Crackdown 3 Review
I can see the previous games in the franchise from up here
The road to release for Crackdown 3 has not been smooth. The game was first teased in 2014, and officially confirmed in 2015. Initially a launch-window title for the Xbox One, it has since been stuck in a lot of trouble, switching developers, and likely being re-designed a few times. It's always tough to see a game go through such growing pains, but at the end of the day you hope that the final product will at least be competent, if not necessarily worth the multi-year wait. With the launch finally arriving though, Crackdown 3 fails to live up to even modest expectations. It's a game that feels stuck in the past, offering outdated design, bugs, and generally poor value. It may have avoided the sad fate of Scalebound, but this certainly isn't what you expect to see from a full priced console exclusive in 2019.
Crackdown 3 really doesn’t bother with having a narrative. There are just two traditional cutscenes – at the beginning and the end. The opening tries to set the typical “whacky action” tone that the series was previously known for, but sadly it has no bearing on what the actual game ends up being. We learn that the world has suffered from bombs that caused massive power outages, and the survivors are now flocking to an island city called New Providence, which was built by an organization called TerraNova. A world peacekeeping force named The Agency springs into action after reports emerge that the refugees in New Providence have actually been mistreated – but their attempt to infiltrate the city is met with a deadly end. A local member of the resistance named Echo rescues what’s left of the agent’s body and rebuilds them with some mechanical parts, which goes to explain how you have the superhuman abilities in the game. This also means you’re starting from scratch and do not have your abilities or weapons that The Agency typically outfits you with. From there, you set out to dismantle the three crime groups in the city, before eventually taking on Elizabeth Niemand, head of TerraNova.
From the outset, you’re free to roam the city and tackle its content in any order. The campaign design is basic – liberate/explode a specific number of locations so that the faction boss mission is unlocked, take them out, and do it again for another faction. There are brief scenes that introduce each boss, but for most of the game you just listen to occasional radio chatter from The Agency commander and Echo. There are very few jokes or worthwhile lines of dialog. The loading screen tips, with some classic Crackdown nonsensical lines, offer about as much personality as the game can manage. Case and point, the inclusion of Terry Crews is wasted – apart from brief appearance in the opening cutscene, he’s just a generic avatar in the game you can play as.
With no story, the campaign lacks any sort of pacing. The game tries to show you how “bad” each of these factions are - Logistics, Industry, Security, and TerraNova - but you see none of this oppression in the game world. Liberating a few people from a small military outpost hardly feels like a revolution. The rest of the city is bright and colorful, and enemies largely cluster around specific points of interest. Everything is rather bland and lifeless; cars and citizens go about their business, and everything is very neutral and relaxed. A few propaganda towers or enemy outposts really don’t make the whole city feel all that oppressed, despite what the story is trying to convey. As such, there’s no sense of making a difference even as you take out enemy encampments. The entire campaign takes less than 10 hours, even when doing a bit over half of the optional content. You can even tackle the main boss of the game directly from the start, though it will be tough without eliminating her faction lieutenants first.
Much in the same way that the campaign design is rather basic and straightforward, so is the gameplay. Movement has always been an important part of Crackdown, but it also seems like the developers did not want to bring it up to modern standards. The game features plenty of platforming as you must make your way up towers and tall structures, but the controls feel imprecise. While you do get used to it, the early hours will see you needlessly fall off walkways and rooftops because the character movement just feels clumsy. By collecting Agility orbs scattered around the city, you can level up that skill and unlock new movement options – so later in the game, as you can double jump and double-boost forward, things get more entertaining and fun. And yet, anytime you deal with platforming, there’s still plenty of awkwardness involved. Grabbing ledges and scrambling up walls never goes smoothly. Dashing around in the air is satisfying, but the game never feels all that comfortable on the ground.
The Agility orbs are collectible items that improve this skill of your Agent. The other skills – Firearms, Strength, Explosives, and Driving – are all leveled through gameplay. Similarly to Agility, unlocking new levels in each skill grants you more abilities/items. The Firearms skill increases as you use guns, and with new levels you get to carry more ammo, special weapons, and perks like precision aim. With Strength, which you raise by punching or throwing things, you unlock melee skills like ground pound or flying fist attack. As you level Explosive skill by blowing things up, your heavy weapon ammo carry capacity and cooldown times improve. Lastly, the Driving skill is increased by performing feats while operating vehicles or jumping through floating rings, and growing this skill lets you unlock new modes for the special call-in Agency vehicle, as well as take control of heavier vehicles in the game world. The entire system works well, and you naturally progress through each skill over the course of the campaign; as you approach tougher end-game enemies and bosses, you’ll have leveled more or less evenly in all areas.
Other than focusing on a specific gameplay style, the only other way you can influence your leveling process is by choosing a different Agent. You can swap between a few different characters at resupply stations; these act as mere avatars, with no gameplay differences. The only unique aspect is that each agent has a boost to two different skills – for example +10% firearms and +5% strength experience, or +10% explosives and +5% agility, and so on. You have a few Agents to choose from at the start, and you can unlock more by finding their DNA remains in the game world. The game seemingly hopes to encourage replayability by having multiple character saves and game world save slots, but that effort is futile if the gameplay isn’t all that fun.
In addition to agent choice and skills, your main way to change things up is selecting your arsenal. You can carry three weapons at a time, and they range from assault rifles, to laser snipers, to rocket and grenade launchers of varying sorts. Weapons have stats in area of effect, damage, and fire rate, and also are strong against certain targets. Plasma rifles and pulse beam can melt through just about anything, and certain rocket launchers are best against the toughest enemy armor. You unlock new weapons by simply picking them up once from fallen enemies, which then unlocks them for use. The same goes for gadgets/grenades – you find them at ammo stations on the battlefields, and can then equip them whenever you want when adjusting your loadout at resupply stations. These also act as fast travel spots, and there are lots of them around the city, which in itself is really not that big.
The action of Crackdown 3 ranges from boring to explosive, but sadly it’s mostly the former. In another bit of old-school design, the game utilizes an auto-lock on system where you simply point the reticule into the general direction of the enemy, and it snaps onto them. That way you can simply hold the aim button and strafe around to your heart’s content, without readjusting your aim. This certainly encourages plenty of movement during the combat, sort of leaving players to create their own bombastic moments of action. There are usually some explosive barrels lying around as well, but for the most part, it doesn’t get too wild. The enemies you face from each faction have varying looks – humans, robots, etc – but mostly behave the same, from basic foot soldiers, to rocket launcher dudes, to snipers, and occasional large robots.
When the game really shines and offers a glimpse of how fun Crackdown 3 could have been is during boss fights. Specifically the Logistics and Industry bosses offer some fun action set pieces, forcing you to combine platforming, action, and general mayhem. The game really does offer some great battles in these fleeting moments, and makes you wish the rest of the game had the same sort of energy and entertainment factor. However, the three bosses in the Security faction crank things to 11 and suddenly a game that’s otherwise pretty easy on Normal difficulty becomes a bit frustrating. These bosses spam explosive attacks like there is no tomorrow, easily overwhelming you and forcing you to completely change your gameplay style from the typical high-flying destruction to hiding in a corner and hoping to survive. The way you heal is by killing foes, who then drop plenty of orbs that float to you and restore your health and shield. The most times you’ll die in Crackdown 3 are during these moments, when so-called spike damage occurs because the boss and a few enemies decide to shoot you within the same moment. Even if you take a few out, you will perish and watch helplessly as healing orbs float to you, but don’t make it in time. At least you lose nothing when respawning at a supply station.
As mentioned, to get to the bosses you need to defeat their outposts in the game world. These are the typical open world activities where you must defeat all enemies, blow something up, and/or press a button or two. The same type of activity is copy-pasted a few times across the city and plays out the same each time, though thankfully you don’t have to do them all to unlock the boss fight. It doesn’t get repetitive, but nor is it involving or much fun to do. The entire game feels like an unceremonious checkbox for players to complete, as you can see everything on the map from the start. There’s a Wanted level system for each faction, but it’s easy to escape and is a throwaway idea. There are optional activities that are also quite generic, like prisoner hardpoints, propaganda towers to climb, audio logs to collect, and so on. You can also do foot races and vehicle races against the clock.
Car races – and driving in general – leads us into more aspects that simply don’t work in Crackdown 3. The driving feels absolutely terrible, with worse controls than on foot, and tons of physics/collision glitches if you hit something. You have that call-in Agency vehicle at your disposal, which can transform into off-road buggy or a heavy rank, but it’s never really needed. Thankfully, the entire game can be beat without setting foot in a car. Another throwaway mechanic (pun intended) is the ability to pick up and toss occasional pieces of debris and bodies. It’s quite useless – clunky to do, does no damage, and just leaves you exposed. Speaking of that though, if you get hit by a thrown object, the character crumbles into an extended ragdoll animation, likely causing you to fall off an edge and having to re-do the platforming, as luck would have it. Last but not least, the weapon lock-on system just isn’t very good, and often chooses to lock onto enemies that are a mile away and obscured by objects / walls, instead of the ones right in front of you. There’s scripting and boss glitches too, like preventing you from finishing an outpost because the main enemy doesn’t spawn, or letting you cheese the boss that won’t enter the next battle phase and just takes damage.
To top off the decidedly mediocre experience of Crackdown 3, the presentation is equally lackluster. On the Xbox One X, the visuals are quite underwhelming and the attention to detail leaves much to be desired. The texture quality and art style are average at best, offering no sense of atmosphere or an ounce of originality. Animations are rough in places. The somewhat cel-shaded look does the game no favors and looks like a lightly applied filter rather than a committed visual style. Audio is equally weak, with the city offering few signs of life and no soundtrack outside of combat/boss battles. Voice acting is rudimentary, not helped by poor writing, and a weak lineup of special effects.
If you wish to make the experience a tiny bit more fun, you can bring a friend along as the game supports two player online co-operative play. The experience remains exactly the same, though you can now revive each other in battle instead of having to respawn. The co-op is invite only (no matchmaking), and online only. Collecting orbs is also instanced to you, though an outline will remain for the other player if he has not found this orb yet. Some may be disappointed by a two-player limit compared to four players in the previous title, but really, there’s not that many enemies or content to need four players.
Then there's also Wrecking Zone, the competitive part of the multiplayer. Perhaps as a testament to the game's troubled development, Wrecking Zone is an entirely separate game app, with its own achievements and menu. The design is very basic here - you choose an avatar, a primary rifle, a rocket launcher, and a gadget, and head into matchmaking. All avatars have the same movement skills and stats, and cannot be customized, for the sake of competitive balance. Similarly, everyone has the same selection of four weapons for each of the two slots, and two gadgets. It's just a matter of finding what loadout works for you, as weapons have varying firing modes and damage output. While this keeps players from having any sort of advantage, there is nothing to work towards in the entirety of multiplayer, which definitely puts its longevity into question.
There are only two modes on offer - Agent Hunter, which is like COD's Kill Confirmed with tags to collect, and Territories, which is King of the Hill with zones that must be captured as they move around the level. In gameplay, the multiplayer is rather the same as the campaign. You still have the lock-on aim when you're close enough to enemies, and it takes more than a single clip to eliminate someone, so the competition is much more focused on player movement and positioning than your aim. The game helpfully displays a visual indicator when you're being targeted, so you can try to find cover. That cover can be short lived however, as Wrecking Zone levels have some basic destruction of the environment. As you shoot rockets at surfaces, they break apart into large chunks, and may unnerve your opponents who are now exposed, or are free-falling. It's a neat feature, but it doesn't really turn the match on its head, thanks to players' existing mobility options to dash and double jump away. There are a mere 3 maps available, and while they do feature big elevation changes and boost jumps, it's still rather disappointing.
In addition to the shallow design, there are further concerns. Matchmaking takes a few moments, and many lobbies are short a player or two, leading to only half of the matches being a full 5v5 encounter. Players being AFK and quitting early also seems to be prominent, resulting in very one sided games. There are framerate dips during moments of intense action and destruction, especially if you're caught in the middle of it. The game also uses a rather unclear kill tracking system - you need to remove the vast amount of an enemy's health bar in order for the kill to count for you. Otherwise, it seemingly goes to the player that did the most damage, even if you eliminate half their health bar and finish off the frag. Last but not least, you can only play Wrecking Zone as a solo Agent - there is no team support in matchmaking, so you cannot play with friends.
More than anything, Crackdown 3 is a pure case of disappointment. It was probably not easy to get this game out the door, but to cancel it entirely would have looked bad for the franchise that was once fairly popular with the Xbox crowd. There are glimpses of fun to be found in both campaign and Wrecking Zone, but they are so fleeting that they have no hope of elevating the overall experience. What you end up with is a bland and repetitive shooter that has no personality and too many issues. Perhaps the most crushing blow is that it's a full price release, putting a serious dent into any hopes of success or finding at least a niche audience.