Welcome to the introductory paragraph! In a normal review, this is where we might explain the concept of the game, or recount the history of the franchise, or hook your interest with a particularly dramatic description of something that happened to us while playing. For Crackdown 2, however, we feel a rare journalistic responsibility to cut the bullshit and drive straight to the point: This is the same game as Crackdown 1.
That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. If you loved the original and just want a second, slightly enhanced sandbox in which to explore and experiment with your friends, then you'll be satisfied… though never surprised. If you liked the original, but were expecting big improvements to address some very obvious flaws, then you'll be disappointed, frustrated and possibly even angered… yet once again addicted for hours at a time.
Confusing, right? Let's explain in detail…
What's still great about Crackdown
You don't jump. You launch into the sky, soaring higher than the roofs of buildings and landing with a concrete-cracking tremor. You don't run. You speed through the air like a human bullet, leaving exhaust trails and startled pedestrians in your wake. You don't hit. You pummel and pulverize, sending enemies hurtling across entire city blocks with a single punch, kick or throw. No franchise is better at making you feel like a godly, all-powerful superhero – a crazy combination of Superman, Flash, Hulk, Spider-Man and The Punisher – than Crackdown.
And in Crackdown 2… You can fly! Sort of. Once you've leveled up your agent character enough, you receive a "wing suit" upgrade that enables you to glide through the air like a leaf on the breeze, grabbing much greater distance out of every leap and every freefall. The new ability isn't explained too well (a tiny text box is the only tutorial) and requires a lot of trial-and-error practice, but once perfected, basically adds Iron Man to the superhero list above.
Before you can learn to fly, you must learn to collect. Fortunately, searching for Agility Orbs – the shimmering green power-ups that act as Crackdown's XP – is the most addictive part of the game. They're everywhere you look, and yet somehow always just out of reach. Spend ten minutes figuring out how to climb a tower for one and you'll discover another dozen beckoning to you from the horizon, each demanding its own unique and inventive approach. Suddenly it's 4:00 AM and you're still hungry for more.
And in Crackdown 2… The developers feed your habit even further. In addition to the 500 Agility Orbs, 300 Hidden Orbs and 80 Xbox Live Orbs (visible at all times, but attainable only in co-op), they've thrown in Renegade Orbs, living power-ups that will actually run away from you. If you thought you were obsessed during the last game, wait until you try to grab these – the endless chases are both maddening and ridiculously satisfying.
Crackdown could arguably be called the best co-op franchise of this generation. You're not merely shooting enemies side by side, or manning a turret while the other guy drives. These games are giant playgrounds, designed for DIY play - much like the famously imaginary Calvinball, you and your friends are free to make up your own rules, your own contests and your own fun.
And in Crackdown 2… That fun grows exponentially every time another player joins in, so the follow-up smartly increases co-op from two to four. More importantly, though, Crackdown 2 gives your group major incentives to stay together as often as possible. New toys like the webby mag grenades – with which you can hang a car between two buildings, or attach a tank to a helicopter – are wasted unless there's someone else there to see your bizarre construction / destruction. New Achievements require that multiple parties be involved – how are you going to "leap from one fast moving vehicle to another" for 10G unless your friends are driving both?
Finally, the new missions are much easier when tackled with multiple guns. Sections that you'll fail by yourself over and over, sometimes even on the lowest difficulty level, are suddenly a shoot-and-forget breeze once co-op help arrives. While this is a fantastic way to encourage teamwork, it often ends up punishing those who want to – or have to – play alone. Which brings us to the next page: What's still crap about Crackdown.