Making the sequel to a blockbuster hit must be tough. On the one hand, you've got to keep the existing fanbase happy by offering more of what made it a hit in the first place. On the other you're expected to be all innovative and bold, and come up with fresh ideas which will attract new admirers without annoying the old ones. And on top of all that you've got to fix everything that was wrong with the original, make the visuals prettier, construct a new plot, create new characters, invent new weapons... No wonder George Lucas struggled.
So is Ruffian Games up to the challenge? The studio itself is something of a spin-off as it's mainly staffed by former Realtime Worlds employees. They all worked on the first Crackdown, which ought to give them an advantage when it comes to developing the sequel. Producer James Cope and lead designer Steve Iannetta, who conduct a demo presentation at the Tokyo Game Show, certainly seem to know what they're talking about - and what they're tasked with.
"There is an awful lot of new stuff in Crackdown 2," says Iannetta. "However, I believe we've kept to what the essence of it... The core of it is still Crackdown. We believe we've augmented the areas which need to be augmented, but retained the essence of what people really love."
"The verticality, the exploration of the city, the orb collecting - those are the kinds of things people love," Cope chimes in. "The situation we've always been in with Crackdown is you've got such a broad brush of things to play with and talk about. Now there's scope to play with all those things in different ways."
The new stuff includes that brand new storyline. Once again Crackdown 2 is set in Pacific City, and you're still an Agent charged with cleaning up the streets. But 10 years have passed since the end of the last game, during which time a mysterious virus has ravaged the city. Your new targets are the Freaks, infected mutants who run riot when night falls. Humans are able to roam freely during the day, but life's still a bit of a struggle as they spend their time trading limited resources and trying to find a safe place to spend the night.
As Cope explains, the contrast between these periods is key to the dynamic Ruffian wants to establish in Crackdown 2. "This is really important stuff because we're setting up a big gameplay contrast between day and night. In the daytime there's going to be an element where things are controlled by the Cell and you're fighting against them. Then at night-time the Freaks come out, and you're going to have some pretty wild battles with them. That's the kind of light and dark contrast we're trying to create."
The Freaks aren't just there to add a bit of narrative colour - they're also there to balance the gameplay. They're faster and more aggressive than enemies in the previous game, they attack in greater numbers and they can jump just as high as you. "In the first Crackdown the Agent was always pretty much the most powerful thing in the world, and that kind of left you unthreatened," says Cope. "So we wanted to add a bit of threat and think a bit more carefully about how to use the vertical space. So the Freaks will meet and exceed the Agent's abilities in some cases. You'll have scenarios, for example, where you're chased across rooftops by a bunch of Freaks, which is great fun."