Crackdown 2 preview

Crackdown 2 preview

This game shouldn’t exist. That’s a strange thing to write about the sequel to a critically lauded open-world shooter from the creator of Grand Theft Auto. But it’s the truth. Kind of.

Actually, the truth in this case is difficult to pin down. What’s clear is that Realtime Worlds spent over four years developing Crackdown for Microsoft. Released in 2007, two years before Infamous and Prototype, it presented a huge futuristic city in which the player – as an augmented supercop – had total freedom.

Despite the acclaim, and sales of 1.5 million, Crackdown 2 somehow got lost. Microsoft, the IP owner, seemed to be in no hurry to commission a sequel, and Realtime Worlds was already well into APB, another, more conceptually ambitious, open-world shooter. It’s the sort of situation they’d call ‘development hell’ in the movie industry.

Veteran game designer Billy Thomson, an original member of the GTA team, worked on Crackdown. Now Ruffian Games’ co-founder and creative director, he smiles contritely when asked about what happened. “I can only speak personally, but I spent a lot of time on the first game, I really wanted to make a sequel, and to be honest I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing at Realtime Worlds. The company went in a direction that…” He pauses for a second, then changes tack. “I wanted to continue making console games.”

Early last year, Thomson was approached by Gary Liddon and Gareth Noyce who were running Xen Group, a sort of trouble-shooting outfit sent in by Microsoft to aid its firstparty developers. The duo wanted to set up their own studio, and were looking for help. Thomson decided to go for it, and the new team successfully pitched for the Crackdown 2 project. A minor media fuss developed; Realtime chief David Jones said he was ‘miffed’ at Microsoft. It was juicy for a while. Then the companies just got down to making their games – which is fortunate since Ruffian went out and rented a pristine new office on the Dundee waterside, barely half a mile from Realtime’s HQ.

Several months later, the game is 60 per cent complete, with a release date pencilled in for early 2010. Set ten years after the close of the first title, Crackdown 2 presents a world gone pretty much to hell. A horde of murderous, genetically modified freaks, created by rogue scientist Dr Czernenko (and accidentally unleashed by the agent in a Crackdown mission), now wander the streets of Pacific City in their thousands. During a decade of bloodshed, dozens of survivors have organised into a quasi-terrorist outfit known as The Cell, aiming to fight the freaks and sabotage the discredited Agency programme. As the player enters the game, the once-powerful organisation is regrouping; you’re the first agent they’ve got back online.

Pacific City has effectively been rebuilt for Crackdown 2. The road layout is the same, and veterans will recognise many districts, but this is no longer a functioning conurbation: it’s an urban warzone. Around the crumbling buildings, areas are now being reclaimed by vegetation. Civilian groups have employed any resources they can find to protect themselves, ripping down scaffolding and looting industrial sectors for materials. Producer James Cope shows us an area – a smart residential block – which has been crudely fortified; rickety walkways now run between the buildings, suspended by thin metal and wooden poles, a neon sign has been requisitioned as a security door. Everywhere, there are rusting corrugated iron barriers and makeshift shantytowns. It’s a bold vision, like Mad Max 2 moved into a modern US city. Indeed, the influence of George Miller’s cult flick is also palpable in the vehicle design. Trucks and commuter buses have been converted into armoured vehicles, complete with improvised gun turrets.