Microsoft initially announced Crackdown 3 back at E3 2014, and after five years of development, it’s safe to say that expectations are pretty high. Crackdown 3 was previously announced as a launch title for the Xbox One X last year, but the game receiving mixed reception at E3 2017 led Microsoft to delay the game even further.
Crackdown 3 had a very troubled development history, and it’s actually surprising that Microsoft didn’t cancel it as it did for other Xbox exclusives like Fable Legend and Scalebound. The original Crackdown game, which was released back in 2007 on the Xbox 360 was a memorable release for the console, but its 2010 sequel Crackdown 2 didn’t reach the same cult-classic status. Nearly 10 years later, it’s not clear if Crackdown 3 is the game that could make the Crackdown franchise join the elite league of Halo, Gears of War, and Forza.
To be completely honest, I’m not very familiar with the Crackdown franchise. I gave the original Crackdown game a try when it recently became free on Xbox One, and I hated it. Between the clunky controls, outdated graphics, and goofy action, I found that the game didn’t age very well next to classic Microsoft shooters like the original Gears of War (released a year before Crackdown).
My time with the original Crackdown, Crackdown 3’s difficult development cycle, and a series of disappointing releases from Microsoft Studios made me really fear for the worse. In the end, I think that Crackdown fans will probably like Crackdown 3, but I’m afraid this is another unoriginal Xbox exclusive that targets a niche audience.
Crackdown 3 is actually separated into two different games: there is one client for the Campaign mode and another one for the Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode. I spent most of my time in the campaign mode, which features Hollywood actor Terry Crews playing the game’s charismatic superhero Isaiah Jackson. The campaign’s opening cinematic is actually excellent, and you can watch it below.
Welcome to New Providence
Crackdown 3 isn’t a direct sequel to the previous Crackdown games. I won’t dive into details about the story, but this is pretty much a Manichean conflict between an evil corporation called TerraNova and a group of vigilantes called The Agency. You can choose between different Agents at the start of the game (you can also change later in the game), but I guess most players will choose to play as Terry Crews/Isaiah Jackson after watching the pretty fun opening trailer.
The open-world campaign is set in New Providence, a futuristic city with neon lights and skyscrapers everywhere. There's a night and day cycle in the game, and the bright lights look pretty cool at night. Crackdown 3 uses cel-shading graphics to get this comic book look, and I’d say it’s a pretty good-looking game overall. I played the game on an Xbox One S where it’s apparently capped to 30FPS, but performance remained consistent while I explored the vast open world.
Crackdown 3 is a non-linear game, but there are quite a lot of things to do in New Providence. You can spend a lot of time exploring the city to collect orbs that will upgrade your skills, and it’s pretty fun to climb on skyscrapers and use abilities like double jump and air dash. If you previously played ReCore, the action-adventure and platform game that Microsoft released back in 2016, you’ll feel right at home with Crackdown 3.
The map also includes many Supply points that will become rearming stations and fast-travel locations once you capture them. Other than that, you’ll find Prisoner hardpoints to hack and liberate, which will strengthen the Civilian militia that can help you during fights. There are also Propaganda towers to climb and hack, and various intel fragments to gather on the crime map.
Just like in GTA, you can also explore the city by using cars, including the Agency vehicle that you can summon with a press of a button. Driving isn’t the best part of the game, but the campaign includes optional races and stunts that can improve your driving skills once you complete them.
Your main mission in the Campaign is to fight off the TerraNova corporation and take down its lieutenants by all means necessary. You can fight the different bosses in the order you choose, though before confronting them you’ll have to capture some locations or destroy some objectives like Chemical facilities or massive crushers. The boss fights can be pretty long, with some platforming sequences and lots of enemies to kill during the different phases.
A campaign that quickly becomes repetitive
In a way, the world of Crackdown 3 reminds me of a strange mix of Saints Row, Sunset Overdrive and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. You’re in a superhero movie parody playing an overly muscular guy, and you’ll hear a lot of pretty funny one-liners like when Terry Crews/Isaiah Jackson shouts “I’m my own medicine” (you’ll auto-heal when you’re not taking damage). During a fight with an AI turned rogue, I couldn’t help but smile when I heard an ally recommend me to “kick her in the server.”
The campaign is playable with a friend in a co-op, but I couldn’t try that during my time with the game. Overall, the campaign is better than I expected, but after a couple of hours in New Providence, I really started to feel that the different missions become quickly repetitive. The city of New Providence is also pretty empty compared to what you’ll find in a game like GTA V, which of course had a much higher budget.
I’m not sure yet if I’ll finish Crackdown 3's campaign, but fighting lots of bullet sponge enemies can certainly get tiresome, especially since Crackdown 3 isn’t a great shooter in the first place. There’s an auto-lock feature just like in ReCore, and there’s no cover system. As a result, when you’re cornered by enemies you’ll often have to escape and go hide behind a wall to let your health regenerate.
Although the gunfights are far from great in Crackdown 3, you do feel like a superhero when throwing massive objects on enemies, or when using other abilities like Ground Pound and Flying Fist. There’s definitely a lot of bombastic action in the campaign, but be aware that the city of New Providence isn’t fully destructible. The cloud-powered destruction that has been making headlines since Microsoft unveiled the game is restricted to Wrecking Zone, the game’s PvP mode which is a separate install.
A disappointing Wrecking Zone PvP mode
I had pretty high expectations about Wrecking Zone, especially since this mode has been an opportunity for Microsoft to demonstrate the power of its Azure cloud. A lot of the hype around Crackdown 3 came from pre-alpha footage that Microsoft showed at Gamescom 2015, but what ended up in Wrecking Zone looks less impressive than what we saw nearly four years ago.
First of all, Wrecking Zone will launch with just three maps, and they’re pretty small and empty. There’s a lot of verticality in those maps, but the buildings feel like they’re made of cardboard, and again, they’re all completely empty. Worse, the debris cause no damage when they fall on players, and there’s also no giant cloud of smoke that obscures your vision when a giant building falls down on the map.
Microsoft said that the power of the cloud will allow all gamers on Xbox One and Windows 10 to have the same destruction experience, but I can’t help but feel that this whole destruction thing is a gimmick with no real purpose. Yes, you can punch through walls or destroy the floor under the feet of your enemies, but this often won’t give you any real tactical advantage.
The PvP fights in Wrecking Zone are very fast-paced, and there’s the same auto-lock feature found in the campaign. You can choose between different weapons (all with unlimited ammo), and you can also collect orbs on the map to charge your Overdrive, a limited-time boost that will improve your skills and weapon damage.
There are two separate 5 versus 5 PvP modes at launch, the team deathmatch Agent Hunter mode and the other “King of the hill” mode called Territories. I couldn’t spend much time in both during the early access period, but beyond the legitimate curiosity about the cloud-powered destruction, I’m afraid Wrecking Zone isn’t something that I’ll be spending a lot of time into. Worse, you won't be able to play Wrecking Zone with your friends at launch, something that is truly inexcusable for a game that has been in development for five years. Microsoft said support for Xbox Live parties will come in a post-launch update, but there's no ETA for now.
An unessential release from Microsoft
I know that Crackdown 3 isn’t a AAA game like Forza Horizon 4, but after the latter became the best-rated Xbox exclusive game for this console generation, I really expected something better from Microsoft, especially since Crackdown 3 spent five years in the oven. Again, I have no doubt that Crackdown fans will find this new episode to be the best in the series, but I don't think this is a game that will leave a big mark in the history of Xbox Game Studios. Actually, I think it would have been fine for Microsoft to cancel an unexceptional game to spend more resources on other, better-inspired projects.
"Xbox has no games" has been an ongoing joke among gamers in recent years, espacially after games like State of Decay 2 or Super Lucky's Tale didn't exactly set the world on fire. That was to be expected, but Crackdown 3 isn't the game that will convince PS4 players to drop Spiderman or God of War any time soon.
Crackdown 3 is priced at $69.99 on the Microsoft Store, and the game supports Xbox Play Anywhere and Xbox Live cross-platform multiplayer. The game will also be available on Xbox Game Pass tomorrow on its launch day, and I'd really recommend to subscribe now that you can get 2 months of Game Pass for just $2 for a limited time.