Pacific City has seen better days. It once was a thriving metropolis filled with sleek skyscrapers, a booming oil and gas industry and highways buzzing with traffic. Now it lies broken, destitute and for the most part eerily devoid of pedestrians. Things were hardly better when the place was run by three massive crime syndicates, but at least you wouldn't get shot by terrorists who claimed they were fighting your corner, and you could go out at night without being stomped on by a mutant.
The sprawling futuristic city of Crackdown 2 is just as colourful as its predecessor, but don't let the game's cel-shaded comic-book palette fool you - Ruffian Games has turned Pacific City into a far bleaker place than the one Realtime Worlds built for its 2007 cult hit.
Buildings and overpasses have crumbled and collapsed. Fires eat away at the insides of apartment blocks. The streets are mostly empty; during the day, snipers turn most of the city into a killzone and hordes of mutated freaks roam the streets at night. The only signs of life aside from the odd passing car are panhandlers selling food out of stolen containers at the docks to the city's desperate citizens. To put it bluntly, the place is in even worse shape than before.
Of course, all of this means that players will have even more fun hurtling around Pacific City as a super-powered agent than they did in the first game. As bad as things are, they haven't slowed down the people responsible for turning the place into a hellhole; the Agency cops still prowl the streets, shooting at anything that moves and leaping from building to building.
Crackdown 2's environment offers tons of power-ups, races, collectibles, weapons and (most important) targets for players to get stuck into, and this time they don't even have to worry about collateral damage. The Agency top brass (once again superbly voiced by Michael McConnohie) doesn't seem to care if its agents inflict civilian casualties; the game's "skills for kills" aspect applies to any living target the player dispatches.
This is just one of the many changes Ruffian Games has made to Crackdown's brutally simple template, and like all the others, it has only one aim in mind: to make the game more fun. All Crackdown 2's enhancements are geared towards having a good time and anything in the first game that stood in the way of the player's enjoyment has been either tweaked or removed.
For example, the Crackdown faithful may remember that levelling up an agent's driving ability was a massive pain in the first game due to the penalties for running down civilians, and the paucity of areas filled exclusively with gang members. This isn't a problem in Crackdown 2; civilians are now legitimate targets and at night there are so many freaks roaming the streets that the player is spoiled for choice for roadkill targets. According to Ruffian Games, the levelling barrier has been lowered across the board, meaning players spend less time transforming their Agent into a walking slaughterhouse.
This isn't to say that everything is handed to you on a plate. Some power-ups make the player work harder for them than in the last game. There are both jumping and driving orbs which lead the player on a merry chase before they offer their rewards. Attacking freaks may be a great way to earn levelling-up orbs, but doing so also means bigger and nastier freaks will converge on the player in ever increasing numbers. In small groups, freaks are manageable but they become positively lethal when they attack the player en masse.