Crackdown 2

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It's powered, and powered brilliantly, by some big fat contradictions. Crackdown 2's built from an epic move set, with every jump, roundhouse and ground-pound crafted to make you feel utterly heroic - but all of that's blended with a satirical narrative that slyly undermines you at every step.

Its seamless four-player co-op provides access to intoxicating multiplayer chaos, but it's stuffed inside a design that works at its very best when it's tempting you towards an evening of lonesome rooftop exploration.

And, yes, up close, it's a game of jagged edges and over-stretched textures, but that's in order to power the most expansive - and most essential - draw distance in modern gaming: a vista three islands deep that allows you to plan your next jackbooted disaster without muddling through mini-maps and pause menus.

The most fundamental contradiction of all, however, is this: like the original, Crackdown 2 only really begins at the point where most other games would be wrapping up.

Only with the campaign behind you will you start to get a true sense of just how good this game can be. Like Realtime Worlds before it, Ruffian has crafted a city-wide adventure where the defining moments all come after the hectic street battles and monster-mashes have died away. Only then can you truly enjoy the set-piece skyscrapers (of which there are one or two brilliant new additions), the wind-blown silence and the hunt for those devilishly desirable Agility Orbs.

It's so pleasing to hear the voice of the Agency - part embarrassing uncle, part sinister gameshow host - ringing in your ears again.

As bizarre as it is to suggest, this isn't a go-to game as much as a come-back-to game: it's something you'll be happy to play for 10 minutes in between other, busier offerings, because there's always something useful or hilarious you can do in that space of time, and because a powered-up agent with a homing rocket launcher (and an SUV in the garage) offers more fun per single button press than anything else in the world.

That's possibly being a bit unfair to the main campaign, however, which has had plenty of clever tweaks this time around. Ten years have passed since the first Crackdown and Pacific City is in ruins, overrun by mutant Freaks and beset by an anti-Agency pressure group turned terrorist outfit known as the Cell. In their knitwear and arm-bands, the Cell are a bit Save the Whales, but they've chosen to save these particular whales with the help of armoured pick-up trucks and grenade launchers.

These two factions - the former ruling the streets by night while the latter picks away at you during the day - power the game's new objectives, as Ruffian ditches the original's simple roster of assassination targets in favour of a range of new set-piece activities, all of which revolve around holding onto territory in the midst of nasty battles.

Above all else, this shift exemplifies a game that's been rebuilt for co-op. Try soloing the main missions in Crackdown 2 and it can seem a bit gruelling, particularly when the Godzilla-sized enemies and armour-clad militia units start to turn up. Play with friends, however, and it's a breezy delight, as you reclaim stronghold areas from the Cell by clearing tactical landing zones of enemy resistance, or battle the Freaks by restarting a network of rooftop Absorption units before taking the fight into underground raid areas where beacons tear the mutants to shreds with bursts of pure daylight.

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