America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 09th Mar 2019 | 2,852 views
First announced in 2014, Crackdown 3 suffered several stops, starts, and delays before it landed on Xbox One last month. Like so many games that spend an extended amount of time in development limbo, this third—and probably last—Crackdown title emerged with a healthy number of issues, including a ludicrous story, a sterile game world, repetitive mission design, and a bland, forgettable competitive multiplayer mode. This is still a Crackdown game, however, and that means satisfying superhuman action, addictive orb collection, and ample opportunities for open-world mayhem. So, basically, you have a reliable core of moment-to-moment gameplay surrounded by a dubious layer of everything else.
Set a decade after the events of the previous installment, Crackdown 3 follows the Agency, a group of extra-legal commandos who attempt to infiltrate the island city of New Providence, where the corporation Terra Nova—suspected of a worldwide terrorist attack that left cities around the globe without power—has set up shop. Terra Nova predicts the assault and fires back, obliterating the Agency jet and all agents inside. Luckily, a New Providence resistance fighter named Echo finds the broken remains of commander Isaiah Jaxon (voiced by Terry Crews) and uses Agency tech to reanimate him.
The story in Crackdown 3 is a mess. With a preposterous premise, a collection of cartoonishly evil villains, and some juvenile writing, it's a constant annoyance throughout the campaign. Even Crews, who's proven his comedic chops in commercials and series like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is wasted here. His lines are some of the most cringe-worthy of the game. An over-the-top, preposterous story can work in a video game, but it needs a sense of style or humor or something approaching subtext. Crackdown 3's narrative just comes off as embarrassing and awkward.
Not a lot of folks play Crackdown for the plot, though. They come for the third-person arcade action, urban hijinks, and agility orbs. Judged against those series staples, Crackdown 3 emerges in a decent position. After 12 years, it's still rewarding to climb a tall building for an out-of-reach agility orb (these enhance your jumping and movement stats), descend upon a nest of enemies and blow them to oblivion with a super-powered rocket launcher, or shoot a sentry drone out of the sky. This becomes all the more entertaining with an online co-op friend along for the ride.
The nice thing about the game is that even in the face of open-world adventures like Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2—and their critical and commercial success—it insists on marching to its own drumbeat. Where many modern sandbox games focus on RPG elements and real-world minutiae, Crackdown 3 leans toward baser, more visceral thrills. It's an experience somewhat out of time, which demonstrates a certain self-confidence.
The problem is that for all its confidence in a bygone era, Crackdown 3 fails to surround its reliable moment-to-moment gameplay with anything especially interesting. The worst offender, apart from the story, is New Providence. This is one of the most lifeless, characterless, disjointed sandboxes in recent memory. From its uninspired neon palette to its generic buildings to its empty alleys and thoroughfares—the first Crackdown from 2007 has more impressive population density—it feels totally artificial and inert. (Note that this review covers the Xbox One S version of the game; density is greater on Xbox One X.)
When a sterile city combines with repetitive mission design, things start to unravel for Crackdown 3. While the title starts off promising—you collect your first gun, deactivate a force field, clear a checkpoint, and face off against a boss—it soon settles into a predictable, tedious loop. You'll find yourself fighting a lot of cannon fodder enemies, then climbing tall towers to challenge a boss, who more often than not jumps into a mech to fight you. These tasks, so indistinguishable from each other, really hurt the flow of the game.
While the campaign in Crackdown 3 is serviceable, its multiplayer component Wrecking Zone, downloaded separately, is inferior. It's an alarmingly bare-bones offering, with only two modes—Agent Hunt (think Kill confirmed from Call of Duty) and Territories (a take on domination)—limited customization options, and no support for parties on Xbox One (developer Sumo Digital has promised a fix for parties ASAP). Worse, it totally wastes the cloud-based destruction that was the focal point of the Crackdown 3 marketing campaign. Action in Wrecking Zone simply moves too fast to take advantage of the tactical potential of destructible environments. You can't fashion a sniper's nest with five opponents targeting you with homing rockets, after all.
In terms of visuals, Crackdown 3 isn't the prettiest title. While the lighting and draw distance are impressive, the game's bright colors, simple shapes, and clean surfaces give it a stark appearance.
Considering the long time Crackdown 3 spent in development purgatory, it's not as bad as it could have been. There's a solid core here, imported from the Xbox 360 days, of high-octane arcade action and sandbox chaos. Individual moments and encounters are often thrilling and gratifying. Yet the items surrounding the core—story, game world, mission design, art direction—drown out a lot of the good stuff. If you're a huge Crackdown fan, this could make for a diverting weekend, especially with an online friend. Everybody else should approach with caution.