To say Crackdown 3 is a long time coming is a bit of an understatement.
For context, when the third game in the Microsoft-exclusive open-world crime fighting series was first unveiled, most people would have assumed Brexit was a cereal, analysts were predicting the death of Nintendo, and Roy Hodgson was the England manager.
But after numerous delays, the Terry Crews simulator is finally here, and if you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber you’ll be able to download it from day one.
Throughout its development cycle, much has been made of Crackdown 3’s cloud-based environmental destruction tech, which uses a dynamic physics engine powered by Microsoft’s Azure platform. But it turns out that the apparently next-gen blowing up of buildings is only possible in the game’s competitive multiplayer mode, Wrecking Zone.
The single-player campaign, then, is a far more traditional Crackdown experience, and what’s remarkable is how little the series has moved on in its 12-year lifespan. While there’s mindless old-fashioned fun to be had here, Crackdown 3 feels like little more than a shinier remake of the 2007 original, rather than the unmissable exclusive that, let’s face it, ol’ Microsoft could really do with right now.
Welcome to New Providence
Crackdown 3 sees you once again play as a nameless ‘Agent’ (you can switch been a number of male and female characters at any supply point, and yes, one of them is Terry Crews), who’s deployed to the fictional near-future city of New Providence to track down and eliminate the power-crazy organisation, TerraNova.
After witnessing a number of large-scale terrorist attacks carried out using a mysterious chemical weapon called Chimera, The Agency is forced into action. The story is straight-to-DVD nonsense, but it unravels via some surprisingly stylised cartoon cutscenes that are worth paying attention to, if only for the artistic flair.
At the top of the evil tree sits Elizabeth Niemand. Get rid of her and you save the world, but a line of equally nefarious lieutenants and captains stand in your way. Freeing civilians, capturing supply points, punching tanks and making things explode will eventually lead to a showdown with each kingpin.
Taking them out will isolate Niemand in her central tower, but the nonlinear nature of the game means you’re free to ignore the stern advice of your employers and stroll straight into the climactic battle if you so please. It probably won’t go well.
Most players will instead spend the opening hours of the game exploring New Providence, a bland and depressing metropolis made up of empty slums, neon-decorated skyscrapers, toxic bunkers, power plants and snaking motorways dotted with weird electric cars. It’s also a place where nearly everyone (and everything) is trying to kill you.
Agent of mayhem
If you’ve played either of the previous Crackdown entries, you’ll know that the Agent always finishes the game as a superhero capable of single-handedly wiping out entire armies and leaping over buildings as if they’re cardboard boxes.
But, because this a video game, you start the campaign with very few of your party tricks in tact, and this makes Crackdown 3’s opening hours a tedious slog. Combat is repetitive, weightless and dull until you get your hands on the late-game weapons, with the challenge coming from the overwhelming number of enemies it throws at you rather than remotely intelligent AI.
And while you can commandeer any vehicle, none of the cars are satisfying to drive, so you’ll likely find yourself running from waypoint to waypoint daydreaming about a maxed out jetpack.
Happily, it doesn’t stay this way for long. Every firefight triumph rewards you with orbs that gradually level up your abilities and reward you with better weapons and moves, like a gravity gun, a charged punch, and sticky grenades that can take out multiple targets at once. One of the best guns in the game fires a laser beam that incinerates even the heavily armoured mercs in a matter of seconds. Run out of ammo? Just throw a car at the suckers.
Agility, meanwhile, is once again upgraded by collecting green orbs scattered high and low across the city. Completionists can hunt down all 750, as well as an additional 250 blue ‘hidden’ orbs, but you won’t need that many to unlock everything in the Agent’s moveset.
Once you have the Launch Pad - essentially a tiny trampoline you can throw anywhere on the ground to give you an aerial boost - and the triple-jump in your arsenal, Crackdown 3 becomes a far more enjoyable game.
Reaching a number of the bosses requires you to ascend huge, multi-floored towers, and these platforming sections are some of the most enjoyable moments in the game. It’s just a shame for Crackdown 3 that it finally arrives so soon after Marvel’s Spider-Man, which was elevated to greatness by its sublime swinging mechanics.
Both games are guilty of indulging in the more tiresome open-world tropes (yes, more towers), but traversal in Sony’s exclusive is so good that it’s easier to forgive. Crackdown 3 just can’t match the webslinger for thrills.
A very mixed bag
It’s easy to imagine people throwing the towel in with Crackdown 3 long before the credits roll. For a game that may well be launching in the Xbox One’s twilight years, it feels bizarrely last-gen in pretty much every department. And for a game that has been in development for so long, the final product feels rushed.
Most of the major fights task you with taking down someone in a giant mech suit, but doing so is rarely more complex than point, shoot, dodge, reload - rinse, repeat. It’s hard to pick out a truly memorable encounter.
It doesn’t help matters either that Crackdown 3 is not an especially good-looking game. Even the 4K capabilities of the Xbox One X can’t hide the bland design, schlocky textures and New Providence’s general emptiness. The cel-shaded design of the 2007 original felt fresh. In 2019’s, it’s just a bit stale.
And yet. And yet. Accept the outmoded gameplay, give in to the brilliantly naff one-liners in the game’s incessant voiceover interruptions, and switch off your brain, and Crackdown 3’s charms begin to seep through.
At the end of the game my chosen loadout was a grenade launcher and two variations of rocket launcher, one of which fires multiple homing missiles. The game had no issues with this.
There are opportunities for explosive chain reactions in every room, and the carnage begins to resemble a colourful fireworks display. There aren’t nearly enough standout moments in this game, but it will occasionally reward those who stick around.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself
If you enjoy action games, you probably enjoy smashing to pieces the buildings that developers have spent hours designing for them.
If there was any hype left for Crackdown 3 in the months leading up to its release, most of it centred on the multiplayer mode, Wrecking Zone. In the solo campaign, environmental destruction is almost entirely absent. In multiplayer, it’s the big draw, with the massive processing power of Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform harnessed for more impressive real-time physics.
The final results though, much like the rest of the Crackdown 3 package, are decidedly underwhelming. Sure, after spending 10+ hours watching rockets collide into walls with all the impact of a limply thrown tennis ball in single-player, there’s an initial rush to seeing entire holes blasted through them. You can level any building you see in the map, but none of it feels groundbreaking (at least not in the non-literal sense), and it doesn’t add much to the experience.
The maps themselves look like proof-of-concept tech demos, and at launch there are only two modes, riffs on the classic Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill formats.
Crackdown’s trademark gymnastic gameplay is really ramped up here, with players able to launch themselves high into the air and use verticality to their advantage. But this is paired with an auto-lock system that makes combat comically easy. There’s no need to line up your shot, so winning a one-on-one battle boils down to little more than who’s been holding the trigger down the longest.
There’s no progression system, so you’re not going to gain new skills and perks over time, and very little variety in how matches play out. It really is shockingly bare-bones, particularly as the game is asking people to swap CoD or Apex Legends for this. Throwaway fun for half an hour? Absolutely, but Wrecking Zone is nothing more at the moment.
Crackdown 3 verdict
It feels like a minor miracle that Crackdown 3 exists at all, but there’s no doubt that the finished game is a largely underwhelming, undercooked experience.
Leaping around as a fully upgraded Agent with unlimited firepower is a blast in every sense of the word, but uninspiring open-world design and monotonous missions mean a lot of people probably won’t get that far.
The much-touted multiplayer, meanwhile, simply can't be saved by the clever tech powering it.
If you’re already an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, the game is probably worth a look, but it's very hard to reccommend at full whack. Maybe it's time for The Agency to shut down for good.