents, which still follow the same gameplay model that Gran Turismo set thirteen years ago. Yes, thirteen years.

The fact is, despite what I said in the introduction, I'm not saying that people who don't like Crackdown 2 are wrong. Quite the contrary, in fact. The game is not something that will appeal to everyone; what game is? The thing which has disappointed me about the critical reception to the game is the fact that the subjective "I don't like this" has become perceived as an objective "this is bad." The two statements are very different.

The only real way to be sure, of course, is to try the game for yourself. Take it in the spirit in which it is intended. It's not Dragon Age: Origins, it's not Red Dead Redemption, it's not Oblivion. It's Crackdown. It is its own thing. It wants to provide a shallow, entertaining experience that isn't intended to be taken the slightest bit seriously. And in that respect, it succeeds admirably. It's not an experience which will appeal to everyone. But that doesn't mean it should be branded as a bad game. It should be accepted on its own merits. I'd even argue that it shouldn't be compared to its predecessor.

If you're one of the people who has read one of these negative reviews and thought, "Oh… that's a shame," because you actually quite liked the idea of a city-sized playground in which to jump around and have fun? I'd encourage you to give it a chance. It's a vapid whore that just wants your love, and she doesn't mind if you cheat on her with cleverer games.

So go on. Call her. You know you want to, really.


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