I remember, back in the day, playing the very first Crackdown. It had its problems, but it was so fun to power up to point where you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, blast generic bad guys in the face and have a good time. It was an original IP for the Xbox 360 and a brilliantly fun, turn off your brain time.
Fast forward twelve years and we have Crackdown 3, released for Xbox and PC earlier this year. Unfortunately, while the same basic formula applies, and this time features loveable tough man Terry Crews, the magic hasn’t translated because games have evolved over the last few years leaving the third game feeling stuck in the past.
That’s not to say it doesn’t do what it says on the tin: Crackdown 3 is very much a Crackdown game, but that is kind of the problem. Rather than evolving the formula in any significant way, a few half baked ideas from other games have been added, then the same method of progression has been kept in while a lock on mechanic makes the shooting a little too easy and formulaic. This results in a competent game, but one that isn’t overly exciting and can quickly devolve into boredom.
In it’s defence, Crackdown 3 fails to fall into the trap a lot of open world games do - over filling the map. There is plenty to do, but not so much that it becomes a slog to get through and the overall game becomes nothing more than a checklist. The developers at Sumo Digital managed to get the balance just right, with enough things to do to keep you playing but not so much that its overwhelming. It’s just a shame that this is the best thing the game does.
Shooting enemies becomes rote quickly, and despite there being the ability to target individual body parts when getting close to bad guys, you rarely need to do it, plus how this is implemented is strange. I played on PC, so to target an enemy is a click of the right mouse button, fire the left, but when I got closer I could do a quick little movement of the mouse to target the head or arms. It was a weird way to do it because it feels counter intuitive to move the mouse in such a way. More than that though, I didn’t need to do it, I could kill the guy only slightly quicker with headshots than I could just targeting them normally.
Once I gave up on trying to do headshots, the combat got better but so easy that the only times I died were down to poor positioning on my part. The variety of weapons, I must admit, were pretty cool, nothing spectacular apart from a couple of the bigger rocket launchers, but I always had the right tool for the job. Getting better over time with them helped a lot too, but again this added to the ‘this is a crackdown ass crackdown game’ feel.
As for the other main part of the gameplay - running around the city, that again does the job but I wouldn’t call it Mario levels of precision, far from it. The jumping is just a little too floaty for the number of platforming puzzles available to you, and while this is compensated for as you level up your agility skill by grabbing glowing agility orbs dotted around the world, the over reliance on platforming challenges in the form of towers you have to climb to get rid of the bad guys propaganda leads to frustration as its all too easy to jump over the platform.
What is that propaganda replaced with? Terry Crews. The setup for the story is that the agency (the ‘good guys’) sent a team to the city of New Providence as the source of a global power outage had been traced there. The opening cut-scene sees the transport shot down, and thus the only agent left is you (unless playing co-op). There are several agent models to pick from, but let's be honest, play as Terry Crews, he is the biggest draw here. Unfortunately he is also massively underused.
Cutscenes don’t feature any lines from him, apart from the opening one, and while jumping around the world and getting into fights gives you little quips it's not enough. The biggest thing is that when you complete a tower, the giant red hologram of the games big bad is replaced with a giant blue hologram of Mr Crews, spouting lines about how the bad guys are bad. Which you don’t really hear unless stood directly underneath a tower.
It’s a shame because he is a funny guy and has a singular brand of angry, so any previous experience of his work makes his use here disappointing at best and outright terrible at worst. The marketing all surrounded him, but don’t be fooled, you can play as any other character and get just as good results, but still, play as Terry Crews cause you might as well.
The term ‘It’s a shame’ pretty much sums up the whole experience. Keeping the essence of Crackdown is possible while still evolving the game, but that didn’t happen here. Even the more modern aspects are a let down. There is a very lite version of the Nemesis system from the Shadow of Mordor games here, but it's just not what you want from such a thing. Where in that game if you took out a nemesis they are replaced by an upcoming orc, here you are given basically the same screen but when you take one out, that's it, they are done and you move onto the next. Once they kill them all you get to take on the head of the organisation they work for.
Speaking of that big bad, while I appreciate that I put the game on easy, that final boss battle was one of the easiest battles I have ever played. I honestly had more trouble with the lower level bosses than I did the last one. In part this was because I was at a much higher level, part because I had probably the best explosive weapon in the game, but mainly it really is just that easy and it left me feeling unsatisfied with the end game.
I did try the Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode, which was actually kinda cool. Jumping all over the map blowing it up as you hunt down the other team was cool, but there was so little skill involved it became boring quick. The same lock on system is here, so it's not a challenge to take someone down, and the environmental destruction, while cool adds little to the experience. So few people were playing I got into three matches with the same set of people then the last one took longer than five minutes to match make so I gave up.
Again, it’s a shame, a bit more thought and wrecking zone could have been really ace but at present it feels like a tacked on afterthought that has had half the resources thrown at it that it really needs. This is especially bad considering that when the game was first announced a huge deal was made of this mode and how it used the cloud to power its destructive environments. It might still do that, but the cloud isn’t a substitute for good game design and ultimately this is where the mode falls down.
Overall, Crackdown 3 is a game of missed potential, a game who's core essence could have been kept while taking on more modern elements that would have given it a fresh feel. It could have used its celebrity protagonist in so many better ways that it feels like the money spent should have been used on improving the game and had it followed through on its promise of cloud powered multiplayer become one of the best games of the year.
Unfortunately, my reaction by the end of my time with it was a definitive ‘meh’. It is a half decent way to while away a few hours but nothing that will stick with you and a game that is easily outshined by more modern takes on open world games. It's on Xbox Game Pass, so to be fair if you have that then it is worth a play, but don’t be fooled, even then it is outclassed by other games on the same service. It’s a shame.