I can sum up the entirety of Crackdown 2's "missions" in one sentence: standing still. Reactivating the Absorption Units requires your superhuman Agent, who can leap buildings in a single bound, hoist helicopters above his head and drive SUVs like The Stig, to simply stand still and fill up a meter. It's beyond lazy. To include this as the foundation for the majority of Crackdown 2's "missions" is almost criminal. Forty pounds spent, ten seconds wasted, over and over again.
And yet, why am I still playing Crackdown 2? Why can't I put the controller down and admit my defeat in the quest for finding all the Agility Orbs, or catching that one lone Driving Orb on the Los Muertos highway, or simply attaching as many objects as possible to the Agency helicopter and swinging it around like a makeshift wrecking-ball. I can't stop playing Crackdown 2, and I don't know why.
The Crack in Crackdown
The obvious answer is Agility Orbs. Yes, those pulsing green spheres of wonder, scattered across Pacific City in a devilishly complex breadcrumb-like fashion, sprinkled on rooftops, perched on monuments, or simply sat atop the crest of a hillside. It's such a simple pleasure, and yet so addicting. Literally. I can play Crackdown and its sequel simply to find Agility Orbs. I'm on 499 in the original, 492 in the sequel. It's maddening.
But why do I, and so many others, love finding Agility Orbs? I suppose, unlike most other games with collectible trinkets, Agility Orbs actually serve a purpose. Gather enough to fill up your meter, and soon you'll be jumping higher and higher. It's a two-way relationship, as in order to reach the loftiest Orbs, you'll need to have gathered their lower-down brethren first, in order to ascend the heights. That pulsing sound, letting you know you're getting closer, followed by the sprinkling soundbite of a dozen Agility points being absorbed into your cybernetic body, is one of this generation's finest moments.
What's also obvious is that gamers are collectorholics. We love, nay, need to collect things. The audio-logs in Bioshock, the pigeons in GTA, the terminals in Halo 3, and, yes, the Agility Orbs in Crackdown. 500 to collect, along with 300 Hidden Orbs, nestled in Pacific City's nooks and crannies, their ranks bolstered by the inclusion of Renegade Orbs, Agility variants that skim across rooftops or Driving ones which zoom across the roads and back-alleys. Along with the audio-logs, 75 I believe, that's almost 1000 collectibles in Crackdown 2's toy-box. And the key to its appeal, no less.
A Playground of Destruction
Crackdown 2 is lazy. The "missions" themselves are an afterthought. And I believe this was an intentional mistake. Developers Ruffian Games, like former stable Real Time Worlds, don't want you to become engrossed in an epic narrative about the social repercussions of gang-warfare or the moral predicament of a violent mutant outbreak. They want you to drive a car off a bridge and do barrel-rolls, or gather as many combustible objects into one, confined place and drop a primed grenade.
You see, Crackdown 2 is a gamer's game. It hearkens back to the age-old formula of simply having fun when playing games. At its most basic level, gaming was about knocking a white pixel between two rectangles. Simple, but at the time, fun. Mario was about reaching the end of level flag-pole, jumping over and squashing enemies, navigating the terrain, and collecting coins. Simple, but again, fun. Crackdown 2 takes it a step further. It has no clear objectives, no suggested route to follow. It provides the player with a toy-box and a playground and relinquishes the controls.
The opportunities for mayhem in Crackdown 2 are insane. It has so many different tools to toy with, from the most basic example being blowing stuff up with the RPG, to more complex ideas, like stringing a car to adjacent buildings and tugging it back like a slingshot. When you consider four player co-op, four superpowered Agents running around, free of online shackles, the chaos-meter shatters into fine dust. I was once chased by a mad kid from Scotland who'd joined my game and decided to try and pin me to walls with the Harpoon Gun. I was at a lower level at the time, and as I ran away, two helicopters thundered from over a nearby rooftops, two more players inside, and proceed to blow me and my assailant away in a hail of machine-gun fire. It was impossible to predict, amazing to behold, and strangely satisfiying to watch as my lifeless, charred body slumped to the ground, the two helicopters zooming off, in search of my respawn-point.
Fool Me Twice...
In the end, the obvious conclusion is that without Crackdown's solid foundation of Orb-gathering and Skill-leveling, its sequel would have suffered a far more dire fate. It's taken its predecessor's blueprint, slammed a few fists into the terrain and dropped some new features and toys into the mix. It's not a true sequel, although such a thing, a full-blown Crackdown 3, is a terrifying prospect.
Games like Crackdown deserve to succeed, as half the market veers towards the casual market, and the other half tries ever so hard to be recognized as legitimate narrative experiences, Crackdown stands almost alone as the last game to fly the flag. I've seen things in Crackdown 2 that Michael Bay only dreams of in his most alcohol-ridden and drug-addled sleeps. Just no more standing around, doing nothing, when you've got biceps thicker than an anaconda and a gun big enough to start a nuclear-arms race.