When I was younger, my parents would frequently boot me out of the house, reminding me as I left that I'd get 'square eyes' if I played anymore video games. It was on these occasions, deprived from my beloved games that I'd venture off to the local playground. It was furnished with the usual ensemble of swings, slides and monkey bars you'd expect from such a place, as well as one of those swinging tyres that other children would push to incredulous heights. It was awesome. At times, I'd ignore the equipment altogether, however, entertaining myself by walking the perimeter of the playground balancing on the fence, or timing myself to see how quickly I could run an obstacle course I'd invented. I loved the fact that nobody could tell me what to do in the playground; there were no rules or stipulations. It was an environment where you could make your own fun.
The same can be said for the sandbox genre, which throws traditional game design out of the window in favour of action orchestrated by the player. Whilst Rockstar might have popularised the genre with Grand Theft Auto, it was Realtime Worlds and Crackdown that arguably made the genre their own. Just like the free-form nature of a children's playground, Crackdown offered a framework for fun. If purging the streets of criminals ever got mundane, you could go off and collect agility orbs, indulge in street races, or climb to the highest point in the city before leaping off for that classic 'Base Jumper' achievement. The game never forced you into doing anything you didn't want to – you chose what you did, when you did it, and when to move on.
Pacific City was the metaphorical playground of the first Crackdown; a sprawling metropolis that extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. Assuming the role of a genetically enhanced super agent, nowhere was off limits. You could scale buildings in a single bound, run quicker than the wind, and throw vehicles around as if they were made of papier-mâché. The game gave you some weapons, some vehicles, and a range of skills, and just let you get on with things. The world was your oyster.
With Realtime Worlds busy with APB, the creative reins were handed to Ruffian Games for the sequel. Rather fittingly, the young Scottish start-up is formed from members of the original Crackdown team, and is based just down the road from Realtime Worlds in Dundee. The sequel takes place ten years after the events of the original, which judging by the efforts of the Agency ten years previous, should be the safest place in the world. No such luck. Pacific City is still teeming with criminal activity, and the city requires the help of the Peace Keepers now more than ever. An underground resistance known as Cell are at the root of the problems, who have taken the law into their own hands after losing their faith in the Agency.
The first game got some flak for its uninspired campaign, which was a mindless case of defeating gang leaders until you reached the 'boss' of each of the three factions. There was little else to it. This is a problem Ruffian Games has addressed with the sequel, bringing in some much needed variation and an over arching objective to help give the campaign a better sense of direction. The original campaign was also considered far too easy; no enemies were a match for the omnipotent powers of a level 5 Agent, which negated any sense of challenge. In order to even the odds, Ruffian made the decision to introduce a new enemy.