Crackdown, famously, snuck up on people. Saddled by a Halo 3 multiplayer beta, everyone assumed it was a bit cack, only for it to be anything but. We loved it.
Crackdown 2 is in danger of pulling the same trick. While original developer Realtime Worlds runs around making APB, upstart Ruffian Games, staffed by various members of the original team, is calmly advancing the openworld toybox idea with new gadgets, refined geometry and an ambitious new mission structure.
We got to see a bit more of that this week courtesy of a new trailer (watch it below in HD), which introduced new Agent abilities, vehicles and the wicked-looking wingsuit.
So, when publisher Microsoft offered us the opportunity to quiz producer James Cope and development director Gareth Noyce about its contents, we jumped at the chance, then sat back down and dug out that adapter thing we use to record phone calls.
Microsoft also said it was cool for us to talk about other stuff, so we did that too, but thanks to the vagaries of embargoes you'll have to make do with trailer stuff today and other topics in part two soon. Don't worry though, we took the piss with the restrictions. Let's crack on.
Eurogamer: What was the goal of the trailer, and what should people be watching out for in terms of new features and reveals when they're watching it?
James Cope: I think the general intention of the trailer was to reinforce the mindless fun aspect of Crackdown [laughs]. It's a core message for us in terms of the way we approach the game. It's just that kind of distracting fun you get - two players, three players, four players, all getting together and diverting themselves to make big explosions and have fun.
In terms of what players can look out for in the trailer, individually there's lots of bits and pieces in there which Crackdown fans will pull out pretty quickly. New Agency vehicles, some new Agent abilities - things like the sprint barge move and the wingsuit. There's lots of stuff there in terms of gadgets, weapons and really it's just introducing a bit of a new gameplay direction for Crackdown in terms of the night-time combat with Freaks.
So there's a lot there really, and that's one of the things about Crackdown. It's a bit of everything. It's very difficult to get that message across in effectively a short trailer [laughs].
Eurogamer: You mentioned the wingsuit. Can you talk a little about that side of the game and how it affects general gameplay?
Gareth Noyce: Yeah, it's one of the new Agent abilities. We toyed around with the idea before on the first game - there was a few things we looked at, even jetpacks, and we wanted to get the wingsuit in. It's falling with style. It allows you to glide so you can do pretty big distances with it, but it's obviously skill-locked, so it's one of the things you'll get later on in the game.
Eurogamer: It reminded me somewhat of a similar thing in Prototype. It seems that there are a lot more of these blow-things-up openworld games than there were in the days of Crackdown 1. Do you feel that your competition's a bit stronger?
Gareth Noyce: Yeah, definitely, but that's a good thing. Crackdown probably picked a niche in the openworld, because obviously [at the start of 2007] it was just GTA and Saints Row, and they both went for the most realistic story-based thing. GTA's cornered the satire side of that market very well. Crackdown was always more than the sum of its parts - it was always about the things you set up, and blowing s*** up was a major part of the first game.
So yeah, Prototype, inFamous, all of those games - they look great, they all bring extra things into the city-based game. I've only played them briefly, but I'm not sure that we're all aligned in that way. I don't think we're all chasing the same thing. Crackdown 2 strikes me as possibly a little more over the top than Prototype. But all of those games are good - the more the merrier really.
Eurogamer: One of the things that set the first game apart for me was the way the city played such a large part in defining its character...
Gareth Noyce: Yeah, it was a character in the game, definitely.
Eurogamer: What sort of areas are we seeing in the trailer - anything we should recognise from the first game and any new areas you can talk about?
James Cope: I think there are some key landmarks in there that you can recognise. Agency Tower is a good one to pull out. It's similar structure, but it's kind of evolved somewhat. There's parts of the old Volk Island, which is now called Hope Springs, and there's bits and pieces from elsewhere in the world. I think there's a nice view of the new shantytown, which is where the civilians and pedestrians are hanging out trying to survive, which used to be like the old North Island by Garcia's Villa, and that's been repopulated.
So there's a lot of character progression from the city sense, and that's the kind of thing that we want to do with it, is have that feeling where people know the area but it's considerably evolved in terms of what's happened between the end of the first game and what's going on now.
Eurogamer: Right, so it's a good place to be anyway, but anyone who's played the first game will get a bit of a kick out of seeing the evolution there...
James Cope: Yeah, I mean it ranges from fairly severe destruction in places all the way through to stuff not really changed very much. So there's a ripple effect that's gone across the whole of Pacific City. That's a result of the civil war between the Cell, the Agency and the Freaks basically devastating everything in-between.
Eurogamer: What kind of Freaks are we seeing in the trailer and what others will be seeing in the full game?
Gareth Noyce: I think for the most part in the video you're seeing the lower-level Freaks. One of the things we wanted to get across was the tech we've got, so you can have hundreds of characters on-screen as you could see in the first game, and we wanted to leverage that so you have multiple targets on-screen.
So those low-level Freaks at night are really there for you just to cause carnage with. You can drive through them, you can throw them about, you can blow them up, and there's a lot of them, so that's very impressive technically and from the gameplay perspective. It's a good laugh just cleaning up the streets.
There are other Freaks in the game, but I'm not sure what we're allowed to reveal.
James Cope: There are various levels of Freaks. I mean, you're seeing just the basic level in the video, and there's at least two or three Freaks above that. We do want the Freaks to be there as kind of Agent parallels, so there's the Reaper Freaks that chase Agents across rooftops and things like that - and it goes a bit further than that, but we definitely can't talk about those at the moment [laughs].
Eurogamer: It also looked as though we were seeing multiplayer in there. Is that from the multiplayer modes or campaign co-op, and can you talk about how campaign co-op will work relative to the first game?
James Cope: It's a mixture [in the video]. There's a mix of co-op gameplay and there was some PvP competitive gameplay in there as well. I think just for impact they've used some competitive multiplayer because it's a nice controlled environment [to film] playing around. But really the essence of those is having fun with your friends and you can do that in multiple ways.
Campaign co-op... Basically when we're asked to describe the co-op gameplay it's pretty hard because the co-op gameplay is the same as the single-player gameplay, it's just got your mates in it as well. It's the same game, we try not to distinguish between them. Whatever's available is in both.
What we think is uniquely Crackdown is that that experience isn't limited, there's not a corridor of gameplay you go through, so you and your mates can really do anything you want. Four of you can be at four different corners of the world doing four different missions, for example, and that's something that is unique to us, we think. But for the purposes of the video you can't really show that very well [laughs].
Gareth Noyce: I was just going to say it's largely the same as the first game in that you can do what you want, so people drop in, drop out, there's no restrictions on it. You can take the missions out of the gameplay or you can just make your own fun up.
Eurogamer: One thing I spent quite a lot of time doing in the first game - apart from inviting my then-editor to roof and then kicking him off it repeatedly...
James Cope: I know a good story about that. I know someone who actually got reported for abuse on Xbox Live for doing that.
Eurogamer: Abuse?! Well, clearly it is, but as long as it's with somebody you know then you should settle those differences in person, I think. Going crying to Xbox Live is really some weak-sauce bulls*** frankly. Er, can you talk a little about what vehicles you see in the trailer?
James Cope: I think the only Agency vehicles that are in the trailer are the sports car and the helicopter. The supercar really is just like the first game - it's the fastest car in the game by a long way, it still scoops vehicles and things up into the air which is good fun. What we're doing slightly differently this time is going to give the player the supercar earlier. Even though it's pretty mental and fast and awesome, it's just a fairly regular, so you'll get it early on in the game as it's fun to have.
And then the more ridiculous Agency vehicles and them ore fun ones come along later. So we've got a few things we're hearing from [Crackdown 1] DLC - the Agency buggy, not shown in the trailer but I think people already know it's coming.
The helicopter's a key tool for the AI as well. The peacekeepers use the helicopter and it is good fun to play around the world. And like I say, the synchronised skydiving you can do in co-op is great fun.
Gareth Noyce: The helicopter's cool for a multitude of reasons, some of which haven't been shown yet. But it is superb fun.
Eurogamer: One thing I ended up doing quite a lot was trying to get different Achievements you put in there which seemed to seed ideas for things you could do, and I'm wondering whether you've got a similar approach of hiding bonus activities in the Achievements for Crackdown 2?
James Cope: To be honest, the Achievements came in quite late in Crackdown 1 and that is actually specifically so we can find out what players are doing and try and build around it, and that's definitely the same approach we're taking this time.
We do think Achievements are there as an opportunity to seed ideas and creative gameplay. We don't really like the 'grind' Achievements very much, even though Crackdown did have them [laughs], but we just want to make sure they underline and reinforce some kind of gameplay benefit, so it's that thing of doing alternative thinking, make people think differently about the game, and how it's an openworld toybox. The Achievements are coming in late this time, so we're still in the process of figuring out what all the best options are.
We observe what people are doing and build around that. And everyone on the test teams have ideas and we get some really mad videos, mad bugs back, and some of those manifest back into Achievements.
One of the greatest things from the first game was seeing someone driving the SUV to the top of the Agency Tower. There was no Achievement for that, but bloody hell that was an Achievement.
Eurogamer: I watched that video. It made me sick.
James Cope: That's the kind of thing we want to reward, you know, so that's how we do it.
Eurogamer: I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get away with claiming that was a question about the trailer, but I'll figure something out. Changing tack, what did you think of people making comparisons to Quake III after the last reveal? Is that something that's on your Mood Wall or whatever you have?
Gareth Noyce: The first thing we did when we started development on this was get the PvP code up and running with the new networking. It was very early on and it's key to the game so we did it early, so we had the first game with eight or nine of us playing, and it was just instantly reminiscent of Quake.
It was literally us just taking the Agents as they were, and everyone had a rocket launcher, and everyone's running around shooting each other. And it was like, "S***, this does actually feel a bit like Quake." So it wasn't an intentional thing we chased down. It's the speed of movement and the weapons in the game.
There's a lot of FPS games, there's a lot of online PvP games we play individually, a lot of influence in the stuff we're doing comes from all sorts of those games, so I wouldn't say we were chasing down anything specific. We basically just built things like the jump pads and the power-ups because they do fit with what we're doing. It's a natural kind of progression.
I think the other thing we're doing is the other types of game modes. They stray further away from the obvious towards things you can only really do in the Crackdown environment, like Rocket Tag's a good example [where one player has to keep hold of an orb while others chase him with rocket launchers].
Eurogamer: That wasn't a question about the trailer or the other stuff I'm allowed to ask about.
James Cope: Weeell, there's co-op gameplay in the trailer. I'm sure it's fine.
Let's hope it was! Check back soon for part two of the interview, with better jokes, stuff about orbs, and other jazz.