Crackdown 2 takes you back to the streets of Pacific City as a tool of a governmental task force known as the Agency. Once again, it’s your job as one of the many superhuman clone Agents to police the city, ridding it of crime, gangs, and now, mutated residents known affectionately as the Freaks.

As soon as the 30 minute demo begins, you are dropped into a fire-fight between Agency Peacekeepers and Cell, an opposing terrorist faction bent on disrupting the Agency’s authority. The hilariously sadistic voice of the Agency, acting as your constant companion issuing orders from headquarters, commands you to crush the resistance in the area, and then proceeds to take great pleasure in your doing so.

As a newcomer to the series I was initial impressed with the the snappy and intuitive controls, but the more I played, the more dissatisfied I became with them, especially when in combat.

While auto-targeting with the left trigger makes the game a lot quicker and kinetic than a free-aim system might, more often than not you’ll find yourself aiming at something off in the distance. You’ll sometimes snap to a vehicle, or one of the many combustible objects, rather than the folks up-front who are currently riddling your body with bullets. There isn’t even a target-switching mechanism, forcing you to let go of the trigger momentarily to adjust your aim, and hope it’ll snap to the intended target next time. In most cases this is no big deal, Agents soak up a lot of damage, giving you time to adjust, but when you’re tackling a crowded area like a Cell stronghold, it just makes the combat feel imprecise and clumsy.

As for close combat, hitting the B button causes your Agent to pummel the nearest baddie in the general direction you are facing, and that is about the extent of it. The idea of your beefed up Agent getting stuck in using his new-found strength is awesome, but unfortunately, due to Crackdown’s scope – that is to say, mowing down everything en-mass with tremendous explosions and vehicles – melee appears to have been neglected. Which is a shame as the game could have  benefited from some crazy grappling moves, especially for some creative crowd control when on foot amongst the Freaks at night.

For the most, part the cel-shaded, comic book style of Crackdown 2 looks good. The Agent’s appearance alters as he gains levels, and the improvised corrugated iron of the Mad-Maxian Cell faction is suitably rusty; but the large colorful environment suffers from the design choice and everything ends up feeling a little flat because of it. I can fully appreciate that the reasoning behind the simple style was to conserve as much of your system’s power to render the oncoming over-the-top fiery carnage, but it’s still a little disappointing.

The first game received praise for its multiplayer modes, but story missions were generally regarded as repetitive, Crackdown 2′s demo has done little to convince me the sequel will do otherwise. Collecting orbs to increase your Agent’s stats, and the rewards associated with them, would be fun for a while, but the demo really doesn’t showcase any deep variety that would keep me interested for long. The beacon mission that makes up the bulk of the demo, involving the Agent activating arrays around the city to harness the Sun’s energy to wipe out Freak layers, is fun. Once. But the full game will apparently ask you to do it eight more times.

I could be pleasantly surprised and Crackdown 2 might have an intriguing story, and the addition of collectible audio-log elements added at various points around the city could work in its favor, but it’s apparent from reading the achievement list that it is much more interested in breeding as much chaos as possible in multiplayer than spinning an engaging yarn. For one, players must “Pass a vehicle back and forth between Agents 3x using UV shotguns. Vehicle must not hit the ground.” for 10 Gamer Score.

Upon releasing the demo, Microsoft made a big to-do of being able to unlock 100 Gamer Score’s worth of achievements while you played the demo, but I am not entirely sure I see the point since they only become official once you have bought the full game. I think a better idea, especially for those completionists among us, would be to unlock the 100G in the demo without having to buy the full game. I know it would drive me crazy having only 10% of the possible points, and would at the very least make me go out and rent Crackdown 2.

Crackdown 2 will hit store shelves, July 6th, 2010, Agent.