After eight and a half years, the third entry in the Crackdown series is finally available. The first game hit the Xbox 360 in 2007 and was one of its most-revered exclusives. It offered up a new take on the sandbox genre and allowed players to feel almost like superheroes as they used their super-powered clone characters to leap to heights that no one ever imagined in a game to gain orbs. Beyond just gathering tons of orbs, you also wanted to take out gangs that had taken over the city. Their gang leaders were held behind enemy strongholds, and you had to wipe out their underlings to get to the big fish and reclaim a small part of the city. It changed how sandbox games were viewed and definitely showed off that what began as a game that was overshadowed by an included demo for Halo 3 had life of its own. A sequel in 2011 damn near killed the series with how poorly it was done, and in 2014, Microsoft showed off the first trailer for the third entry that has finally arrived after much fanfare and nearly as many delays.
This entry acts as a bit of reboot with the core concept being the same, but with a different setup. Now you have a variety of characters to choose from and are taking control of your chosen agent after starting a mission only to have your entire fleet blown to bits. You’ve also been burnt to a crisp, and in a grisly scene are brought back to life from a charred corpse that offers up the greatest sense of pathos the series has seen yet. It’s a vivid image that sticks with you and makes you care about the world right away. This is one aspect of the third entry that definitely puts the prior entries to shame, as it reminds you that yes, this is a world of replicants to some degree, but they still feel pain during that time and it’s important to never lose sight of it.
As a story, Crackdown 3 tells the best one the series has seen. From the moment it begins, you’re drawn into the world and the Agency’s battle with an evil organization. As a game though, it doesn’t do nearly enough different to truly stand out in the modern era. In a vacuum, this is a better-playing game than anything else in the series so far, with much smoother driving controls and more fluid jumping. The core structure of the game itself is far too similar to what has come before – and with 12 years separating the first game from this one, it’s a disappointment to see that so little was done to evolve the core concepts behind the game in that time.
The controls have changed very little, which is good for familiarity, but bad for any sense of evolution. Aiming is done with the left trigger and goes right towards the closest enemy. This does work nicely if you have few enemies on-screen as you can dispatch of them all fairly quickly. In crowded areas, of which this game has many framing devices to cause that to be the case, you will wind up taking a ton of needless damage though, and not being able to attack exactly the enemy you want because you have to swing the camera around to see who’s coming after you. Driving is the same as ever, only with a different button to hop into vehicles. Jumping feels about the same, only with a slightly more modern ability to grab onto ledges. The execution of this is muddled and feels far less organic than even the first Infamous – which did a lot more for movement in an open-world game than this does.
What’s here feels good, but doesn’t feel modern. It has the feel of a game that is between generations – the problem is that it’s stuck between the 360 and the Xbox One and not the modern and next-gen. What’s here is done fairly well, but the game’s plot just throws many kinds of compounds at you. Some are filled with chemicals and have minor puzzles to solve while you’re shooting goons, while the others are just shooting galleries with a futuristic gang motif. Sometimes you’re killing hordes of foes to steal their cars, other times you’re breaking up prison camps. Either way, the core formula from mission to mission feels identical and results in the game getting old far faster than it should.
Visually, Crackdown 3’s appearance is both dazzling and dated. The comic-style cinematics look gorgeous, but the game itself looks far too sterile. While this does partially make sense in the game’s world as it’s been overthrown by a group that wants to make everyone compliant, the end result is that you’re exploring a city with no life to it. There are people to save, but none of them get names or stories behind them, so they feel meaningless. It’s a shame too since they have tried to build the world up, but didn’t do anything to truly flesh it out. The game’s sound design is thankfully better than its visuals, with an exciting electronica soundtrack mixed with a bit of rock and some great voice acting.
The Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode offers up both team deathmatch and territory control play styles so far. It’s a very limited selection, but the execution is quite good – if a bit bare-bones. There are no character customization options between choosing from preset character builds, and territory control feels exactly like TDM only with a tiny bit of tower defense thrown into the mix. Your control points are easy to see, but not quite as well-defined as something like the Titanfall games and are hurt a bit by the worlds you’re in being a bit too neon-filled as it can be tough to tell which giant structure you’re supposed to be guarding at that second with the lit barrier blending in with the world.
Fortunately, while the multiplayer gameplay isn’t quite robust just yet – it is a lot of fun. Shooting feels more satisfying than in the campaign due to how much more a real-life player tries to avoid damage. You also have increased movement speed, jumping speed, and the ability to do mid-air dashes while shooting. You lose out on the feeling of progression like the main game, but for someone just craving some all-out mayhem right away, the multiplayer action is a lot of fun and feels like the game at its best. The destruction of the world in real-time is also impressive and never leads to any slowdown or stutter.
Overall, Crackdown 3 is technically the best entry in the series to date – but doesn’t feel like a 2019 reincarnation of the franchise. It feels like a soft reboot of the 2007 game with 2009-era gameplay and graphics that are impressive due to their lack of slowdown and crisp appearance, but little else. Gunplay and traversal feel woefully out of date, as does the core mission structure – and that’s all the main campaign really has to show for itself. There isn’t much meat on the bones here, and that’s something that may prove to be fatal for the game as a whole. Viewing the game as a service may work out well in the long-run, but as it stands, this isn’t worth the $60 asking price.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Crackdown 3 for the Xbox One provided by Xbox Game Studios.