Pacific City has been having a truly lousy decade. After the events of Crackdown, it seemed like a tightly-controlled Utopia was about to be enforced, but instead the city got overrun with mutants and rebels. Now the place is basically a ruin, with broken buildings, shattered bridges, torn up streets, and a police force that can barely keep the populace alive. Basically, Pacific City is Detroit with a mutant freak problem, and it desperately needs a champion.
Unfortunately, finding a specimen like the original Agent isn't easy, but the new guy shows promise. After a bit of training (mercifully short) Crackdown 2 jumps straight to the action by dropping you in the middle of a firefight. The renegade gang Cell has captured tactical areas throughout the city, and the Agency wants them back to use as supply points in the quest to reclaim their territory. Once the first supply point is secured it's time to get out there and treat the city as your own personal explosive jungle gym.
Very few sandbox games are sandbox-ier than Crackdown. It's certainly possible to play it with one mission leading to another, but Pacific City is a giant playground that almost demands to be explored. The orb-hunting from the first game is back, making it far too easy to get sidetracked from the task at hand by letting a string of glowing green agility orbs sitting on top of a row of buildings lead you completely astray. Grabbing orbs enhances the Agent's agility, making him run faster and jump farther, opening up new areas for exploration, in an addictive cycle of collectible-chasing exploration.
Despite orb hunting's incrdibly distracting nature, Crackdown 2 isn't an urban Pac-Man. Once the first tactical zone is claimed, Project Sunburst can get underway in earnest. Project Sunburst is a plan to use a giant bomb of light to fry the freaks, who disintegrate under the sun's rays. The light absorption units are in Cell's hands, however, and each one needs to be freed and then activated to add its beam to the beacon. Once enough power is available it's into the freak lair to guard the central beacon while it activates, which can lead to some epic fights as hordes of freaks try to destroy it.
As the game progresses and the freak and Cell body count racks up, the Agent's skills rise with it. While this has the lovely effect of granting access to better guns, faster cars, and more boomy explosives, it also leads to a problem. Most games can be enjoyed just fine without ever looking at the difficulty level, at least on the first playthrough, but the Agent is just too overpowered for his enemies on the default settings. The most common freaks are simple cannon fodder, falling over with a single melee attack, and even the big guys go down easy once you start grabbing chunks of scenery to beat them with. Cell isn't any tougher, although they're better handled with guns instead a more hands-on approach. Bump the difficulty up a notch or two, though, and the combat is much more fun, with the Agent feeling like an appropriately badass super-cop rather than an unstoppable force of irresistible justice squishing enemies between his invincible toes.
While combat and orb-hunting are the two major occupations of a Pacific City Agent, there are a handful of other tasks to divert attention as well. In addition to rooftop races, which challenge the Agent to run a series of checkpoints across the top of the city within a set time limit, there are now renegade agility orbs that run away if you get too close. These range in difficulty from pretty easy to maddeningly tricky, and even maxed-out agility isn't enough to grant a quick victory for the toughest chases. The time trials and renegade driving orbs for cars are noticeably easier, with the agency supercar making quick work of most of them thanks to its top-notch speed and handling. The new stunt rings, though, are a lot of fun to figure out, and like the renegade orbs and races come in both car and agility-oriented versions. They take a bit of trial and error but it feels great to finally nail the tougher ones with a perfectly-targeted trajectory.
Crackdown 2 presents a giant urban stomping ground to play in, filled with toys and enemies. The return to Pacific City may mean it's a bit too familiar for veterans of the first game, but there are enough changes and additions to give it its own identity. The freeform co-op multiplayer, where every player can choose to work together or just spread random destruction around the city, makes a welcome return, and on the highest difficulty levels a little help is more than welcome in clearing objectives. Crackdown 2 doesn't try to tell a great story or expand the sandbox genre into new territories, but rather strip it down to its basics by letting every moment be as action-packed as the player wants it to be. This leads to gaming sessions that last far too late into the night, as missions lead to orbs lead to seeing how big an explosion you can create. It's an a addictive cycle that's hard to stop, and a hallmark of a truly fun game.