Platform: Xbox One
Time played: 13 hours
Back in 2007, the original Crackdown was a breath of fresh air for both the open-world and the third-person shooter formulas. It threw away any sense of linearity and let you, the player, explore and mete out super-powered destruction at your leisure. But a lot has changed in the 12 years that have followed, so its long-awaited threequel has plenty to live up to as Microsoft’s first exclusive of the year.
Packaged with a new Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode (a first for the series, and one that uses the power of the cloud to produce some quite breathtaking destruction physics), Crackdown 3’s campaign ticks all the boxes that made the original’s single-player romp such an addictive experience.
As a Terry Crews-modelled agent of The Agency, you’ll explore an open-world metropolis, leaping, shooting and ground-pounding just about everything that moves. You’ll collect orbs based on your actions and level up as you go. You’ll throw cars, blow mechs to smithereens with all manner of over-sized ordinance and battle bosses in predictably spectacular fashion.
In fact, the more you play, the more you realize the campaign ticks pretty much all of the same boxes as the first Crackdown. There’s the verticality of New Providence, with its soaring buildings and structures requiring plenty of platforming feats to reach glowing agility orbs that gradually increase the length and height of your jump. In addition, there's the ability to pick up scenery and use it as cover (or as makeshift projectiles).
There’s that familiar open approach to mission design, where you can tackle pretty much any mission as you please. You can even attack the main tower of lead villainess Elizabeth Niemand right from the moment you clear the game’s opening tutorial area. It’s even possible to make it to the top, but you’ll have a much easier time if you systematically take out her subordinates and subsequently quieten each of her defences.
In an era where other open-world franchises continue to rely on RPG levelling systems designed to actively bottleneck your progress, Crackdown 3’s steadfast dedication to letting you explore its vast playground of things to shoot, punch and collect is a welcome decision. Developer Sumo Digital has built a sandbox - which supports single-player and cooperative play (which is down to two-players from the originally planned four-player co-op) - that looks, feels and plays just like a you’d imagine another Crackdown should.
But at every turn, it’s impossible to avoid the fact Crackdown 3 does very little else to really differentiate itself from its predecessors. And while it is very much derivative of itself - almost to the point it feels like a remake of the first game - Crackdown 3 does still manage to take everything you enjoyed about the series and simply turns the dial up a couple of notches.
Buildings are higher than ever and require more platforming prowess - with propaganda towers requiring some serious patience and jumping skill and air vents providing plenty of verticality when you're exploring on foot. There are more factions to systemically take apart (each based around different industries) with destruction-led missions spread across New Providence.
Harder, better, faster, stronger
Crackdown 3’s non-linear approach means you can complete each faction quest as and when you please, with a boss encounter unlocking on the map once you've collected enough intel on that respective big bad. These battles are all a riot and are easily some of the best moments in the game, ranging from ascending a tower controlled by a psychopathic AI to battling a giant mech that's determined to crush by flinging pieces of fallen masonry.
While the driving model is still a little too slippy at times, there are enough races (which automatically drop you into a car in seconds once activated) and foot races (which see you traversing rooftops at speed) so you'll always have a nearby activity to undertake. You can even collect new agents to play with, should you ever want to take a break from playing as Jaxon (although Terry Crews' involvement feels largely wasted since his character barely talks).
It's all the usual stock filler you'd expect from an open-world, but it nails the souped-up power fantasy Crackdown does so well. It's hilarious fun, just not in a way that's going to shock or surprise you.
Performance-wise, Crackdown 3's campaign performs well for the most part. Running at 4K, New Providence is a gorgeous locale to explore, but even on a vanilla Xbox One it's still a technically and visually impressive experience (even if you can't destroy buildings in real-time in this mode).
There's the occasional moment of slowdown, and while these instances are rare, our review build did experience a bizarre loss of sound at the same time. It's an odd issue and usually occurred when we were in the middle of a busy battle with countless enemies on-screen. Still, while it’s not a technically perfect campaign - or a wholly original one - there’s no denying its slapstick violence remains a satisfying distraction.
Then there’s the multiplayer-focused action of the Wrecking Zone - the feature Crackdown 3 was unveiled with and sold on. Destruction physics on a scale we’d never seen before. With the power of cloud servers, we were promised untold levels of processing power. An entire mini city could be fully-rendered - and full demolished - in real-time. It was quite the claim, especially when it was showcased at E3 over the years, but even with numerous delays, this selling point fails to live up to its own hype.
Let’s be clear. These physics are not what we were shown at E3 2015 - it’s clear that initial gameplay footage was just an example of what could be done, not what the end product would become - but they are nonetheless impressive and really elevate the uninspired third-person shooter mechanics you’ll using.
Being able to destroy floors to avoid losing a life or a reducing a wall to dust in order to ambush a foe is constantly rewarding and makes every match a dynamic and systemic experience. The speed of your movement and the copious numbers of jump pads adds an almost Quake III Arena-esque vibe as you leap, boost and ground-pound around each map.
But for all those crumbling towers and collapsable bridges, the rest of this competitive 5v5 experience is a barebones affair that’s far too thin to remain a long-term investment for players. There are only two modes currently available at launch, and neither is particularly memorable.
Agent Hunter is effectively Kill Confirmed (kill players, collect badges from their corpses, repeat), while Territories is more of a Hardpoint setup where players rack up points while defending/capturing zones that appear sporadically across the map.
The latter is entertaining for a while, but it’s all about camping in relative safety - something that simply doesn’t gel with the momentum and environment demolition Wrecking Zone is literally built around - so in your the end you’re left in one multiplayer mode that really embraces Crackdown 3’s online USP. If Crackdown 3 wants to remain in rotation, it really needs more content for players to utilize online.
Gunplay itself is rudimentary at best. Having auto lock on boils most fights down to who sees who first, so while it takes away any sense of skill or flair, it does urge you to use positioning and movement to survive and/or turn the tables.
A line on-screen will show when another player is targeting you, so you can use the environment as cover, but with very little benefit to switch up your loadout, gunfights do begin to lose their appeal after a while. A sheer lack of a progression system is also a bizarre design decision for a game that’s endured this much delay.
Crackdown 3 is a game of two very different personalities. Each one has its strengths, but neither manages to offer anything that lives up to its own hype or the successes of its past. The campaign is an entertaining romp but does little differentiate itself from the similar (and arguably more creative) Agents of Mayhem or match the sheer destructive mayhem of Just Cause 4.
The online Wrecking Zone mode boasts some impressive demolition physics and can produce some really entertaining battles, but with only two modes and zero progression, it’s paperthin at best. You’ll no doubt have fun playing Crackdown 3, but you’re unlikely to remember much about it once you’re done.
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