REVIEW: Crackdown 3
Way back in E3 2014, Microsoft unveiled one of their big first-party sequels, their blockbuster Xbox One title Crackdown 3. Crackdown 3 was on the way, scheduled to release in 2016. After the much-maligned diversion that was Crackdown 2, dedicated fans were eager to dive back into the explosive, guilty pleasure sandbox as it was in 2007. Then it was delayed until late 2017, to launch alongside the Xbox One X. Then, just the multiplayer portion was meant to come out while Sumo Digital finished the story mode.
Then the game was pushed to launch alongside the technical improvements of the Xbox One X in late 2017, then delayed again to early 2018. Finally it was delayed yet again to fall of 2018, and then once more to 2019. Now it’s finally here.
That sort of publically problematic dev cycle tends to breed skepticism, and in this case, some feels warranted in the end, but maybe not as much as you’d think. After all is said and done, Crackdown 3’s launch arrives with a signature bang in some places, but a whimper in others
Now that Crackdown 3 has landed, it will come to most players for free via Xbox Game Pass—which may be the perfect place for it.
After a long hiatus, Crackdown 3 has been built in its forebears mould. Once again, players take control of a series of super-powered Agents, dispatched to liberate the island city of New Providence from a shadowy corporation. The initial setup is quite alluring. Each of the looming foes controls one specific angle of the metropolitan infrastructure. For example, the transit system is run by an unfriendly AI named Roxy. Completing various tasks in the open world draws each respective boss out into the open, giving you a chance to take them down.
And once again your super-heroic character is a joy to control. Rather than mindlessly hunting meaningless artefacts across a haystack city, each orb you find allows you to grow in power and capacity. In this way, the collectible is restored to its rightful role: the satisfying visualization of growth whenever you collect a bucketload of orbs from your victories.
The ludicrous powers are improved through a system very similar to the original Crackdown. Characters have stats for agility, gunplay, melee, explosives, and driving. Rather than unlocking generic points and spending them as you see fit, skills are improved by performing the relevant activity. Taking out enemies with guns or explosives add to the respective skill, allowing you to do more damage as they level up. Collecting agility orbs (positioned in tough to reach places) increases your speed and the height of your jump (and double jump).
You can switch out your body, vehicle and weapon loadout at a captured supply point, which is also where you go to reduce your Wanted level. The first time you pick up any gun or gadget or jump into a new vehicle you’ll claim it, and it’ll be available for you later. The guns and gadgets are many and varied, and there’ll be a loadout to suit any situation. Some of the guns are pretty cool, too, such as a multi-rocket launcher, a singularity cannon, and a rifle that fires explosive poison rounds.
For all of its flair in gun play and platforming, Crackdown is not without issues in other areas. For one, driving just doesn’t feel great. The emergency brake is unreliable at best and that problem is compounded by the unpredictable physics. Hit another vehicle and there’s no way of knowing how the game will respond. Sometimes they’ll fly over you like you’re a four-wheeled spatula, sometimes they’ll act more like brick walls, or you’ll even get your geometry stuck in theirs in annoying ways that slow you to a halt, a cardinal sin in New Providence. It’s true that the game is mostly played on foot anyway, or at least it can be. But with plenty of side activities involving vehicles, they really need to behave better than they do.
One saving grace of the driving mechanics is your Agency-issued vehicle which can transform into three different types: a speedy race car, a hulking tank or an all-terrain buggy that can drive on the sides of buildings. The adaptability of the Agency wheels is a fun aspect of the otherwise troubled driving mechanics.
From a story perspective, an evil company named TerraNova has plunged much of the world into technological darkness, except for an island state they run that’s seems like a pretty decent place to live, all things considered. For some inadequately explained reason, The Agency you work for wants to go in and mess the place up; cue lots of explosions and shooting of random baddies and jumping around collecting orbs to increase your various abilities.
There’s no mistake that Terry Crews is the face of Crackdown 3, bringing his trademark muscle bound charisma to the role of Jaxon in a story that, to be perfectly fair, struggles to do anything particularly original.
Problems start to arise when the game’s repetitive design comes to light. More often than not, the missions you engage involve finding a hostile compound, clearing it of enemies, and claiming some kind of command station. Now, sometimes they vary between tall towers, high-security prisons, or chemical plants. But any minor visual flair is only meant to distract from the fact that you are doing a lot of the same things in Crackdown 3 over and over again.
Unfortunately, Crackdown 3 is not helped by its lacklustre graphics, which give the game a dated feel. I had to remind myself several times, after yet another low-resolution walkway, that I was playing a game released in 2019 and one by Microsoft Studios at that.
Crackdown 3: Wrecking Zone, the game multiplayer elements, is a fun but flawed experience just like its campaign. Competitive multiplayer modes let players hop in with a fully leveled-up agent and include access to the entire swath of available firepower. There’s a standard team deathmatch and capture-the-zone offering that do very little in terms of new ideas, aside from the fully destructible arenas. Matchmaking also tends to take a long time and if anyone drops out of your team, you’re left handicapped. Since it’s announcement, much was made about that aforementioned cloud-based destruction and in the end, the results are just good, not great. They’re meant to provide a tactical element to Wrecking Zone — “Enemy hiding behind a wall? Blow up the wall!” — but in practice, the game just moves too quickly for you to ever put much thought into such actions. Time will tell what kind of post-launch support Wrecking Zone receives. It desperately needs more maps and modes at a minimum. New weapons, Agents, and other goodies like cosmetic customization would help a lot too.
Overall, it’s not that it’s a terrible game — it does what it does quite adequately, the controls work well and I had no issues with crashes or bugs — but it’s just so unremarkable as to be a disappointment. I won’t deny that I had fun with the hours I spent trashing New Providence, but they were spent mindlessly but Crackdown 3 is the sort of game I expect from a developer still finding their feet, not one partnered with one of the world’s largest software and hardware companies.
If you’ve got an Xbox Game Pass subscription (and if you don’t, seriously consider getting one) then the game is free so the only thing it’ll cost you is time to download and part of your data allowance.
Crackdown 3 is available now on Microsoft Windows and Xbox One. This review was written based on an Xbox One copy of the game provided by the publisher.