Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crackdown 2 - The Game that Stops Gaming

Rather than try the organized extreme breakdown these blog posts have been set to do, probably why I have been uninterested in continuing them and why people have been uninterested in reading them, I think it'll be better to keep these brief and unorganized but with the important information covered. Much like a conversation with a hyperactive creepy neighbor needing to tell you their innermost findings and insights on cheese.

Crackdown 2 - The Game that Stops Gaming

Before I get into much of the "plot" of Crackdown's inevitable follow up, since the first was so successful that fanboys awaited the its coming along with their own, I feel the need to point out that Crackdown 2 failed to improve one very horrible weakness of the first: replay value. If you're interested in playing a game for longer than a week--most Xboxlive users have now stopped reading--you'll be sorely disappointed with Crackdown 2. It ends as abruptly and disappointingly as The Sopranos. And once it's over the city is a happy place where you may run into a grand total of five bad guys huddled in a corner trying not to be spotted. Sure, it's nice to have closure, but is there no way that the enemy could not have regained certain territory, be scattered across the streets without their strongholds, or couldn't we have even started the game over but with all of our leveling up like so many lazy developers have offered? Besides, when we reload the game the last mission is always undone, so there isn't full closure, so we get the worst of both worlds. At least with a restart while leveled up we can run through as a god playing with ants to fulfill the fantasy of every greasy pimpled hermit still stuck in his mother's house with delusions of grandeur: not me I swear. Instead, we get nothing from Crackdown 2 but the option to run around a relaxed city collecting orbs or jumping through hoops like a circus animal. "Gee, thanks, after fighting thousands of zombies, enormous monsters, and terrorists with homing explosives, I want to run around collecting candy." The point of a sequel is to improve upon these mistakes, and while Crackdown 2 did improve plenty of things, it did not improve replay value in the slightest.

I think most frustrating of all is still climbing buildings. "But wait," you may say, "the latching has gotten a lot better." And sure, I might agree with you if I thought latching onto a ledge meant teleporting two feet upward, but my suit is still made of magical rubber and my character still stares at ledges dumbfoundedly as he falls faster and faster to his approaching doom, like a paratrooper with a death wish. Fixing one very minor point that wasn't even that annoying and then leaving the most obnoxious problems behind is something I expect from the U.S. military, not from a video game. Worse yet, the game thinks it's resolved these issues--not unlike the U.S. military and the neo-conservative movement--and then designs rooftop races that are frustratingly impossible or need to at least be done twelve times before you've memorized the race first. I thought we left the "memorize levels" style gaming back with the 8-bit Nintendo or some obnoxious games for the Sega Genesis. It ruins the satisfaction and the fun of a game when you're forced to do something so many times before being properly prepared to beat it. It's like being forced to try and convince your overly needy girlfriend that you love her ten times before you finally get it right, and then you've still have four more times of convincing anyway.

Speaking of unimproved issues, have the developers ever even tried to do anything important with the driving? The rings are poorly aligned and take about twenty practice jumps, and then you're supposed to make it through five more on your way up or down. Then the races have you driving through alleyways and roads without any guidance as to where the next checkpoint is going to pop up while people continue to wander aimlessly in the middle of the road, ignoring all traffic. It doesn't help that some of these people have a death wish and maddeningly dive in front of your car, even if you've got the squad car's sirens blaring. I guess if I were stuck in a game where my entire purpose was to stand absentmindedly in the middle of the street and get run over during each of the five laps of some "street race" I'd dive in front of the car, too. The game at least had the common decency to turn off the annoying narrator and the peace keepers from turning on you for murdering the suicidal innocent. Though it doesn't stop them later when you're fighting Cell (aka random bad guys) in the streets and citizens think it's a perfect place for a stroll by all the firing rocket launchers.

And you know what's worse than a sequel game that doesn't change the horrible parts of it's predecessor? One that adds terrible ideas thinking they're smart. I want to talk to the genius who suggested the idea of "moving orbs." Yes, as if finding and collecting 500 agility orbs and 300 hidden orbs weren't difficult and scouring enough. At least they had the decency to add in a radar function that lets you see if there are any nearby orbs every ten seconds, but it hardly makes up for thirty "renegade" agility orbs that can float at a quick speed as high or as low as they want without any regard to gravity or even walls. Nothing is more frustrating when you find yourself right next to one of these things and it changes direction last second and then floats thirty feet into the air on top of a building you now have to scale on the other side. And I doubt anyone at all thought to even try and get the driving "renegade" orbs. I tried once and after maybe thirty seconds my car was too busy being shattered by angry peace keepers mad at me for killing pedestrians. And why do the rooftop races no longer have a visible time where the race will timeout, but they still timeout? And what programmer thought it was smart to have the narrator's limited commentary--though I'm sure the voice actor is very grateful for his paycheck--repeat thirty times within the span of ten minutes? Would it have cost too much to ask the actor to say more lines, or for the writers to come up with more ideas? If that's the case, then just make the guy shut up. I don't want to hear about the fat lady "not singing yet" every time I take down a Cell Stronghold.

Though I'm being an admitted nit-picker, small things add up, especially in a game where it's made up of mostly small things you do over and over again. You may say it's not too bad to get your finger jammed in a doorway, but methinks you'd change your tone if it happened to you five times every hour. I will say that adding in "the freaks" were a nice touch, albeit just as repetitively dull as everything else by the end of the game, but nice nonetheless. I did enjoy jumping from building to building, shooting explosives and gliding with my wing suit across the large areas and catching drifts of wind to send me back up. I even enjoyed using the magnetizing grenades to create a web of vehicles by a drop point, blocking the roads and being able to hop around on floating cars. I felt like Spiderman catching bad guys. And there was something intriguing about collecting Audio Logs and hearing about this world from the view of different people within it. They'd have been nicer if they were more easily found, or if the radar function helped you find them as well as the orbs, but this game didn't try very hard to please the gamer, anyway. Ultimately Crackdown 2 is Crackdown, just with a few new quirks that were just as annoying as the old ones, and about as replayable as jumping into a pit of violent cannibals naked and covered in chocolate.

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