"We've rebuilt the Crackdown 3 franchise for a new generation" - Clint Bundrick on Xbox One X's (eventual) first big exclusive

Let's just skip past that unfortunate Crackdown 3 2018 delay and get straight to what the Xbox One X game is all about: Power. It's a game that has always been interested in exploring the pursuit of power. This isn’t something that it actively screams about, but therein lies its true potential for fostering instances of pure unadulterated, unscripted chaos. The further you push against its design, the harder it pushes back at you. Daring you not to merely think outside of the box, but to leap out of it entirely – smashing it to pieces in the most explosive way imaginable.

This has always been Crackdown’s greatest strength, but now it could also be its most glaring weakness. Because, close to two years after it faded into the shadows, our impressions and expectations of Crackdown 3 have only warped with time. It has mutated into a game that seems so large in scope and ambition that we can only begin to wonder whether the ensemble of development teams could ever truly pull it off. We – as you undoubtedly do too – remember Crackdown 3 being built around the concept of uninhibited destruction. Entire cityscapes could be levelled by your actions with no hit to the framerate; carnage caused by an array of weaponry that was expressly designed to inhibit as much structural damage in as short a period of time as possible – what we saw back in 2015 would prove to be the one true demonstration to the power of Microsoft’s languishing Azure Cloud technology.

It bought about the promise of persistent co-operative chaos in an online-only arena, the likes of which we had never experienced before. But time, well, it can be a killer. The summer 2016 multiplayer beta failed to materialise, the final release was quietly pushed into 2017 (and now 2018), and we began to fear that Crackdown 3 was going to go the way of ill-fated stable mates Fable Legends and Scalebound. Crackdown 3 as it exists today isn’t the game we thought it was going to be, although that, as we’ve come to discover, is not necessarily a bad thing.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since fans last saw [the game] at Gamescom 2015,” admits Clint Bundrick, the Microsoft Game Studios design director presiding over the combined Crackdown 3 experience. “We have completely rebuilt the Crackdown 3 franchise for a new generation of gamers while still delivering the classic Crackdown gameplay fans of the franchise know and love.”

It’s been little over a decade since Crackdown first debuted; sold on the strength of its reactive game structure (and yes, that infamous Halo 3 summer beta), we are happy to report that this sequel offers, in many respects, more of the same – albeit in a vastly upgraded visual package. E3 2017 saw the debut of Crackdown 3’s campaign mode, a far more focused affair than the somewhat open-ended structure of the multiplayer component, first revealed back in 2015.

“The development of Crackdown 3 is essentially the story of building two completely unique experiences,” Bundrick continues, noting that while destruction is still a part of the single-player experience, it just isn’t as broad and wide-reaching as that of the multiplayer offering. And for good reason too, because, as Bundrick is quick to note, “what kind of superhero destroys a city they were sent to save?” We’ll answer that one for you Clint – a bad one.

“We have a brand-new campaign game, playable in single player offline or online co-op for four players, and a multiplayer mode that is built off a never-before-seen technological innovation with 100 per cent destruction,” says Bundrick (and he really means 100%). “The glue between these two experiences is the DNA of Crackdown – our super-powered Agent abilities, the over-the- top action, and gameplay that is physical and most of all fun.”

And he isn’t wrong there. At its heart, Crackdown 3 is leaning on the same pillars that made the 2007 release so unquestionably entertaining – only this time it is set across an open world twice as large as that of our beloved Pacific City. New Providence is home to the campaign and it’s here where we will be free to run amok with re-imagined super-powered Agent abilities, be able to tactically dismantle the menacing Terra Nova criminal syndicate, go hunting for the ever-irresistible Agility Orbs, and generally push up against Crackdown 3’s most exciting new features.

“With so many high-quality games around we knew we had to do something unique and we needed a compelling reason for why players would want to come play in our world,” admits Bundrick. For Sumo Digital, responsible for the campaign, this came down to incubating two features, both of which are made in service of Crackdown’s wild sense of power escalation.

“The first is the Skills for Kills system, it empowers players to collect Orbs and perform over-the-top actions to develop their character from a regular human to a building-leaping, fuel truck-throwing super- Agent,” Bundrick continues, noting that this exponential skill curve is what keeps the game fresh, ensuring that every hour played brings a fresh suite of abilities and upgrades to the table.

Ultimately, the focus is still on improving your mobility and agility in the world. The entirety of New Providence is accessible from the beginning of the game – the final boss a potential target as soon as you take your first steps – though you’ll need the improved jetpack-assisted air-bursts and double jump abilities if you really want to see everything this neon-infused city has to offer. As before, five ability stats still govern your progression – Strength, Firearms, Explosives, Driving and Agility – and it’s only through dutiful experimentation and exploration that you’ll be able to unlock exciting new ways to take on the ruling gang and the mobsters.

This plays into what Bundrick calls the “Gangs Bite Back system” which, we’re told, “ensures that every playthrough of Crackdown is different.” This is down to the city being divided into distinct districts, each ruled over by a Captain. It’s only by taking out large pockets of gang members, disrupting cash flow, and generally being a superheroic nuisance, that you’ll be able to trigger retaliatory and reactive boss battles – your chance to seize control over districts and reassert the agency’s authority over New Providence. “Our goal is to provide players with the tools to dismantle Terra Nova any way they see fit and have their experience be entirely unique based on how they did it.”

Ultimately, Crackdown 3 is going to be the first real test for the Xbox One X. It’s arriving in Spring 2018, a few short months after the launch of the new premium system and we will be looking to it to see how Microsoft’s first-party studios plan on leveraging the new power on offer. While Crackdown 3 may have been originally sold on its destruction, the full picture seems to offer so much more. A full campaign that will deliver a pure Crackdown experience, imbued by a decade of lessons learned in the open-world space, while the multiplayer will offer the sort of pure chaos that the Cloud had always promised – but never been able to deliver. The power to provide an unforgettable experience is in the hands of Sumo Digital and Reagent Games. Now it’s finally time to see if the studios can do it.

This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.