On the Disappointment of Crackdown 2 (or how technological isolation will lead to poor monetary decisions)

More than likely, you've been asked by a friend or acquaintance the following get-to-know-you question: “What would you bring if you were stranded on a deserted island?” Be it books, films or music, people will predictably take their favorite forms of media with them to solitary sands. That's obvious, because no one is going to voluntarily listen to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on cassette for 10 years while waiting for a Carnival cruise ship to pass by. Have we already forgotten what technological isolation did to Tom Hanks?

So picture, if you would, a particular sort of desert island scenario, one without sand and crystal clear water but pine trees and an algae-plagued lake. There's also dust. Lots of dust.

I worked a summer job at Camp Pioneer for two months, a Boy Scouts of America summer camp located in central Oregon, where the air was pure and the Internet was slow to non-existent. I brought my Xbox 360 hard drive and a few of my favorite games; With no access to Xbox Live and its myriad of wonderful releases this season (Limbo, Monkey Island 2: Special Edition and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game to name a few), I knew I'd be spending the little free time I had with the older hits.

Yet in late June I remembered Crackdown 2 was nearing its release.

To some gamers, the first Crackdown was not much more than a DVD with a link to the Halo 3 beta. However, I gave Crackdown a chance to prove itself. Its faults were readily apparent – from slowdown and glitches to awkward shooting mechanics and a corny plot – yet in spite of the problems it made an amicable impression on me. There weren't many other games out there that could turn city rooftops into a super-powered pedestrian highway.

Crackdown 2 had been in stores for two weeks by my next trip into town. After a stressful first month of camp, I needed to channel my frustrations into something both constructive and destructive. I thought I needed a new game – any game. A person can only read so many books at once in a poorly patched, canvas-roofed sleeping shack. So it was with eager anticipation that I spent $59.99 on Crackdown 2 during an arid Wednesday afternoon in July.

It was a total waste of money.

Crackdown 2 is the premiere release from Ruffian Games, a developer that houses some migrated talent from Realtime Worlds, the original creators of Crackdown. Even so, Ruffian's interpretation of the series could only have been impressive if the first Crackdown didn't already exist.

Crackdown 2 is a complete rehash of an over three year old game. And with the return of the series' repetitive elements of collecting and killing everything that beeps or bellows, a deep sameness pervades the entire experience of the sequel, which ruins the finished product. Imagine if a painter painted the same portrait twice, but he brushed a very tiny hat onto the second one and then labeled each portrait separately, as if there was a legitimate distinction between the two. Crackdown 2 is Crackdown 1 wearing a very tiny hat.

But I, lost in the technologically desolate forests beneath Mt. Jefferson, simply couldn't get enough of the game. Between breaks and after work, you'd find me in the hidden gaming nook inside the medic's lodge trying to power up some kind of energy beam that did something I can hardly remember. The plot was another throwaway attempt at a cohesive narrative.

Crackdown 2 was a momentary addiction, and I only figured out why that was after I had packed up and left. What it came down to was a very basic case of supply and demand. I demanded something new to enhance my downtime, and Crackdown 2 was the best supplier I could think of. And no, StarCraft II never even crossed my mind.

It's not that Crackdown 2 is a terrible game, it just lacks in ingenuity. What could have been a lavish sequel turned out to be an unimaginative trip down memory lane. Thrust once again into Pacific City – but wait, it's 10 years later and there are mutants! – to level up the same five skills and listen to the same, grating douche of an announcer throw out compliments and biting condemnation...it's painfully vapid.

Perspective affects personal taste quite heavily, and it's easy to forget that. There's no question that had I been in my typical, interconnected-to-nerdy-things environment I would have passed on Crackdown 2. But for two months I was missing out on new videogames, and my desire to buy something – anything – got in the way of my usual buyer-beware nature. My decision to purchase Crackdown 2 is regrettable because it's a barely improved version of an experience that was enjoyable in 2007, but not so enjoyable that it deserved to be shamelessly replicated a second time.

Let's just say that Crackdown 2 won't be the one videogame I pack in my desert island survival kit.