Ask any Xbox 360 owner to name their favorite superhero games of this console generation, and you'll find "Crackdown" at the top of many lists. Upon it's release in 2007, the third-person action game allowed players to take on the role of a super-powered officer of the law enforcement outfit the Agency, taking them with cleaning up the gang-ridden streets of Pacific City. The combination of open world mayhem, an addictive leveling system and online co-op made the game a hit with both critics and consumers, and fans who have been anxiously awaiting a return to Pacific City will get their wish this week when "Crackdown 2" hits store shelves.
The story in "Crackdown 2" takes place ten years after the events of the original game, during which time the city has undergone some drastic changes. A plague has mutated much of the citizenry into hideous Freaks, and a new terrorist organization called Cell has risen up to fight the Agency's attempts to restore order. Ruffian Games is the developer behind "Crackdown 2," and CBR News spoke with Creative Director Billy Thomson about what's both familiar and different in Pacific City this time around.
CBR News: Billy, as you approached the development of "Crackdown 2," what were the elements of the first game that you wanted to build on for the sequel?
Billy Thomson: There were a few things we felt were lacking in the first game that we should improve on. The big ones were the number of players available in co-op - admittedly this wasn't a failing in the first game, more of an area we wanted to expand - we also had no online competitive game modes, the hand to hand combat didn't work very well at all and we didn't have enough variation in the type of objectives the player could take on. These were the key areas we focused on right at the start of development of "Crackdown 2."
The visuals in "Crackdown 2" seem to have evolved a bit from the first game. How would you describe the changes to the look of Pacific City?
The visual style has remained the same, but we've increased the resolution on the characters, equipment and vehicles and also did a lot more work on the shaders applied to the entire game world. There's a visible layer of grit and deterioration covering most of the game world, which accounts for the ten year period of neglect and abuse the city has been through. We've also done more work on our lighting, shadows and ambient occlusion to make the city feel more solid and believable. Overall, the artistic style hasn't changed; it's just the setting of the city has required the visuals to take on a slightly grittier appearance.
Speaking of which, the strongest character in the first "Crackdown" was Pacific City itself. How much has that character changed in "Crackdown 2," and what will still be familiar to players of the first game?
The environment certainly played a big role in the first game and we've done everything we can to keep the right things familiar and mix up the rest as much as possible. Key landmarks remain in the same place as they were before, allowing players to use them as navigation aids, but most of them have been completely replaced with new structures, or the original structure has been drastically altered - normally partially destroyed. We've kept the same road layout - albeit blocked at certain points with the quarantine walls that were built around the city during the first few years of the Freak virus outbreak - as we didn't want players to need to learn their way around all of the streets of Pacific City again. What we really wanted players to need to explore and relearn was the rooftops, and that's where we've spent most of our time. There are also nine large subterranean Freak Lairs dotted around the city that will give the player another level of verticality to deal with too.
How did you deal with the challenge of creating a narrative in an open world game like "Crackdown 2?"
Creating a fully unfolding story in a truly freeform game is pretty much impossible. The amount of branches you would need to deal with if the player came at the many different objectives in different orders is simply too many to imagine. So we've focused our story around discovering the truth about what happened during the ten years in between "Crackdown" and "Crackdown 2." How did the Freak virus reappear? Who are Cell, why did they form and why do they hate the Agency? What happened to the Agents during the ten years that had passed? Are the Agency withholding an antidote to the Freak virus? What is Project Sunburst and what is it ultimately capable of? These are the kind of questions the player can try to find answers to during their exploration of Pacific City.
One of the central concepts of "Crackdown 2" is the difference between day and night. Just how different will the experience be for players depending on what time of day they venture out into Pacific City?
The difference from a visual and gameplay point of view is drastic. During daylight hours, the streets are patrolled by Agency Peacekeeper vehicles and the odd Cell vehicle. The few civilians who have avoided infection wander the streets looking for anything they can get their hands on to survive - food, water, fuel, weapons. Some people who have managed to get their hands on these valuable resources will be found selling them on at extortionate prices. It's a bleak place, but it's as close to normality as you'll get in Pacific City during daylight hours.