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Interview Rewind–Talking Crackdown 2 With Ruffian Games

Crackdown is one of my favorite franchises of all time, and I was ecstatic to finally don my Agency uniform once again when Crackdown 3 released on February 15th. It’s been interesting to see the mixed reviews that Crackdown 3 is getting so far, because its reception reminds me so much of the one that Crackdown 2 received eight and half years earlier. At the time, the expectations for the franchise were sky high, and some fans and critics didn’t feel Crackdown 2 did enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor. I actually felt it did a great job of taking the core Crackdown gameplay and adding in a new day/night cycle that brought a whole new enemy into the game–the Freaks.

I had a blast with Crackdown 2, but you don’t have to take my word for it, as Microsoft just added Crackdown 2 to Game Pass this week! You can download it now and play it yourself.

Anyway, I was a freelance games journalist when Crackdown 2 was released in July of 2010, and I had the chance to interview co-founder of Ruffian Games and Crackdown 2 Creative Director Billy Thomson. Here is what he had to say about Crackdown 2 just before the game’s launch in 2010:

Brian: 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.

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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.

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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.

When night starts to fall, the civilians begin to scatter, running into the buildings around the city to hide from the Freaks. When night actually falls, Freaks begin pouring from every nook and cranny in the city. Slowly at first, then, gathering in number and frequency, they pour out onto the city streets. Soon enough, the streets are packed with the shambling infected masses. Thousands and thousands of them fill the streets and they will attack any uninfected person they find, especially Agents.

How are the Freaks in Crackdown 2 different from other zombie-style creatures we’ve seen in games over the past few years?
The Scroungers – lowest level Freaks – move like the infected in 28 Days Later; they shamble around then spring to life when they detect a target. None of the Freaks eat flesh, they are just mindlessly violent, they find their target and kill them, then move on to the next one. Normally during the frenzied attacks, their victims are infected and become Freaks themselves. We also have some really nasty Freaks, some that are more agile than a top level Agent, allowing them to run faster, jump higher and further than any Agent, stopping the rooftops from being the safe haven they once were for Agents. There are others who are stronger than top level Agents, too, allowing them to lift any object they find in the city and use it as a weapon against their target, throwing vehicles at the player when they least expect it. We also have some other Freaks that the player will come across later in the game, but I’ll leave the players to find out about those themselves.

Collecting orbs and leveling up was a huge part of the game in the first Crackdown. How does Crackdown 2 approach leveling?
Pretty much the same way. Basically, as you use one of the five key skills to progress in the game, we will award skills points for that skill. Most of the time that takes the form of killing bad guys, which is where the “skills for kills” line comes from. We’ve also added more ways to progress each of the skills on top of simply killing enemies, though. We now have more vehicle maneuvers that players can perform to increase their driving skill, we have more Orb types, like Renegade Orbs and Online Orbs, to progress your all of your skills and we’ve also created more abilities, vehicles, weapons and gadgets that the player can unlock through skill progression. As you play the game, you will become stronger, more agile and have access to ever more powerful equipment to help you complete the challenges that lie ahead. Crackdown 2 keeps on giving, long into the gameplay experience. There are many great reasons to keep leveling each of the five skills.

With the four-player co-op system, will players be able to gain experience in someone else’s game and take it back into their single player game?
Yes, all of the skills you improve will come back with you, as well as all the orbs you collect, any Achievements you were rewarded and any leaderboard scores you posted. The only thing that doesn’t come back with you is the objectives you completed in another player’s game. We avoided this due to the difficulty of truly knowing which objectives you actually had a hand in completing. It’s incredibly difficult to get this right in a game that is so open ended. You essentially end up trying to second guess whether or not the player would deem themselves part of the completion or not–they may have simply driven past or jumped over the location of the objective and killed one enemy on their way, it’s so hard to tell.

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What have you done with the competitive multiplayer modes in Crackdown 2 that sets the game apart from everything else out there?
The approach we took with our competitive online game modes is quite old school. The way the player moves and the type of over the top abilities, weaponry and vehicles that we have to play with meant that we would never fit into the kind of tactical gameplay experience that games like COD4 or Counter Strike do so well. We knew we would need to move towards a slightly more chaotic, energized gameplay experience. We’re essentially more like a steroid induced, balls out game of Quake, albeit with the ability to fly helicopters, leap up and over buildings and hurl large vehicles around as if they were toys. I don’t think there’s anything out there right now that plays like Crackdown 2 in an online competitive game mode. It’s completely insane.

You’ve created a series of animated comics that fill in some of the gaps between the Crackdown 1 and 2. Given that Crackdown has such a comic book feel to it, have you considered fully extending the franchise into comics, in either a limited or ongoing series?
Ruffian Games would love to see the franchise branch out into these kind of areas, but we don’t own the IP, Microsoft do, so any plans to expand the franchise would be entirely up to them. Personally, I’d love to see more stories of the Crackdown world told in comic book form. You’ll just have to wait and see what Microsoft have planned for the franchise in the future.

Finally, as Crackdown 2 releases this week, what is the one aspect of the game you are most excited about players experiencing?
I think it’s got to be four player co-op in the full city with four fully leveled up Agents once you have maxed out your skills you have access to everything the game has to offer. At this stage, the game turns into a huge playground where you and your three friends can play with all the toys and do anything you want to with absolutely no restrictions. There is so much depth in the range of abilities, weapons, gadgets, vehicles and objectives that players can have a truly endless supply of fun experiences. It’s so hard to describe, I can’t ever remember playing a game that made me laugh so often and so hard. Even after spending thousands of hours in this game world, I still see something new each time I play with a group of people. It’s chaotic, emergent, mindless, piss yourself laughing, unadulterated fun.

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Games We’re Excited About: March 2019

It already March! Where has the time gone? That question is for another blog to ponder, but right here, right now, we want to talk about video games. Specifically, the video games that are releasing this month. More specifically, the three games that we are most excited about for March 2019:

The Division 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – March 15
Both Nick and I poured quite a few hours into The Division when it came out three years ago. But as much as we loved the co-op campaign, we did not get into the Dark Zone multiplayer. It sounds like Ubisoft has made a lot of improvements to the multiplayer experience, and with the new setting of D.C., we are fired up to jump into this new installment.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – March 22
I am a From Software Games junkie. Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne–love them all. And I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when I first learned that From’s new game wasn’t Bloodborne 2 or a new Souls game. But that passed quickly when I took one look at the game. Sekiro shares plenty of DNA with those other games, but looks be offering even more dynamic combat than any From game before it.

Yoshi’s Crafted World (Switch) – March 29
Nintendo is absolutely killing it with the Switch. And while it’s awesome that we have new Mario and Zelda games, I’m actually excited to dig into some of the secondary franchises on the new console, like the adorable Yoshi. And Yoshi has never been more adorable than he is in this new, paper craft-themed platformer.

Those are the games we’re excited about here at Co-Op Critics for the month of March. What’s on your list of “must buys” for this month’s games?

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Trailer: Heaven’s Vault (Coming Spring 2019)

Heaven’s Vault is an archaeological narrative adventure with an entire lost language to decipher. It’s the latest game by inkle, the studio best known for 80 Days and Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!, and will release on PlayStation 4 and Steam (Win/Mac) this spring.

About Heaven’s Vault
When a talented roboticist goes missing, archaeologist Aliya Elasra and her mechanical assistant Six are sent into the rivers of the Nebula to find him. Their search soon has them piecing together an ancient trail of artifacts, inscriptions, and lost knowledge that leads thousands of years into the past…

Sail to distant moons. Decipher a hieroglyphic language. Meet, charm, outwit, and befriend a diverse range of characters. Unearth the Nebula’s buried history in a fluid, ever-changing story that reacts to everything you say and do.

But be warned — as you translate the inscriptions that guard a 5,000-year-old secret, you’ll never know for sure if the story you’ve put together is the truth.

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Onimusha: Warlords Is Back!

[Press Release]

The legendary samurai adventure Onimusha: Warlords returns today, launching for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam.  Set in a feudal world filled with magic, samurais and demon warriors, this classic game is available digitally today on all formats across North America and Europe for MSRP $19.99/€19.99/£15.99. Fans in North America have the option to purchase physical copies of Onimusha: Warlords for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

This release of Onimusha: Warlords captures the thrilling action and cinematic story of the original 2001 release, which achieved over 2 million copies sold worldwide, with updated features fitting of today’s modern video game systems. The sword fighting action-adventure now includes high-definition graphics, widescreen display option, analog stick support, a readily available Easy Mode option, new soundtrack and a new ‘honor’ in-game achievement system.

Onimusha: Warlords follows the battle-filled journey of samurai Samanosuke Akechi and ninja Kaede on a quest to save Princess Yuki from a legion of mysterious demons who have invaded Inabayama Castle. As the two travel throughout the castle, they unravel a malevolent plot by those who would serve the evil Nobunaga Oda, a feudal lord resurrected by the demons to fulfil their dark desires. Using sword-based combat, a magical Oni Gauntlet and puzzle solving, players need to call on both brawn and creativity to defeat the demonic foes and save Princess Yuki!

Gamescom 2018–Saints Row: The Third Is Coming To Switch!

Saints Row: The Third is coming to the Nintendo Switch in 2019.

With all the announcements at Gamescom, this is what I’m excited about?

Yes.

I adore the Saints Row series, and while I think Saints Row 2 is the high-water mark, Saints Row: The Third is a very close second. It’s a completely insane open-world sandbox, with a level of customization usually reserved for hardcore RPGs. So of course, I loved it.

I am so glad we are getting the third installment of the series instead of Saints Row 4, which was nowhere near as good as the first three games. Being able to play on the Switch will be awesome, and I hope this will revive interest in the franchise, so we can get a proper Saints Row 5.

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Co-Op Crosses Over With Unfiltered Gamer!

I was in California last week, and our friends Michael and Calli over at Unfiltered Gamer invited Nick and I to be guests on their Wednesday night Facebook Live stream! We had an absolute blast playing Escape Room: The Game, where we were given one hour to thwart a madman’s explosive scheme. You can watch our entire playthrough below.

A HUGE thanks to Unfiltered Gamer for having us on! You can watch their livestream every Wednesday night at 7:30pm PST over on the Unfiltered Gamer Facebook page. You can also keep up with their news and reviews on UnfilteredGamer.com and on Twitter @unfilteredrng.

You can get a copy of Escape Room: The Game right here.

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New Inside Xbox Show Takes a Page From Nintendo’s Book

Xbox has a new monthly showcase that aims to give fans a combination of news, sneak peeks, developer interviews, community engagement and more. The new show is co-hosted by Major Nelson, Graeme Boyd, Jeff Rubenstein, Alex Hebert and Lydia Ellery, and it premiered on March 10th with a two-hour first episode. You can watch the show in its entirety in the player below.

I feel like Xbox is taking a page out of Nintendo’s book here, and I like it. When Nintendo wanted to change the narrative the games media had created for them in 2011, they started taking control of their own story with Nintendo Direct. That series has proven extremely successful for Nintendo, and I see no reason why it won’t for Xbox as well. The narrative on Xbox is that it’s hopelessly behind the PS4 now, and lacks the exclusives of both the PS4 and the Switch. The recent announcement that Xbox Game pass would include exclusive games was well-received, and Xbox clearly wants to build on that momentum.

What do you think of the new Inside Xbox show? Will you be tuning in monthly?

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New Nintendo Direct Mini Showcases Kirby, Dark Souls and More!

This morning Nintendo dropped a new Direct Mini to preview some of the games that coming to both Switch and 3DS in the coming months.

For me there were four highlights–The World Ends With You (2018 release TBA), Kirby Star Allies (coming on March 16), the new Mario Tennis Aces (Spring 2018) and the big one, Dark Souls on Switch!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am ridiculously excited about Dark Souls coming to Switch on May 25th. I can now take one of the greatest games of all time with me when I travel for work.

It was also really cool to see the continued support of already released titles, like Mario Odyssey, Pokken Tournament DX and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

This Direct Mini was the perfect way to assure current and future Switch owners that there are plenty of games coming int he first half of 2018, and the best Switch games of last year are still being supported. Nintendo is absolutely killing it right now.

You can watch the whole Direct Mini (which runs about 15 minutes) right here!