Is There More To Crackdown 3’s Delay Than Meets the Eye?

Microsoft exclusive Crackdown 3 was a surprise absentee from Xbox’s E3 2016 keynote. Even gaming media moguls IGN rated Crackdown 3’s chances of being shown at some stage 10/10, probably a fair assumption to make considering it was slated to launch in the back half of 2016. The Michael Bay filmset simulator was originally announced at E3 in 2014, and then at Gamescom in 2015 we were given a glimpse at the mass destruction with a 17-minute gameplay demo. However since then it’s been virtually silent on all fronts. While the game itself was not present at E3 (for the second year running), Crackdown 3’s director, Dave Jones, from developer Reagent Games, stealthily announced that the game’s release had been delayed to 2017. Jones wrote that: ‘Our top priority is to give gamers an experience they have never seen before at a scale never thought possible, and sticking to our original timeline would have compromised that goal.’ It’s your typical run-of-the-mill delay reason and while it may seem innocuous enough, I have a feeling that the delay itself is indicative of a larger problem facing the game’s development.

10/10 prediction

For those unaware as to what Crackdown 3 is, here’s a quick primer: Crackdown 3 is a third-person shooter that features fully destructible environments. Everything and anything in the sandbox-style shooter’s world can be destroyed, which is where the game’s appeal lies. Crackdown 3 will feature both single player and multiplayer modes, although the mass destruction is limited to the online multiplayer modes. The two game modes were rumoured to be launching at different times, however now that the game’s delayed into 2017, both modes should ship simultaneously.

A lot of the Crackdown 3’s promise comes from Microsoft’s pledge that the game will harness the power of cloud computing, which is what will help power the game’s entirely destructible universe. Before joining Reagent Games, Dave Jones was at Cloudgine, a company whose website states that: ‘Cloudgine is forging ahead, opening up these possibilities for developers by creating a platform specifically designed for the Cloud. Game and VR developers can focus on defining new experiences on scales never seen before, without needing the resources or knowledge to unlock the power of the Cloud.’ Back in 2013 when Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, they preached about how the cloud would unlock unprecedented power for developers and the console itself. Xbox One engineering manager Jeff Henshaw told Eurogamer and several other outlets that: ‘The cloud will enable developers to infinitely increase the size, scope and scale of gameplay elements’. However aside from the Xbox One reveal in 2014 and pumping up Crackdown 3’s wheels, the allure of the Cloud has rarely been spoken of since.

In 2015, Reagent Games admitted to Game Informer that one of the biggest problems facing Crackdown 3 is the game’s reliance on the cloud, meaning that the gamer’s experience will be at the mercy of their internet service. This could mean that many Australians with sub-par internet connections (according to a recent ABC report, Australia has dropped to 60th in the world broadband rankings) will either have to skip the game entirely or deal with the inevitable lag that comes with a meagre online connection.

Fast-forward to 2016 and there have been murmurs that the Cloudgine isn’t as magnificent as it was cracked up to be. One user posted on a Game Informer article prior to E3 saying that the game would be getting some bad news at E3 and that the cloud technology they’re wanting to use simply isn’t at the required level yet. Chances are this is pure speculation, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Take a look at the comment below:

Speculation? Or does old mate Rival_M have an inside source?

Now although they were correct in predicting the bad news (the delay), there has been no official word from either Microsoft or Reagent Studios about any issues with the Cloudgine software. This is not to say that there aren’t any, but I think there is more to the delay than meets the eye.

One of Microsoft’s big announcements this E3 (in fact possibly their biggest) was the confirmation of the existence of Project Scorpio, a console that set a new standard for marketing wank with its excessively industry-endorsed video. It was like the Santana album of promo videos, everyone from Todd Howard to Patrick Söderlund praised Microsoft’s upcoming technical beast.

Yes the Xbox Scorpio does sound rather impressive with its six-pack of teraflops, however several Xbox figures stated that while the machine is a monster, it will not have any exclusives because ‘no one is left behind’, but this statement has never been fully explained. Does that mean that Scorpio will simply get the game in 4K, or does it have deeper implications for standard Xbox One owners? Phil Spencer said that gamers that don’t own 4K TVs won’t receive huge boons in owning a Scorpio, however games will run better on a Scorpio than on an Xbox One, but it will depend on where the developers choose to allocate the six teraflops as to what the true boons are. Will it be to deliver 4K or to give the games additional running power?

This is where Crackdown 3 comes in. It wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft and Reagent Games turned Crackdown 3 into a somewhat pseudo-Scorpio launch exclusive, especially if the development issues that Reagent Games are facing are true. Developing Crackdown 3 around the Scorpio’s specs could allow the players who have the Scorpio to wreak havoc in the all-destructible word, particularly as Reagent Games and Microsoft have stated how much muscle is required to power such a game world. This would mean that standard Xbox One owners wouldn’t receive the game’s full experience – something they might not anyway given that the game’s cloud computing is reliant on internet service providers.

If this were to be true, it wouldn’t be the first time we have had a game ship on multiple platforms with varying features. As developers began to transition from last-gen (PS3/XB360) to current-gen we saw several last-gen games have reduced graphics and even miss out on features and modes entirely. Most notable among these was Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which didn’t feature a campaign on the last-gen editions. As we transition into a new sub-generation of gaming with the introduction of high-powered consoles, we may see future games be tailored around these alpha-consoles. After all, according to Microsoft’s Scorpio video, ‘this is the console that developers asked us to build’.

If that’s the case, then why wouldn’t Reagent Games take advantage of all that horse power? From what we have been told about Crackdown 3, it sounds like an ambitious project that could ultimately fall on its sword if players are left reeling from anger due to network inadequacies. This theory may not be as farfetched as you think. Since E3 2014 when Crackdown 3 was unveiled, a lot of what Microsoft has announced has either been continuously shown (Scalebound) or is set for release this year (Gears of War 4 and ReCore). Only Phantom Dust has suffered a worse fate than Crackdown 3, as the game’s development was placed on hiatus last year. Clearly Microsoft believes that Crackdown 3 has a future on the Xbox roster, or it would have cut its losses already.

Something has gotta power all those lights

While this theory is largely based on speculation, it does bring to light another issue that plagues the game’s industry currently: game’s that are announced too early in their development cycle. Spencer admitted this was the case with the Phantom Dust remake they announced in 2014, and it’s rare for any AAA game to not incur some form of delay. I understand that publishers want to get gamers as hyped as possible for a title, but like we saw with Watch Dogs and to a lesser extent The Order: 1886, the longer a game’s development takes, the bigger the pressure becomes for the title to exceed consumers’ and critics’ expectations. On the other hand, some games (such as the recent Homefront: The Revolution) are doomed to be poorly-received and it seems that no amount of delays can save these titles from mediocrity.

So maybe I am reading too far into things and searching for conspiracy theories. Perhaps Crackdown 3 is simply a case of a game being announced too early in its development that hasn’t progressed as far as the developers had hoped. Maybe the developers were aiming too high for the stars and have had to scale back on their vision. Or are there larger, greater plans in store for Crackdown 3? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Co-Founder & Managing Editor of WellPlayed. Sometimes a musician, lover of bad video games and living proof that Australians drink Foster's. Coach of Supercoach powerhouse the BarnesStreet Bois. Carlton, Burnley FC & SJ Sharks fan Get around him on Twitter @tightinthejorts