There are few things in life guaranteed to bring the games industry together, but one of them is the shared incredulity of watching a troubled game’s car crash development. Everyone becomes development experts – “they should be doing this”, “why hasn’t that happened yet”, “I’d have had The Last Guardian out ten years ago” – but they miss the simple fact that things go wrong, that even with the best will in the world you might need to readjust or start over. This is the story of Crackdown 3, but the only incredulity now that it’s here is in finding out that it’s actually pretty good.
Admittedly things weren’t looking good a week ago, when alarm bells clanged like tolls at the gates to hell when we discovered that the multiplayer portion of the game wasn’t included in the review code we were given, but a separate entity. This was then followed by the news that the game’s multiplayer party system would need to be patched in after launch, and those armchair developers awoke stirred the pot with the perfectly reasonable question: “what have they been doing all this time?”
Yet it’s not time for Xbox One owners to hide in the reeds of the comments sections across the globe, rather they can rejoice in a Game Pass-ready sci-fi action romp, that – like its star Terry Cruz – is big, buoyant and bold, and just out to show you the goodest of good times.
So you’re playing Terry Crews, or at least, you’re playing Commander Jaxon of the Agency, who looks and sounds just like the Brooklyn 99 star. The game begins with what is possibly the most Terry Cruz opening possible, and includes him flexing his glowing Daddy Duck tattoo, doing a little dance, and shouting the word ‘Motherf***er’ while getting blown to smithereens. Fortunately for us and Terry, there’s a handy scientist knocking about who puts you back together and sets you on the road to revenge, or maybe very violent justice, both of which mostly involve killing lots of bad guys and gals while leaping around a bit city. And that’s it.
Just like the previous two games you’re dropped into a sandbox open world where your main aims include jumping to the top of every building possible in the hope of finding some glowing green agility orbs. Collecting these wonderful things mean you can then jump further and higher, allowing you to get gradually higher and higher until you’re scaling impossibly tall towers by leaping from tiny ledge to even tinier ledge. At various points Crackdown 3 turns into a vast 3D platformer, and I love it.
The sense of scale really puts you on edge, and when you’re ascending the propaganda towers – immense structures that are broadcasting to the masses from on high – you’ll be praying that you don’t fall. Each one of these is a steadily tougher platforming challenge that put all of your agent’s agility to the test, and they can be exhilaratingly tough. They each have a couple of waypoints up them, so that the less nimble amongst us stand a chance, and there’s a satisfyingly quick reload to keep you plugging away. The biggest shame is that there are only twelve of them spread out around New Providence, but then they’re not the only tall buildings you’ll be needing to ascend.
The city itself is one of the stars of the game, and it’s packed full of evil drinks shacks, evil train stations and evil chemical plants which you need to take under Agency control if you want to have a chance at taking down the scenery-chewing Elizabeth Niemand. You’ll want to get through each of her lieutenants first, who are often holed up in some well fortified headquarters where they’re waiting to shoot you in the face. It’s up to you to shoot them in the face first. The narrative supporting all this is true B-movie stuff, but it’s delivered with enough style that it’ll wash over you without too much friction.
The other tentpole to Crackdown 3’s action is its melee and gunplay, and with a hard lock-on in effect it’s pretty tough to miss, but you’ll need to cycle through wave after wave of enemies in battle which keeps you on your toes. There’s an impressive armoury which grows in time with your progression and you can wander about with three of them at any time, with an additional gadget slot to fill out with grenades, mines or even healing circles. Your enemies are no slouch with a gun, and they’re more than capable of decimating your health bar.
Crackdown 3 flips the idea of shields on its head by offering you a shield boost for causing more death and destruction, forcing you to wade in where other games would see you run and hide. You can still play like that if you really want to, but it takes an age for your shields to recharge of their own accord and it’s clear that that’s not how Sumo Digital want you to play the game. At its best, Crackdown 3’s combat is a whirlwind of barely contained chaos as you teeter on the brink of success and disaster, and while it might not be the deepest experience it’s just plain old-fashioned fun.
Right there could be people’s biggest problem with the game though. Where the original Crackdown was riding the wave of the open-world genre, the third one sticks fairly rigidly to the structures it put in place, meaning there’s few surprises here with an island full of things to kill and things to collect. That said, it uses all this generations extra processing horsepower to bring New Providence to life in style. It’s a wonderfully solid world and – on Xbox One X at least – there can be absolute chaos on screen and the frame rate won’t even stutter.
You can go play the whole campaign alone, or dive into some co-op action if the mood takes you, and while it doesn’t really change the experience it’s always fun to blow things up when in company. The Wrecking Zone is the real multiplayer experience and it’s worth noting that, thanks to this portion of the game only unlocking the day before the review embargo, we’ve only been able to spend a few hours with it.
The Wrecking Zone is the sole area where Crackdown 3’s original promise of utilising the power of the cloud to deliver destructible environments bears any fruit. Alongside the pleasant surprise that the campaign is genuinely a lot of fun, it’s weird to discover that the large-scale destruction showcased many, many years ago is actually a thing, and that it can work. Sometimes everything can come crashing down around you in a way that’s hypnotically beautiful, and you might even briefly see the advantage of Microsoft’s Azure servers in amongst it all. if I was the masochistic type, I’d wonder if Crackdown 4 could manage to pull off the same trick in the campaign, but let’s not wish away today’s successes quite yet.
On the whole though the Wrecking Zone is a pretty underwhelming. You’re given medium sized maps instead of the full city, and the destructible environments often don’t fall apart in the way you might be hoping. The landscape looks weirdly soft and indefinite, as well. When it’s combined with a poor frame rate you might well ask whether they should have bitten the bullet and opted for a simpler system based around fun game mode like Agent Hunter and Territories. There’s some brief glimpses of the possibilities that Crackdown 3’s multiplayer could bring.