Anticipation can be a double-edged sword. A certain amount of hype around your game can help sell it. Too much anticipation, though, and if the game doesn’t live up to the hype, you can start to get a backlash. One way to build too much anticipation is to announce your game too early. You may have noticed a trend over the last couple of years at E3 to only announce games that will launch later in the year. This helps to dissipate the problem. We first learned about Crackdown 3 at the Xbox One launch event in 2013. Anticipation built up around the title. However, after numerous delays, the game has lost a lot of its hype. Well, Crackdown 3 has finally arrived, and while the game will be well served by a lower expectation level, it’s a long way from the car crash that some people predicted.
Starting with the good
Let’s start with the good. The gameplay is just as you remember. You play as an agent who has the potential to reach superhuman levels of agility, strength, accuracy, driving, and handling of explosives. Just like Superman, you can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Well, I say a single bound, but your agility is now enhanced by your suit. As your agility level improves you’ll not only be able to jump higher, but you also unlock the ability to double jump, triple jump, and perform a couple of horizontal boosts. This makes it a lot easier to be more accurate with your jumps. There were times in the first two games where you may have wanted to just do a small jump but went much higher than you wanted. Now, it’s a lot easier to go precisely as high or as far as you want.
While your agility is only improved by collecting orbs (and to some extent races), your other skills are upgraded by using them. To level up your strength, you will need to take out enemies with melee attacks or by throwing objects at them. Both your weapon and explosives skills are improved by killing enemies with the appropriate weapons. Upgrading your driving ability is done by, you guessed it, driving. Perform jumps, drifts, or complete races to earn points. You can also kill enemies by running them over, or using a vehicle’s weapon, to help in levelling up. All of this is very intuitive, and the level of progression feels good. Once you have maxed out your abilities, you will feel unstoppable.
Driving and location
Shooting and driving in third-person open-world action games can often be a bit lacklustre. Crackdown 3 actually handles this pretty well, though. The shooting mechanics are saved by the ability to lock on to enemies by using the left trigger. This enables you to still be moving at speed in any direction and verticality while picking off your foes. The driving, while no competition for Forza, has a nice arcade feel. You’ll pretty soon get the hang of sliding around corners. Using the Agency spider-car feels pretty natural and will enable you to drive up the side of buildings before you know it. This vehicle is particularly useful when it comes to jumping through the numerous stunt rings scattered around the map.
Speaking of the map, Crackdown 3 is set in a different location to the first games. Pacific City is gone, and now we get to roam around New Providence. This new locale ticks a lot of the boxes of the old games but has some nice additions. There is no Agency tower in the centre of the map, here. Instead, that central location is taken by skyscrapers dedicated to each of the big bosses that you are pitted against. Around these areas, you will find slums, a quarry, industrial and commercial areas, as well as a race track and a party district. These different regions are all connected by freeways and monorail tracks. You can unlock bases in each of these areas allowing you to fast travel. However, it doesn’t take that long to jump across rooftops to another location.
Not only has this third instalment in the series changed the location but the art-style has had a tweak. Crackdown 3 is no longer cel-shaded, but the visuals are definitely in that sort of direction. Characters, buildings, and objects still have a definitive outline, but there is more in terms of shading and textures. This works quite well and still manages to maintain the same sort of look as the other games. Try as it might, though, it never has the visual impact of those games. The original Crackdown titles felt like you were playing a comic book. This worked really well with the craziness that was occurring onscreen. This third entry in the franchise has a similar level of carnage and lunacy but feels like it’s trying to bridge the visual gap to other games.
I have to say, that at the very start of the campaign, the visuals are very disappointing. As fun, and absurd, as the opening cinematics are, once you take control of your character you’re in a really drab location. It’s such a disappointing way to start the game. I understand that the primary objective of this area is to teach you how to move, but it’s not a visually inspiring way to begin your adventure. Crackdown 3 was originally slated to launch alongside the Xbox One X, and I have to say it was a smart move to change this. The game does run at 4K with HDR, but it’s hardly the type of title that showcases the power of that system. Personally, I kind of preferred the game on my One S with a standard TV as without the HDR it looked a little more cartoony.
Story and plot
While we’re talking about negative stuff, let’s talk about the story and campaign. With this being a true open-world game, you can tackle the campaign however you would like. As much as I can appreciate this freedom, I did occasionally feel lost as to what I should be doing. The map has a lot to answer for here. The mini-map often shows too much, and you don’t know which is the closest objective. With the full map, navigation sometimes gets a little tricky with the way it handles a 3D view. It would also be particularly helpful to have the ability to filter things on the map by if you have completed them or not. This isn’t a problem with most objectives, but you don’t know if you’ve completed a race or picked up a DNA strand until you hover your cursor precisely over the map entry.
The actual story seems to lose its way. You’re supposed to be going to New Providence to investigate a series of blackout attacks. They are mentioned on a few occasions throughout the story and in random conversations. You never actually see one, though. If these attacks are supposed to be so devastating, how come they’re never used against you. It would have been interesting to see an area that you liberated have to deal with one of these blackouts. You are also attacked by some kind of beam at the beginning of the game. This wipes out your entire team (this is in the opening cinematic, it’s not a plot spoiler). Your enemy clearly has this devastating power but never uses it on you once you’re playing through the story. The whole story seems to have been created and then forgotten about once you’re in the city.
Flaws and looking past them
Another area that seems a little devoid of creativity are the boss fights. Too often, you are just faced with a giant robot to take down. There are a few variations to these fights, but they still feel far too similar. It would have been nice to come up against something new each time. If you are after variety, though, Crackdown 3 probably isn’t the game for you. Even though each type of objective needs to be completed in a different way, there aren’t that many different types. While this does make it obvious what to do in each situation, it does get a little repetitive.
For all its flaws, there is still a lot of fun to be had with Crackdown 3. If you are after a gripping narrative with twists and turns, this really isn’t the game for you. If you want a big sandbox to create your own adventures in, though, then you’ve come to the right place. I wonder whether this will end up a little like Sea of Thieves where you have a good framework to play in and then what you do is up to you. The actual gameplay is a lot of fun. The movement, shooting, and driving feel really good. It’s just that what you do with that is a little lame. Don’t go in expecting too much and you might find yourself having a good time.