Crackdown 3 is finally here, to the surprise of many. It’s a game that had been in development hell for so long that I honestly thought it would never arrive. But it has! And it’s fun! At least, I think it’s fun. I have a personal history with this series and absolutely loved the first two entries, despite their many flaws and the valid criticisms they attracted. Crackdown 3 is very much in the same vein, with plenty of things to boast about and plenty of problems to boot. “Unpolished” would be the best way to describe it, and even with some post-release technical fixes, I still think this will be a polarising game. Personally, however, I really enjoyed my time with the Jaxon & Goodwin Power Hour.
“No risk it, no biscuit”
– Director Goodwin, after Jaxon completes a jump ring
Crackdown isn’t exactly known for its narrative, and, honestly, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that it even has one half the time. Rather than criminal gangs getting too big for their boots, or bio-terrorists turning people into mutants, our villains this time around are of the Corporate variety – Crackdown’s getting topical up in here. TerraNova is the appointed evil-doer, and while there’s some background stuff about why they’re bad, it’s almost irrelevant. A narrative isn’t the drawcard of this series, it’s a framing device for the smorgasbord of sandbox activities that make up the bulk of the game. It could just as easily been some mutated, ill-tempered Sea Bass as the enemy, and the only difference it would have made is that everything would have been aquatic-themed.
That isn’t to say that nothing is on offer as far as the story is concerned, just that it’s not the focus. If you’re a fan of the series then, like me, you’ll be happy to know that Director Goodwin, voiced by the legendary Michael McConnohie, is back and more unhinged than ever. I’m almost convinced at this point that the only story worth paying attention to in this series is Goodwin’s: The tale of a powerful, altruistic bureaucrat losing his marbles after a horrific injury at the hands of the very people he worked to bring to justice. Now he uses his control of the Agency to push them into clamping down on anyone stupid enough to make themselves a desirable target for this violent psychopath. None of this is explored in the game, of course, it’s just a hunch I have.
“Hot lead – good for justice, bad for your health!”
– Director Goodwin, after Jaxon mows down bad guys by the dozens
The main story ties directly into the gameplay in a few ways and is actually one of the weakest parts of the game overall. There’s a power structure within the game and the city itself, with five henchmen reporting to one of three lieutenants, who each in turn report directly to the Big Bad Evil Person. This is also supposed to represent the game’s recommended method of attack, starting with the lower operations of the henchmen and working your way up the chain. You know that this is what the game wants you to do because doing it in that order will confer benefits for later missions, removing obstacles or just making things generally easier. And when you first start playing the game, that seems like it would be true, but that falls apart pretty quickly.
Advancement of your character’s various strength bars is done by just doing whatever you’re trying to improve. Shooting guys will give you shooting orbs, running and jumping around to collect agility orbs will increase your stamina and boost, etc. Just working your way through the city, beating dudes up, blowing them up, shooting them, running them down, and generally being the horrific human being we all are in these games will be enough. By the time I had worked my way through all the stuff leading up to the first Lieutenant’s lair, I was ready to take on the other two towers without having softened them up by taking out the preceding henchmen. I did it the way the game intended, of course, because I wanted to see all that was on offer, but I was not unlike a God by the time I reached the final boss. Let me make something clear though, God-like powers for stupid shenanigans around the map? That’s fun. But the main villains at least need to scale with me, fight differently compared to everything else I face, and actually fight back a little. As it stands, the game is just boring as hell most of the time.
“Put the robotic bastard down!”
– Director Goodwin, on the subject of Monorail Station Captains
Crackdown 3’s most significant pain points at the moment revolve entirely around multiplayer and the co-op campaign. Wrecking Zone and Territories are two PvP modes available to players, and they’re… Okay? Let’s go with okay. Telling the difference between them is kind of tricky, since the action for both boils down to just being deathmatch with different scoring motifs. The play areas are also incredibly small compared to the city map. And sure, it would be impractical to have these modes on such a large map (with the studios’ current capacity for imagination, anyway), but they’re also not helped by being placed in virtual shoeboxes. Both modes are just rehashing the same standard action of the campaign, they bring nothing new or exciting to the table, and honestly, the time spent making them could have been put to better use on the main campaign.
The absolute roughest parts, however, are found in the co-op campaign. Audio from “found dialogue” devices only plays for the player who picked them up. Icons on the mini-map and screen edges that show where your partner currently is will only be intermittently available for apparently no reason. Waypoints are much the same, only showing up when the game deigns to give them. Just running into your partner will send them flying further than a powered-up punch would hurl an enemy. If the hosting player enters certain cutscenes, it will kick the connecting player from the session, and sometimes it’ll kick the connecting player anyway for no apparent reason. A big part of those last few connection issues is down to the Xbox App on Windows 10 being absolutely awful to use, dropping connectivity just as frequently as it kicks players.
“When in doubt – Blow. Shit. Up.”
– Director Goodwin, while I was blowing shit up
There are a few more issues with the game’s performance and aesthetics. Firstly, this “using the power of the cloud” to support destructible environments guff? It’s just that, guff. If it was happening at all, it was entirely background to the action at hand and far from being a selling point of the game. The cloud struggles like crazy, as well, given the amount of slow down present any time you try to play multiplayer, either in PvP or co-op. I miss Pacific city, too; sure, it would have meant visiting the same locale for the third time, but that doesn’t preclude innovation at all. The alternative has been New Providence, which can only be described as the resulting train wreck when you allow a 12-year-old to be a civil engineer and give them an unlimited RGB budget.
I’ve talked about Director Goodwin, and what he brings to the table, which is to say he might get so angry as to try and eat the table, and there’s a reason I lingered on him so long. Every other character feels so bulk-standard that they’re barely worth mentioning. Your offsider, Echo, is the plucky freedom fighter who talks about having seen some shit but never really talks about it, at all, in any kind of attempt to grow her character. The head honcho, Nieman, feels like she stepped straight out of an episode of Captain Planet. And then there’s Terry Crews, who sounds great and I love Terry Crews, but that’s about the extent of it. It’s as though they just walked him into a recording booth with no script and just told him to ham up his own personality while commentating loudly over a playthrough of the game. That’d be awesome if it weren’t literally every role Terry Crews takes on.
I don’t hate Crackdown 3, and that’s because I knew exactly what it was I was getting into and wanted that very thing. While the original Crackdown games don’t rate so highly with most, I had a real blast with them for the stupid fun they offered, and Crackdown 3 was the same for me. It certainly helped that it was short because if I had to deal with the game’s many problems for long, I’d be singing a different tune. And those problems that are present could be enough to put off anyone not familiar with the series that wants to try. The design is underdone and the gameplay exceedingly simplistic and unchallenging, with a co-op mode fraught with technical issues and a couple of PvP modes not worth a damn. The good news is that a sequel, or maybe a significant update, is absolutely set up by the ending, which means that Microsoft must be planning on keeping the series around. It absolutely has the potential, and under Microsoft’s new “Initiative” program, I reckon Crackdown could be something really great. Right now, it’s just really alright.