Not much has changed in Crackdown town. The game drops me into the shoes of an agent brimming with potential who is tasked with tearing through a corporate controlled city to restore order. The only verbs with which I can interact with the world involve firing rocket launcher shells into crowds of nameless people or slapping hoodlums off of tall buildings. Wait a minute… haven’t we seen this all before?
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Crackdown 3 is set in New Providence, a city controlled by Elizabeth Niemand, a dastardly CEO that is enslaving citizens and performing global terrorist attacks. You work your way through the divisions of her company in order to scale the TerraNova tower, the centrepiece of the map that everything revolves around. I tried to scale it at the start with a weak agent, with middling success, but let’s just say it’s not as captivating a prospect as Ganon’s Castle in Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild.
Despite the fact that New Providence is double the size of Crackdown’s Pacific City, it feels significantly smaller. The environment is cramped but devoid of life, especially for an action game in 2019. Whereas in Crackdown you had gang-controlled islands and locations with a discernible sense of character, in Crackdown 3 there are different icons and goons scattered everywhere and barely any room to breathe, which doubles down on the chaos in its finest moments, but makes it so I can’t creep down the block without my car getting blown to smithereens.
Your enemies, the leaders of the various divisions of TerraNova are all immediately interesting, from the robotic jaw of Alois Quist to the decorated enforcer Kuli Ngata. These characters and their nefarious ambitions are introduced by a suite of gorgeous anime-style cutscenes, but once that’s over, I never saw them again outside of the occasional audio taunt and their corresponding boss battle. More often than not, they appear clad in a mech suit, angry at my mute self for breaking up the party. I fill them full of holes and that’s about it. Character development is non-existent, despite the interesting premise behind each of these inspired villains, which feels like a waste.
The repetition of taking down a leader gets old quick, and this tracks for most of the missions leading up to the showdowns. The most tiresome are those locked to the industry division of TerraNova, which has you dismantling machinery responsible for producing a chemical weapon. Once you wipe out the related targets, the Chimera gas is drained from the main tower, offering a solid bit of consequence to your actions. This is similar to the Hardpoint liberation missions, which, when completed, gave me a civilian militia to help storm enemy forts. These missions sound great in writing, and they would be fun if they offered a semblance of a challenge, but they struggle to do so. Crackdown 3’s missions boil down to a series of solutions: a keypad that you hold LB to hack; a static weak point; or a beefy enemy. As long as you focus on it and endure some bullets you can get it over with in a minute or two.
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As for side content, I was surprised to find that simply landing on a supply point unlocks it, no matter how many difficult enemies are there. I’d pick up a car and lob it off the nearest enforcer, nick his homing rocket and glide off into this distance, grinning with glee. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to pull off, but overall, Crackdown 3 doesn’t ask a lot of the player, and the house of cards start to fall if you tease the boundaries a bit.
The best missions in the game dare to offer you one more layer of difficulty, which involves planting or ejecting a generator to unlock the path to a hackable keypad. Even during the slightly more scripted and bombastic boss battles, the game throws enough checkpoints and supply points at you to ensure you never hit a brick wall. The limitless clones of the agents in Crackdown means it's quite fun to get spanked by a rocket in mid-air, so seeing only the occasional ragdoll when I made a fatal mistake hampered some of the usual comedy.
Jax On, Jax Off
One refreshing series of missions were the Propaganda Towers - optional agility tests that had you floating around lasers and shifting platforms to reach the summit of a beacon, which you transform into an inspiring radio station pumping out delightful Terry Crews quotes. Did I mention you can play as Terry Crews? This is a clever stroke, but, like the villains, Terry, or Commander Jaxon, is sorely underutilized in the main game beyond pure aesthetic value.
He doesn’t really chide back at the villains or provide any commentary on the chaos. He pumps out a few cheeky Boomshakalakas every now and then, but I was lucky to hear him over the sound of the chaos I was creating.
Think of Jaxon like a Terry Crews action figure with an automatic drawstring. Perhaps this was a commitment to the voiceless protagonists that have headlined prior Crackdown games, but in a world of Arthur Morgans and Kassandras, perhaps giving the player character some personality would have been useful in showing that this is a new and improved Crackdown game, and not just a souped-up reskin of what worked last time.
It feels like Crackdown 2.5, and luckily for those of you still interested, what worked then feels even better now. The wonderfully dry narrator is back on form, pumping biting one-liners and obscene encouragement into my ears as I turn one of Niemand’s henchman into mulch.
The diamond in the rough of Crackdown has always been its moment to moment gameplay, and in Crackdown 3 it is dangerously addictive. The lock-on shooting is a marked change of pace from modern shooters, and dashing and thrusting through the air, warping my momentum to reach new heights, it has never felt so good to be an agent in a crumbling dystopia.
This makes casual exploration heaps of fun, and following the breadcrumbs to more agility orbs is still just as satisfying. That gorgeous pulsing sonic sting that you hear when you get close to one will bore into your brain and latch on, reminding you of old times. It’s endorphin rush central, and as ever, punting goons into oblivion still totally rules, their hapless bodies leaving behind Crackdown’s caviar: the tasty orbs that give you beefy biceps and better explosive capacity.
This time around, each level up doesn’t just offer a statistical upgrade. Sometimes, it’s a new piece of equipment like a bouncy launch pad, a singularity grenade or a new car model. This adds a small amount of variety but it doesn’t exactly feel revolutionary within the established format. I had unlocked 75% of the weapons in Crackdown 3 within my first few hours of play, and was a little disappointed at the arsenal, though some of the unique new weapons like the Graviton Tether and the black hole-creating Oblivion make up for this.
Crews the redeemer
Vehicles control poorly outside of the agency offerings, and driving is still the forgotten skill I had to remember to buff at the end of Crackdown 3. There have been no strides to make it any more alluring than in previous games, which is unfortunate. I eventually started to wonder why I was bothering with these silly four-wheeled machines when I could watch Terry Crews glide gracefully through the sky with ease.
The most unfortunate aspect of of Crackdown 3 is that when you’ve bested the lieutenants and stormed Niemand’s tower, there’s nothing left to do beyond collecting orbs and completing races. I clocked out at just shy of seven hours, and that involved completing the campaign at a leisurely pace over a weekend, with all supply points and side content finished, my Terry Crews action figure looking hench as ever.
And unfortunately that completion time won't be much extended by the game's multiplayer - Wrecking Zone. Despite so much going on, it’s perhaps the most boring multiplayer shooter I’ve ever played. Like in the campaign, aiming isn’t a thing - you simply hold down aim and it will lock you on to the nearest enemy. Hold down fire and unless they run behind a wall, your bullets will not miss. There is no skill or strategy involved whatsoever.
The new technology Microsoft has implemented - and the core focus behind the Wrecking Zone - is awesome. Buildings crumble in intense detail, you can explode floors to make enemies fall through, you truly do come in like a wrecking ball. But it would be so much better in a game like say, Battlefield. Using this technology in such a mundane multiplayer experience feels like an absolute waste. It feels like something that would have impressed at the start of this console generation, but fails to entice now. If you are going to pick up Crackdown 3, don’t waste your time with Wrecking Zone.
Sure, you can collect every orb and max out your agent, or ramp up the difficulty and run the gauntlet again in co-op, but at the end of the day, it’s a question of value, and whether you can stomach that amount of content for the full price ticket.
Yet, if you’ve got Xbox Game Pass, it’s easy to recommend. It’s daft, polished fun, even if it doesn’t push the boat out like it should.
Tested on Xbox One.