Compared with other AAA games, Crackdown 2 has an oddly minimalist opening. Cutscenes are short. Player customization takes all of eight seconds. Exposition consists of voice actor Michael McConnohie chiming in on occasion as the Agency Director. The visuals—which aren’t better or worse than the original game’s—are clean and surprisingly unambitious. While that less-is-more approach should feel dated, it doesn’t: After the acclaimed but honestly overwrought, overcooked Red Dead Redemption, Crackdown 2 feels as refreshingly familiar as a cold glass of water on a hot day.
The game’s story is simple: You’re a super-cop tasked with banishing crime-lords and—new to the series—inexplicably shirtless mutants. The object of the game is to roam around, getting into battles with criminals, mutants, or both. But the true object, as anyone who played the original knows, is to gather all the sparkly, ever-elusive neon orbs that dot the skyline. They’re up there, even now, blinking on rooftops, or tucked away in cul-de-sacs. After only a few orbs, the orb addiction takes hold, and suddenly, shotgun battles with shirtless mutants seem less dramatic than locating just one more orb before bedtime.
Collecting orbs makes your character stronger, allowing you to jump higher, so you can reach orbs that were previously out of reach. Doing anything in the game—getting into fistfights, using firearms, driving, etc.—earns you experience points. Even when you’ve wasted an hour trying to suss out how to reach the orb atop the water tower, it always feels like you’re making progress. Crackdown 2, like the original, is a role-playing game that doesn’t tell you you’re improving; it shows you in a tangible way.
Dissing Crackdown 2 for its lack of narrative is too easy. A videogame shouldn’t articulate everything. Games should be mysterious; something should always be left to the imagination. All most gamers need is a somewhat credible premise and a gentle nudge in the right direction. Crackdown 2 is one of the few games in recent memory to give us that nudge, then trust us enough to let us take it from there.