Skills for kills, Agents.
Crackdown started life as something you bought to get a beta for Halo 3. That’s not a slight against the original game – it just is. The original game was successful enough (people really, really wanted that Halo 3 beta) to spawn a sequel, albeit under a different developer. Both games did well critically and commercially, but Crackdown was always better as an idea than a finished product: superpowered cops, whose skills grow as you use them, with free reign to cause mayhem and chaos while they leap, punch, shoot, and explode their way through the bad guys? Yes, please. The problem was always the execution. While both games were enjoyable romps, they never really lived up to the gameplay promise of their concepts.
So, twelve years after the original release, Sumo Digital, the third studio to helm a Crackdown title, has stepped up to the plate. It’s weird for a series that has never completely been a hit to get a third shot, and stranger still for it to get multiple shots with different studios, mostly because this almost never works. But Crackdown might be the exception; Sumo Digital has made what is easily the best game in the series here, and while it is still flawed, it’s easily the best realization of what Crackdown could be.
"You begin the game with very little in terms of, well, everything. No crazy powers, few guns, and not much insanity at your disposal. That’s natural for a game like this, but the issue is that it initially makes the game a slog."
The game opens with the Agency, the organization of supercops from the first couple games (who have also been heavily implied to be the bad guys in the past) totally destroyed… except for you. See, there was a huge terrorist attack that pretty much wiped out power around the world. The Agency traces it back to New Providence, a city run by Terra Nova, an evil corporation that is essentially an enormous metaphor for late capitalism. The Agency’s first attack goes badly, but you’ve been resurrected by a woman who goes by Echo to take them down. Problem is, the resurrection process has sapped you of your abilities. Time to go get them back.
It’s standard stuff, as is the game’s opening. You’re shuttled through a small opening zone that ends with a fairly ho-hum boss fight, and then dumped into New Providence at large. Your goal is to take down the head of Terra Nova, and to do that, you’ll need to take down her flunkies, which will make their bosses, and finally her, vulnerable. The order in which you waste them is up to you, but you do pretty much the same things either way: break enough of the stuff they’re in charge of, and eventually they’ll get mad enough to fight you one-on-one. Then you murk them. In the meantime, you’ll galivant around the city fighting baddies, completing side missions, leveling your skills, and generally making a ruckus. Sounds pretty good, right?
Well, it doesn’t start that way. You begin the game with very little in terms of, well, everything. No crazy powers, few guns, and not much insanity at your disposal. That’s natural for a game like this, but the issue is that it initially makes the game a slog. Crackdown is all about freedom. In many ways, it’s the ultimate video game power fantasy. The things you do directly make you better at those things. Using a lot of guns makes you better at using guns. Punching stuff increases your strength. Nabbing the agility orbs around the city increases your ability to jump and dash. Making things explode makes your explosives better. And driving… well, you get the idea. But that means you have to actually do those things. If you don’t punch dudes or throw things at them, your strength skill doesn’t increase. You have to go find the agility orbs to get a double jump and air dash. You gotta drive the boring normal cars to get access to the rad, transformable Agency car.
"But then you start to get stuff. You do a couple races and you get that rad agency car. You give a few baddies a knuckle sandwich and you get the superhero landing, and then a charged punch. Fill a bunch of dudes full of lead and you get the option to target individual body parts."
This is Crackdown 3’s core problem. At the beginning, you just don’t have many options, and what you do have isn’t that exciting. The game’s assault rifle isn’t bad, it’s just kinda… boring. Ditto only having one jump, a single three hit punch combo, etc. And you have to use these things to get to the fun. The first three to four hours drag, because you have to track down the agility orbs. You have to force yourself to punch guys it would be easier to shoot. You have to drive around. I don’t want to harp on this too much – it’s a small part of the game and my dissatisfaction with this segment might have something to do with the way I played it (I really should have tracked down more agility orbs sooner) – but it is worth noting that the opening just isn’t as engaging as the rest of the game.
But then you start to get stuff. You do a couple races and you get that rad agency car. You give a few baddies a knuckle sandwich and you get the superhero landing, and then a charged punch. Fill a bunch of dudes full of lead and you get the option to target individual body parts. By level 2 or 3, things really open up in terms of the options you have at any given moment. Toss a grenade into a group of enemies. Bring the shockwave with a superhero landing. Pull off a punch combo. Pull out your beam weapon (which also happens to set people on fire) and left the little guys have it. Target the big ones with your mass driver (a rail gun whose projectiles stick to enemies), and finish of the rest by running them over with your car. Or by throwing a dead body at them. Or using a rifle that bounces lightning bolts between foes. Or a charged, dashing punch. Or. Or. Or.
When the game opens up – when you get enough skills to essentially do whatever you want, whenever you want – Crackdown 3 really comes together. Individually, each of its systems is simple and not many of them have the depth to stand alone. The game would be really boring if you just had its melee combat to work with, even with all the abilities unlocked. But you don’t. And it’s this breadth that makes it fun. Throw in a couple dozen weapons, all of which operate differently, a transformable car, an enormous number of movement options, and a lot of ways to make things go boom, and you have a smorgasbord of tools of clean up New Providence.
"New Providence is divided into several parts, each of which contains its own unique visual style and things to do, often based on the bad guy(s) associated with that area."
A game’s tools are only as good as the sandbox you get to use them in, and Crackdown 3 largely succeeds here, too. New Providence is divided into several parts, each of which contains its own unique visual style and things to do, often based on the bad guy(s) associated with that area. Some of them, like ROXY, the evil AI that controls the city’s monorail system, has her stuff spread out around the city, but Khan, who manages part of Terra Nova’s mining operation, has most of his equipment localized in one area.
Taking control of a monorail station means wiping out its guards and then beating down the mini-boss ROXY summons to defend it, while beating Khan’s mining operation mostly just means breaking his machines. Once you’ve taken out enough stuff, you’ll open up the option to take down that character in a boss fight, which vary according to who that character is. Beating ROXY, for instance, means climbing her tower and shutting off her systems, while fighting Khan means taking him mano a mano after he jumps into Crackdown 3’s version of Aliens’ power loader. Between the story stuff, there are races (both in a vehicle and on foot) to enter, civilians to free, vehicles to blow up, etc. There’s really no shortage of stuff to do, and like the missions you to gain access to Terra Nova’s baddies, most don’t overstay their welcome. After all, you don’t have to do them all. Just enough to get what you want.
But Crackdown 3 isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and some systems work better than others. The game’s driving is floaty, and cars feel like they’re made of papier mâché. They’ll flip over for no good reason, and running into just about anything, from a raised step on someone’s front door to a tree, will bring you to a dead stop. This is a huge deal when racing, because you’re running against a time limit. The destruction we were promised in much of the game’s marketing makes almost no appearance here. Other side missions, like the propaganda towers you can scale, feel repetitive and occasionally fluky in terms of what works. The game also has a wanted system, much like Grand Theft Auto, that triggers seemingly at random and can be hard to get away from, especially at lower levels, when you lack mobility options. Crackdown’s enemies are relentless even when you haven’t triggered this system, which means the act of simply driving past them on the road to somewhere else can lead to a fight you have no choice but to have.
"Crackdown 3 isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a good one. It could stand to be a bit more consistent, but that’s always been this series’ problem."
Then there’s the game’s presentation. Crackdown 3 features bright colors and vivid environments, and the game’s comic book inspirations are something it’s clearly proud of. There’s a lot of cool visual bits here, from the way your characters grow and change as they level up their stats to the propaganda and jokes scattered around the world. One standout declares that guns are issued free with every police uniform. Even the Agents themselves have a ton of visual variety (and stat bonuses), and everything comes together fairly nicely – except when it doesn’t. For all its color, the game often looks visually flat, and there’s no visual pop that similar games, like Borderlands or Spider-Man, manage to pull off.
The other major problem is the supporting cast. Goodwin, the head of the agency from previous games, returns in 3, offering a lot of comedic relief – “Skills for kills, Agent!” – and is a stand-in for the player’s desires, while Echo works best when she’s going on about the plight of the common man. The thing is, neither of them ever shuts up. They talk about everything – from every optional thing you pass, to story developments, to the stuff you’ve literally just done. And they’re quick to point out something that they think you’re not doing fast enough. Non-stop. Until you do it. As someone who watched me play noted, “it’s like when you don’t solve a puzzle in Uncharted in three seconds.” Well, it wasn’t a good idea then and it isn’t now, either. It’s just irritating. The upside here is that one of the Agents is voiced by the inimitable Terry Crews, who delivers his lines with gusto. Unfortunately, the game almost never lets your characters speak. They mostly just murder stuff while Goodwin and Echo use up all the air in the atmosphere.
We also went hands on with the game’s multiplayer component, the Wrecking Zone, which is powered by Azure cloud servers. Crackdown 3 offers two modes, Agent Hunter and Territories, which are both team-based modes. In Agent Hunter mode, each team must take down the other team’s players; once you take them out, they will drop a badge and you will need to collect them. The first team to acquire the required number of badges within a particular time limit will win the match. In Territories mode, a spot within the map will be selected and each team would either need to defend or capture it. Once you start capturing, points will start to accumulate unless the opposing team contests for that location.
"It seems that the multiplayer modes are still very much in their infancy, but there is no doubt about its potential to grow beyond launch."
Both of these modes feature cloud-based destruction, which is easily one of the highlights of multiplayer. The map is designed in such a way so as to facilitate vertical gameplay along with tons of opportunities to cause destruction. Do you have any enemies swarming beneath the floor below you? Just use your secondary weapon and voila! Ultimate destruction! However, note that not everything is destructible in the game but the majority of the objects can be blown to smithereens. Furthermore, the locked aiming system keeps the action going and there is never a dull moment in Crackdown 3’s multiplayer component. Unfortunately, there is no progression system at this point and only customization options are the loadouts. It seems that the multiplayer modes are still very much in their infancy, but there is no doubt about its potential to grow beyond launch.
Which kind of sums up Crackdown 3 as a whole. When it’s good, it’s really good. When the systems come together, mowing down tons of guys as your supercop of choice is awesome. But the opening is slow. Echo and Goodwin don’t shut up. The driving is inconsistent. It’s visually flat. The long-hyped destruction is almost non-existent in this mode. And, in a personal pet peeve, it doesn’t have local co-op. What a waste. And yet I can’t deny that I had a great time with it, especially the further into it I got. Crackdown 3 isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a good one. It could stand to be a bit more consistent, but that’s always been this series’ problem. And no matter who the developer is, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
You get to be a supercop! Lots of abilities to use. New Providence is a cool city. A ton of weapons. The Agency car is really cool. Solid humor throughout. Lots of stuff to do.
Inconsistent driving. The opening is slow. The visuals can look flat. Your friends never shut up. No local co-op. Almost no destruction in campaign mode.
Crackdown 3 maintains some of the series's inconsistencies, but it does more right than it does wrong, and it's a blast to play when everything comes together.