It’s no secret that Crackdown 3’s development history has had more worrying dips and turns than a drunk Formula One driver. As early as 2015 we were being fed information about this Xbox One exclusive that would embrace the power of the cloud and bring an unprecedented level of destructibility. Fast forward five years later and the game finds itself shouldering an incredible burden, being one of a meagre few exclusives on a console that has struggled to capture the hearts, minds and wallets of gamers since the beginning of the current generation. So is Crackdown 3 Microsoft’s glorious saviour? Of course it isn’t, but it’s a bloody fantastic game in its own right that deserves attention outside of the ludicrous amounts of pressure that’s been placed upon it.
Following the detonation of a terrorist superweapon that causes more or less the entire world to lose electricity, world order crumbles and millions find themselves stumbling in the dark (searching for the answers). The attack is linked to an organisation called Terra Nova, who are conveniently operating on a large remote island that seems to have all the power (both literal and metaphorical) in the world. Refugees flock to this beacon in the middle of the ocean like moths to a flame looking for a better life, or at least one where they can plug in a toaster. The ‘do-good-by-any-means-possible’ Agency will have none of this resource-hoarding megalomaniacal shenanigans and send their best agents (essentially super-powered world police) to dismantle Terra Nova’s operation and get to the bottom of the attack.
One of the more recent developments in Crackdown 3’s storied history was the introduction of Terry Crews. Actor, dancer and all-round funny bastard, Crews’ involvement is actually fairly light in Crackdown 3, acting mostly to set up the story and tone before allowing you the space to carve out your own destiny as an agent. When he’s there, it’s hilarious, but don’t expect the game to be Terry Crews Simulator 2019. The story is a light-hearted and silly affair which has a solid comedic tone throughout. Once you’re on Terra Nova’s island you barely hear about what’s happening in the outside world again, and the entire game’s drive is based around taking down the Terra Nova tyrants piece by piece and leaving nothing but neon-soaked explosions in your wake.
Gameplay-wise, Crackdown 3 leans heavily on appeal of the superhero power fantasy. Every action you take in Crackdown 3 builds your skills in various areas, including increasing your brute strength, your damage dealing capacity with both conventional (although I use that terms lightly) and explosive weaponry, and of course agility. Sweet, sweet agility. By hunting down delicious green orbs you will slowly level up your agility skill, allowing you to jump higher and further, with each level attained opening up new skills like double jumping and boosting. Where once a lowly first-floor balcony may have given you pause, by the end of the game you’ll more or less be jumping over buildings and flying through the air like a graceful angel of explodey justice. I will say that some of the more demanding platform sections do suffer from a lack of precision, but in general, ascending the tallest thing you can find feels awesome.
I loved the way in which the sense of burgeoning power in Crackdown 3 was so subtle in the way it built, yet palpable once you reached a turning point in what you believed yourself capable of. As you are showered with orbs of different colours depending on how you dispatch your enemies, little numbers on the left of screen creep up slowly, and these little modifiers have drastic effects on your effectiveness as an agent. Playing on Super Agent difficulty (the game’s version of Hard), my first forays on the island were marked with nervous trepidation as I danced around the edges of major firefights trying not to get to hurt. By the end of the game my confidence in my skills had grown exponentially and I wasn’t content unless I’d dropped fist-first into a battle with ‘nades flying and guns blazing. This isn’t just for fun either, it also plays into a central mechanic in the game in which the main method of replenishing health and shields in battle is to kill enemies. There’s a beautiful balance to be struck between getting right into the middle of harm’s way because you know you can dispatch a bunch of enemies quickly enough that your shields will be kept healthy and not getting too cocky such that you’re overwhelmed.
Burn, baby, burn
The green stuff is actually 100% organic so there’s no need to worry
Where once a lowly first-floor balcony may have given you pause, by the end of the game you’ll more or less be jumping over buildings and flying through the air like a graceful angel of explodey justice
Bolstering Crackdown 3’s gameplay is the varied arsenal you get to play with. The pistols, assault rifles and shotguns you’ll have access to at the outset feel a little run of the mill, but it isn’t long at all before you’re wielding laser beams that set people on fire and wreaking havoc with 16-burst lock-on missile launchers. Play your cards right and you’ll also unlock weapons that can also cause grievous bodily harm by messing with the fabric of reality itself, utilising the power of gravity to bring the pain. You can swap between three weapons you’ve unlocked as well as one gadget (which includes things like launch pads and grenades), but it’s baffling as to why you aren’t given access to two gadgets at a time. The launch pad is extremely useful for getting to high places (and can be its own hilarious offensive tool), but more often than not I had to leave it at home in favour of the more powerful gadgets like the arc grenade which effectively allows you to wield chained lightning. Having two gadgets at once would have opened up a whole world of offensive combos, and its omission was frustrating.
As increasingly powerful hardware is introduced in both the console and PC space, more and more scrutiny is placed on a game’s visuals, particularly in the realm of AAA titles. I feel this is where Crackdown 3 will find its biggest detractors, because even though the bold and colourful cel-shaded art style is beautiful in its own right, it hardly pushes the Xbox One X to its limits. I think the simple textures and bright lighting work excellently to cleanly frame the frantic action, but by the same count there are probably those who will look back at the original Crackdown and try and play Spot the Difference. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder on this one, and where I was more than satisfied by the images assaulting my eyeballs there are others that will no doubt thirst for something more.
If this place is so bad then why does it have such magnificent rainbows?
Kills for skills
While the campaign sucked me in, the same can not be said for Crackdown 3’s multiplayer offering. Despite being hyped as a uniquely destructive experience that would harness the power of the cloud, it feels more like an undercooked afterthought, and the less said about it the better. With two uninspired modes that are essentially Kill Confirmed and Domination, no persistent progression, no customisation and a very limited arsenal, the fact you get kicked back to the lobby after every match is probably a sign that even the game knows it’s not worth any length of your time. It’s a a pity, because the destructibility of the environments borders on cool, but by today’s multiplayer standard, Crackdown 3 would have been better off leaving this one on the cutting room floor.
If you can do your best to ignore the lacklustre multiplayer offering, Crackdown 3’s 12-15 hour campaign is an ode to guiltless fun, giving you an open-world playground to flex your ever-growing abilities and arsenal in. It’s a relatively short campaign for an open-world game, but it refreshingly places importance on having a good time at a solid pace rather than endless pointless filler. On the basis of the campaign alone I would recommend Crackdown 3, and for any Xbox One owner it’s most certainly worthy of your time. Add to the fact that it’s included in Game Pass and can be played in co-op with up to four players, there’s very few hurdles in your way here.
Reviewed on Xbox One X // Review code supplied by publisher