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Review – Crackdown 3 (Xbox One, PC)

The story of Crackdown 3 takes place several years after the events of Crackdown 2, with the ever-present (and secretly evil) paramilitary organization called The Agency, dispatching a crew of its super-powered agents to the island city of New Providence to deal with Terra Nova, a massive multi-national corporation run by Elizabeth Niemand that has been covertly causing destruction and massive, city-wide blackouts across the globe. Predictably, things go wrong, the Agency transport is destroyed and all the agents aboard are killed. One such Agent, Commander Jaxon – excellently portrayed by the always electrifying but sadly underused Terry Crews – (or one of a few other generic, faceless Agents) is found and revived using the Agency’s cloning technology by a local militia leader fighting against Terra Nova named Echo.

As a result of your untimely death, however, your Agent is de-powered and has to start over, regaining his or her lost skills as you get to work taking out Terra Nova’s command hierarchy, with multiple lieutenants reporting to three main bosses and the three main bosses reporting to Elizabeth Niemand herself. That’s pretty much it in terms of plot and storytelling. You’ll get a few (barely) animated cutscenes throughout your adventure but this is not the game to play if you’re looking for an intricate story to keep you going.

Now, if you’ve played either of the two previous Crackdown games before, then you’ll know what to expect from Crackdown 3, as it’s more of the same running, jumping, climbing, orb collecting, throwing cars at people, and blowing stuff up that you’re used to. And therein lies the central problem: it’s too much like everything you’ve come to expect from Crackdown. Crackdown 3 is an obsessively formulaic sequel that sticks too rigidly to past gameplay structures, takes no risks and pushes no envelopes.

The gameplay doesn’t evolve much from the word go. The same mediocre lock-on targeting system from the original game is present here, which results in gameplay boiling down to pressing the left trigger to lock on and the right to fire, that is when the lock-on system actually targets what you want it to target and doesn’t consider a passing car as much of a threat as the guy shooting you with a rocket launcher. This same gameplay rhythm repeats itself ad nauseum, and despite your Agent having access to an array of strength-based melee attacks, you’ll rarely want to use them. As cool as the Flying Fist is, it’s seldom more effective than blasting away with the (often explosive) weapon of your choosing, like the overpowered Homing Rocket, Mass Driver or the Pulse Beam, which chews through human targets. Because some of these weapons are so overpowered, you’ll rarely want to deviate from them while the rest of the game’s arsenal collects dust.

The formula is simple: besiege and take out enemy strongholds to weaken the lieutenants, take out the lieutenants to weaken the bosses, take out the bosses, rinse and repeat until a viable path is opened towards the game’s big bad. In 2007, this was a good-enough structure and one that worked well enough to provide an organized challenge curve for the player to follow, but over a decade and a new console generation later rehashing the same formula just isn’t enough. Crackdown has had two chances now to innovate and push the franchise in new directions and provide new and exciting gameplay options but, sadly, these opportunities have been squandered.

Matters aren’t helped by Crackdown 3’s setting, the Terra Nova run city of New Providence. In my experience, New Providence feels strangely empty and lifeless, even when the streets are filled with pedestrians and vehicles. Though I appreciate the attention paid to the sense of scale and verticality which makes it fun to leap around collecting agility orbs and searching out hidden orbs I never really enjoyed exploring the city for the sake of exploration. Though some nice touches are made to emphasize the differences between districts, and highlighting the literal barriers between the luxury high rises, neon-drenched nightlife of the rich and the poor, polluted slums in a sharp critique of modern times, the city ultimately comes across as bland.

Throughout the city are enemy supply points that can be taken over to create fast travel points, prisoner hardpoints to be liberated, vehicle lockups to destroy, chemical plants to blow up, propaganda towers to climb and other strongholds that need to be destroyed in order to open up the game’s bosses. Outside of the campaign challenges (I say that since there are no traditional “missions”), there are the expected rooftop and vehicle races and a thousand orbs to locate, scattered throughout the city. But once you’ve completed the main story (which will take about 10 hours or so), there’s little motivation to do many of the side activities, unless you’re a manic completionist.

Now, I’m a big fan of racing games, from arcade classics like Ridge Racer, Need for Speed and Mario Kart to racing simulators like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, so driving physics in all kinds of games – including open world titles like this one – are important to me. That said, Crackdown 3 has some of the worst driving physics I’ve ever seen. The physics aren’t just bad, they’re fundamentally broken. Driving most vehicles feels floaty and imprecise and engaging the handbrake makes cars react like their tires were just doused in oil. Driving over even the smallest of obstacles can topple many cars or cause them to glitch out, even occasionally catapulting them across the map.

The Agency vehicle is perhaps the most egregious offender in that it has three different modes and all three handle absolutely terribly. The “Lightning” form serves as the base form, possesses the highest top speed and has the ability to side swipe other vehicles, sending them flying off the road. The second “Spider” form, is a nod to the original Agency SUV and shares its ability to perform spring jumps and stick to walls to drive up the side of buildings but is hampered by the physics engine which can see it flipping over at the slightest bump, getting caught on barriers and making it a pain and a half to drive.

Finally, there’s the Minotaur tank, which is second to the Spider form in delivering a wonky driving experience, compounded by the sense that it feels like it weighs far less than a massive tank should. Rolling over bodies and plowing through barriers should be a simple matter for a tank, but I find myself routinely stymied by tiny objects in my path, and I’ll never forget the time rolling into a toppled street light caused it to flip onto its rear and do a couple pirouettes before slowly falling onto its roof.

The visual design is disappointment, featuring a somewhat washed out aesthetic with flat textures, dull character and enemy designs which combines to create a mediocre overall look. The world is bright and colorful but the lack of truly standout visuals makes it all the more disappointing when the framerate takes an unfortunate tumble in the heat of the action. Simply put, this game does not look good enough to stutter as much as it does (the PC version, at least, as the console versions of the game run quite well).

Many of the same complaints that were levied against 2010’s Crackdown 2 can be dusted off and re-used here. The campaign paints by the same numbers as the first game, rehashing the same formula the 2007 original employed with no novel or interesting twists to set it apart. The game is also too easy for the most part. You’re granted two health bars, one being your actual health bar and the other your regenerating shield, which refills after a (slightly too long) delay if you refrain from taking damage or refills as you kill enemies. The difficulty is rather uneven though, and there are some massive difficulty spikes here and there (here’s looking at you, Kuli Ngata).

In terms of multiplayer, there’s the same two player co-op that’s been around since day one and the team-based, adversarial Wrecking Zone mode, which I didn’t bother with, so I can’t comment on it either way.

This doesn’t feel like a current generation title, especially one that’s ostensibly supposed to be a AAA effort from one of Microsoft’s first-party studios released this late in the generation. Unfortunately, this looks and feels every bit like a budget title, and not even a particularly good one. Ultimately, a game must boil down to whether or not it’s “fun” and, despite my complaints, yeah, it is fun. But simply being mindless fun isn’t enough to make it worthwhile, as its repetitive brand of third-person shooting, jumping, climbing and blowing stuff up eventually gets tiring.

What we have here is a dull and formulaic rehash of a series that started life as a surprisingly great new IP many bought just so they could access the online beta for Halo 3 proudly touted on the front of the box at time of release. Without the massive, potentially genre-defining, “cloud powered” destruction seen in the early days of this title’s development and nothing else new or exciting to hang its hat on other than a few more of the same kinds of explosions we’ve been accustomed to since day one, Crackdown 3 just doesn’t have enough going for it to justify spending $60 on it. If you’re already subscribed to the Xbox Game Pass (as I am), it’s worth a try, but I doubt the bog standard and repetitive action on display here will inspire too many return trips to New Providence from any but big Crackdown fans such as myself.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.
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