The original Crackdown was one of those games that made you really glad you had an Xbox 360. While the game may have lacked Grand Theft Auto’s more densely populated, storyline-driven narrative and its nuanced characters, developer Realtime Worlds (founded by original GTA creator David Jones) managed to create a segue between gaming’s past and future by pairing a huge open-world city with a less cerebral explosion simulator. A dozen years (and one forgotten sequel) later we have Crackdown 3, promising fans a return to what made the original game so special. It generally does, though not without compromises and disappointments.
Crackdown 3’s road to release has been, to put it lightly, the bumpiest of bump rides. It’s development been passed around to a series of developers, including Dave Jones himself, many which have since either been acquired or no longer seem to be in business, leaving final cleanup work for Sumo Digital. The final product feels exactly like what it is; the sum of very different parts and goals, some working harder than others to entertain and delight.
If you’ve played (and loved) the original Crackdown you’ll be right at home in Crackdown 3, which rids itself of any pretense or allusions about what it’s not. Two players can team up as superpowered Agents, traveling through the island city of New Providence hunting down members of the villainous Terra Nova organization, each represented by specific location goals like liberating jails, disabling propaganda towers, taking over monorail stations, etc.. Complete enough of these and you’ll weaken their defenses, opening the head baddies themselves up to instant justice, thereby weakening the lead baddie’s vulnerability to the same. The most memorable of these was Roxy, a customer service AI that went rogue and became a killing menace, complete with sad-face emoticons.
Combat employs auto-targeting on killable enemies or destructible objects, so no worrying about skillfully aiming with pinpoint precision. As an Agent you’re practically indestructible from the start, and only get stronger and more agile the more glowing green and blue orbs you collect and the more things you kill and/or blow up. Jumps become double (then triple) jumps, while air-dashes and ground-pounds add to your maneuverability and explosive power. Speaking of orbs, there are hundreds to track down – half the campaign is basically a collect-o-thon, with appropriately propulsive results.
You’re effectively a living bullet-sponge, able to soak up enemy attacks, explosions, shocks and anything else you come across like a champ. Your health regenerates quickly, meaning all you need do is find a safe spot and you’ll be back in the fray before you know it. Which hardly matters as “dying” is meaningless – you’ll simply respawn at a supply point and continue rampaging forward like nothing even happened. The only exception are with the few boss battles sprinkled throughout, but even these offer little challenge as you’ll easily pummel through them with little effort.
Since the core focus in CD3 is about destruction, you’ll have plenty of firepower at your disposal to get the job done properly. There’s a nice variety of available weapons to find and add to your arsenal as you mow down baddies, each newly acquired one added to your supply depot for access. They’re a nice mix of old and futuristic firepower, though nothing beats a good rocket launcher for the biggest bangs. You’ll have your individual favorites, of course, and the ability to carry up to three different weapons (and let’s not forget grenades, which also come in different flavors) means you can get really creative in how best to tackle enemies.
Oh, you can steal or procure cars and other road vehicles in the game (all of which look like windowless boxes), meaning you can drive through the city streets, perform stunts and accept racing challenges, but you won’t want to. Driving in CD3 is very boring, to the point you’d rather lift and toss cars rather than slow things down by sitting in them. CD3 isn’t built for driving – it’s built for Hulk-style leaping and jumps over skyscrapers, mountains and robots.
Honestly, Crackdown 3 doesn’t look, play or even feel like a game released in 2019 (or any time during the past decade). It’s dated in such specific, easily definable ways that even an amateur gaming historian could spot its influences. Even having Terry Crews involved feels dated at this point. Visually, structures in this world still looks like they’re comprised of colorful Lego blocks, with impossible geometric designs that wouldn’t even function in the real world. Buildings are empty boxes, windows are just squares (with nothing inside), doors don’t open, stairs are bricks, and so forth. Everything looks like it’s trying to be cel-shaded, with minimalistic details, yet never quite reaches those artistic levels. The city looks and feels like something dreamed up by kindergarteners, which may have been the point. It sure is colorful, though, and makes good use of HDR enhancements if you’ve got the right display.
Sound design fares better, with generic EDM tunes overlaying most of the action and decent voice acting adding some spark to the adventure. Apart from the opening cinema Terry Crews isn’t really involved in the game, save for his scowling face pasted onto an Agent body and repetitive one-liners that sound like he’s a completely different game; which is probably true, or at least recorded when Crackdown 3 was a completely different game. One can only hear “I’m my own antidote!” so many times…
But the real star of Crackdown 3 is returning champ Michael McConnohie as the omnipresent “Voice of the Agency” cheering you on with his endless taunts to gain more power, smash more things, earning all the “skills for kills” you can. Less so is militia member Ulka Simone Mohanty’s Echo, doing a very obvious Indian accent. Hearing this character spout trite, superficial calls to “revolution” and gamerspeak cliches is both patronizing and – yes – slightly ethnically offensive. We’d love to see more diversity in gaming, but why are we still OK with saddling nearly every Indian character with these stereotypical accents?
What more can be said about Wrecking Zone, the game’s dedicated deathmatch mode, other than it’s a dull, derivative distraction from the considerably more fun co-op campaign? Actually, a LOT more could be said, if you wanted to go down that road, but a recap will suffice. At one point CD3 was going to be a very different experience than what it ultimately became, with vague promises to harness the “Power of the Cloud” to bring highly destructible environments and interactive chaos on a scale never-before-seen in a game. Early demos looked sensational, and tons of fun. Owing to the game’s troubled development, these plans were largely abandoned and we’re left with Wrecking Zone, a lifeless deathmatch mode with glimpses of what might have been. It’s true the background tech powering some levels’ collapsible structures is impressive, but this is never done in service to the overall experience or gameplay. I was actually surprised how shallow this portion of the game was, especially as its coming from a publisher famous for its deathmatch titles.
In many ways Crackdown 3 is very similar to 2016’s DOOM reboot, in theory. As with Bethesda’s outstanding id revival, CD3 eschews many of the modern trappings hardcore gamers have come to expect in their fancy new games, for better or worse. These games aren’t larded down with extraneous objectives, fetch-quests, grinding, endless cinematics, or greedy micro-transactions. They’re pretty straightforward and unpretentious; kill, reload, repeat until the credits roll, with few distractions to break players out of their Zen-like chill while in the killing zone.
And, just like DOOM, Crackdown 3 splinters off its matchmaking mode in a completely separate product that bares little, if any, resemblance to the main campaign. CD3 isn’t quite the masterpiece that DOOM was, but the essence of simplicity feels the same. At no point during my playthrough did I ever feel frustrated or fatigued by overload through the game’s campaign, which isn’t terribly long or complex enough to require a walkthrough. There’s a certain joyfulness to its mindless chaos and cheesy storyline, both of which only emphasize the welcome backwardness of its core gameplay. Sometimes, all you want to do is to blow things up without thinking, and on this front Crackdown 3 delivers the goods.
The game may be a poor visual representative for showcasing the power of the Xbox One X console, but it does make a great case for both the Game Pass and Play Anywhere services, meaning if you have Game Pass you already have the game on both Xbox and Windows and don’t have to spend any more money. Had this been a full-priced game, though, we’d be having an entirely different discussion on expectations and value. It also helps that Crackdown 3 looks and plays much better even on midrange PCs, to the point it’s difficult going back to the console version (which, thanks to Cloud saving, you can). There’s also cross-platform play between console and computer, which is fantastic, though the PC’s silky-smooth framerates default to 30 FPS when playing online.
Crackdown 3 isn’t a great game, but it’s not a bad one either. It’s much better than the zombified splatterfest of its predecessor, and occasionally reminds us why the original Crackdown felt so fresh back in 2007. CD3 doesn’t feel fresh at all, but never stale, either. It’s telling the same gaming journalists who slobber over the latest 8/16-bit pixelated retrofest are likely to decry the game’s antiquated visuals and dated gameplay, things that can sound awfully appealing to gamers longing for less angst and more boom in their playtime. I suspect we’re going to see a huge disparity between how critics and gamers feel about this one, and it would help to see what side you fall on. Heck, if you’ve already got Game Pass, what are you waiting for? Check the game out for yourself!