Review – Crackdown 3
Five years in development and this is the game we got? In 2014 we got a tease for Crackdown 3 that promised a lot in the form of a new technology. A technology that would harness a combined power of up to twelve Xbox One’s. We witnessed some of the most impressive destruction physics ever and the wow factor was the fact that an online server was calculating it and not your local hardware. Anyway, five years later, multiple delays, development hell that saw multiple developers giving input, and we finally have Crackdown 3 to play. Does it live up to the hype or did the development hell take its toll? Let’s get crackin’ down!
Crackdown 3 may be the third installment in the series, but it forgets everything that happened in the first two games. The Agency Director is back with his wonderful voice over and one liners, regardless of the events from the first game. In Crackdown 3, Terranova is the evil corporation that is taking over the island city of New Providence, enslaving the people and ruling with an iron fist. The Agency catches wind of this and sends a crew of Agents to take them down and free the people. As is tradition, things go wrong and the entire crew gets vaporized, but a local rebellion sees what happens and comes to help. Using the remaining DNA found at the crash site, the rebellion leader Echo and the Agency team up to regenerate your Agent to continue your task. Unfortunately, all of your power has been drained and you’ll need to regain your power to take down Terranova.
For the most part the story takes a back seat to the gameplay and action, and while it’s there, it certainly isn’t anything to care about. You aren’t going to get invested in any of the characters, you won’t get any back story or complicated story lines, Crackdown 3 is gameplay first. The story does advance to be a bit darker towards the end when you find out exactly what Terranova is doing, but it’s nothing like Crackdown 1‘s Director twist. Most of the story elements come from collecting data towers that gives some insight on the bosses, as well as from Echo and the Director, but you’ll be so busy blowing stuff up that you’ll likely not care.
“Skills for kills, Agent.” Yes, the orbs are back in all their glory and there are even more to collect. If you’ve never played Crackdown, “skills for kills” refers to how you level up and is honestly one of its most unique features. There are five main attributes to level up and each time you do you’ll unlock a new skill and get better in it. So there isn’t any experience collecting to reach a level up or skill points to spend on upgrades. You want to level up strength? Start punching and throwing objects at enemies to gain strength orbs. You want to jump higher and unlock dashing abilities? Collect the agility orbs littered through the city and complete rooftop races. Each level up will also alter how your agent looks. In the beginning you’ll be small with light armor, but once you’ve leveled up you’ll be in a full bad ass armor suit.
Collecting orbs is also the only reason you may want to change up your Agents. As you play you’ll recover fragments of the other Agents that got destroyed when your ship went down. This allows you to swap between them; sharing all the same skills, but each agent will have their own boost in a specific category. Terry Crews’ Commander Jaxon has bonuses in strength, while others will have bonuses in the other categories. So to advance the quickest in each category you may want to swap them out. Are you doing a race? Swap out the character that gives you driving bonuses. I personally only stuck with Terry, because he is awesome and actually provided great voice acting, but more on that later.
Unfortunately, the orb collecting and leveling up system is where the uniqueness ends as the gameplay, world design, strongholds, and bosses feel extremely dated. Not to say the moment to moment gameplay is bad; it is solid. Traversing around on foot, jumping extremely high, and dashing around is all well done. For the most part it all feels like Crackdown 1, albeit with a few additions and tweaks to the platforming. The driving is absolutely horrendous, however. Driving feels so archaic with its physics, there were often times I ran into seemingly nothing while drifting and sent my car barrel rolling. This makes the racing challenges very frustrating as the cars are not fun to use.
One cool addition to the driving is the Spider transformation where you can drive up buildings. However, I will say this felt extremely under utilized. Outside of a few races, all you’ll be using it for is to collect stunt jump circles around the map. Most of the time these aren’t even satisfying to collect because the physics are so clunky. The controls for the Spider are so bad you’ll never want to use it to scale walls unless you have to; using the Agents platforming is a much more effective way to climb. Besides the Spider, you will also have a tank for some extra boom and a sports car that can dash from side to side. I never understood why it can dash side to side since there are never car pursuits where using that would be effective to bash another car. The tank is largely useless since it’s likely your normal weapons will be much more effective anyway. I was also disappointed that the cars did not evolve in the same ways visually as your Agent does, like how they did in Crackdown 1. Outside of the Agency vehicles the selection is small and none of them drive well.
The weapon combat retains the Crackdown formula of very aggressive lock on, and as you level up you can start targeting other body or car parts. This system may seem too easy, but with how fast you’ll be jumping around dodging attacks and explosions, it is very much needed. Also, some enemies will have shields where you’ll want to target arms or legs, but I found the easiest method for those enemies is some good ‘ol fisticuffs. There is a decent amount of weapons that range from normal functioning weapons to elemental lasers and ammo to futuristic weapons that can shoot black holes and tether two objects together. While there is plenty of chaos to cause with these weapons, I was expecting some really crazy weapons to “step up your boom”.
As I mentioned above, the world design is dated and negates all the advancements that have been made in the last twelve years. All the open world tropes are present here even if they are somewhat different. Towers act as platforming puzzle sections that gradually get more difficult as you level up your agility. You don’t need to climb the towers to unlock portions of the map, but the idea of them still feels old. The entire map is open right away and you can go anywhere you want from the very start. It’s not advised since you’ll likely get destroyed from some of the higher level fights. There seems to be a ton to do in the map, but it is so compact that you’ll jump from one activity to the other without much travel time. This actually makes the run time fairly short since there is no real filler. You’re going from one activity to the other, and I finished my medium difficulty run with doing almost everything within twelve hours. I could spend the extra time collecting all the agility orbs to finish the upgrades so I can unlock the last couple challenges, but honestly the world itself isn’t enticing enough to call me back.
All of the missions on the outside islands are extremely repetitive, essentially all you’ll be doing is either hacking terminals or blowing shit up. You need to shut down one of the mining facilities? Hack or blow it up. Need to destroy one of the Terranova securities car lots? You may need to shoot some batteries to lower a force field, then you blow the cars up. You need to stop the tram stations? Kill enough guards until the trams security leader comes out. It’s all immensely formulaic and repetitive. The lower level boss fights are also very easy, one of which is just a carbon copy of another high level enemy. The higher level boss fights are when things get a bit more interesting at least. You’ll need to climb their towers which will have multiple fights, platforming challenges, and the bosses are at least marginally more difficult. I wish these big boss fights had more imagination and effort behind them though.
Wrecking Zone is the multiplayer mode that has been touted as the feature that holds all that cloud power. It is a 5v5 multiplayer with about a city block of skyscrapers to blow up. Let’s just be honest here, the destruction is nothing like what was shown back in 2014 and 2015. Back in those pre-alpha tests we saw people shooting through concrete with realistic ballistics where if you wanted to make a hole you had to actually make that hole by connecting the bullet holes. The destruction itself was also more detailed with extra particles falling, the building had physics to where if you destroy the right side of the support it would lean and fall realistically.
What we got in the final version is very much scaled back. There is no longer realistic ballistics. If you shoot a portion of the wall with a machine gun you don’t see bullet holes. Instead, a large random chunk will just fall out of the wall where you were shooting. If you destroy one side of the support beams they no longer lean and fall with physics and the total amount of particles is scaled back. However, I will say that the fact the destruction is calculated server side makes it still very impressive. Hopefully this laid the ground work for the cloud destruction and they can build on it further especially if that means we can get this level of destruction on devices that couldn’t handle local processing like a phone.
Even with the destruction being scaled back, I will say it is still very fun when things get hectic and buildings are falling around you while you’re shoulder charging through walls and blowing the enemy up. The scale of the maps also seem much larger due to the total verticality of them offering plenty of opportunity to rain down carnage.
Unfortunately, the destruction is the only thing that the multiplayer has going for it, even if it did get downgraded. With the aggressive lock on making it into the multiplayer the focus is more on maneuverability rather than shooting skill. You’ll always know where the enemy is and they will know where you are, so you’ll need to move quick and use the buildings to break their lock on’s. This type of gameplay can be entertaining for a short period, but it quickly gets old since there isn’t much of a skill level involved. Once you understand how to use all your movements well, it essentially only comes down to luck that only one person is targeting you.
The multiplayer is sickeningly bare bones which comes to a great shock to me since Microsoft games usually ship with a full suite of multiplayer options. Crackdown 3‘s multiplayer has only two modes, one of which is a Kill Confirmed inspired mode and the other is Territories. There are only three maps, which are all well made, but only three is insultingly low. It also doesn’t have a party system or even at the very least rolling lobbies. How they dropped the ball on the features and content is mind-boggling with a five year development time. I understand if they had to scale back the destruction aspect, but to ship the final game in such a featureless and content-less state is crazy to me.
The graphics for the singleplayer are enjoyable; it’s bright, it’s flashy, there is some decent texture work and the draw distance is pretty good. The cel shaded design is predictably not very impressive as it goes for a more simple and comic book feel, but overall I enjoyed the look. The lighting is well done with dynamic shadows, even from car headlights at night, and there is some neat texture work reflections on some of the shiny materials. Unfortunately, the car and enemy designs lack imaginations and since there aren’t many cars, you’ll see the same lame designs over and over.
The multiplayer isn’t as impressive since it all looks like a simulation and none of the buildings have any texture or decorative details. It reminds me of the simulation levels in Halo 5 multiplayer with everything smooth and plain looking. Even in the multiplayer levels with rocks and such in them they lack the texture work they have in the single player. The character models are the only thing that retains the higher quality look.
The sound design may be the best thing about Crackdown 3. It was a pleasure to hear the Director back and narrating our experiences. His voice is still as brilliant, gravely, and he cracks as many one liners as before. The new character Echo is also voiced well along with the other enemy bosses. Terry Crews is the only Agent that has voice over work, but he does a great job. He doesn’t have too many lines, which is fine since hearing the same things during every action would be annoying, but things like him yelling, “Screw you gravity!” is hilarious as you scale a building. Also, once you liberate the propaganda towers, Commander Jaxon broadcasts calls to action with some funny dialogue from Terry. Guns, explosions, punches, and slams all have impactful sound designs, but again unfortunately the fault lies in the car sounds.
Crackdown 3 is a relic of the past, it revels in its simplistic design, freedom of choice, and a time when gameplay was the focus over an emotional cinematic narrative driven story. It is a Crackdown game through and through and if you’re a big fan of Crackdown then that is exactly what you’re getting. However, things change, games evolve, and certain things are advanced upon because of new ideas and technology. Crackdown 3, while advancing upon the first in some ways, completely ignores the last twelve years of gaming evolution. Everything in Crackdown 3 has been done before, and in most cases, been done better. That doesn’t mean it is not fun, if you’re looking for the Expendables of the video game world then Crackdown 3 may give you some stupid fun. Just don’t expect anything mind blowing even with the aforementioned cloud powered destruction in the multiplayer.
Graphics are stylized and clean with various texture work, dynamic shadows, and nice explosions. There is a lack of vehicle, building, and enemy designs.
Gameplay retains its 2007 feel from Crackdown 1, but with a few improvements to platforming. Driving physics are very bad and a glaring issue compared to the on foot gameplay.
Sound design is well done with upbeat music, crisp sound effects for guns and explosions and the little voice acting that is here is well done.
There is definitely fun to be had here in a sort of “turn your brain off” action adventure, but repetitive missions, unimaginative boss designs, and a map design structure that is extremely worn out brings the experience down.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Crackdown 3 is available now on Xbox One and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.