Crackdown 3 is fun.
If that’s all that matters to you when choosing a game to play, then you can stop reading right now. Crackdown 3 retains all the high-jumping, gun-toting, car-throwing, big-exploding action that is signature to the series, and its new setting offers plenty of opportunities to find and collect orbs. The weapons are a blast to use, and comboing jumps, mid-air dashes, ground pounds, and homing rockets to take down scores of enemies is intuitive and addictive.
For some fans, new weapons and a new city sandbox will be all the motivation they need to buy into Crackdown 3. But for those who already thought Crackdown 2, coming just three years after the original Crackdown, was a lazy sequel, you’ll be hard-pressed to excuse the nine years (five in development) it took to create what is essentially the same exact game you’ve already played twice.
It almost seems like an accident that Crackdown became one of Xbox’s only current exclusives. The first game was a sleeper hit mostly because people bought it for access to the Halo 3 beta without really expecting much from the game itself. Twelve years later, we’ve finally got the third game in the series. After several delays and whether the game would ever even launch became a running gag, now that it’s finally here, it feels almost like an afterthought. Microsoft releasing Crackdown 3 between other heavy-hitters like Far Cry New Dawn, the long-awaited Metro Exodus, and the upcoming Anthem, not to mention the shooting star that is Apex Legends, feels like a parent throwing its baby into the lake. If it swims and survives, great. If it drowns, then that’s one less mouth to feed.
I generally like to judge a game solely on its own merits, but it became impossible for me to judge Crackdown 3 outside of its prerelease context. When Crackdown 3 was first announced, four-player co-op and total destructibility were the main draws. Unfortunately, those selling points were lost over the course of its long development, and destructibility was eventually relegated to its multiplayer half, Wrecking Zone. It’s hard to ignore just how much these features would have added to the campaign. In terms of gameplay and pure spectacle, taking down whole skyscrapers would have been a revolutionary achievement. It would have changed everything about how players approached the game. I’m not even sure how developer Sumo Digital would have achieved that while balancing things like collecting orbs and tackling bosses, but that mystery is what would have been so exciting about playing Crackdown 3.
Once the destruction went, however, most of the game’s imaginative aspects went with it. Part of the problem is that the story, as with the other Crackdowns, once again seemed hidden. Following the Pacific City incident portrayed in the first two games, the Agency focuses its attention on New Providence, a corporate dystopia run by an organization known as Terra Nova. Essentially, Terra Nova is a mega-corporation with autocratic control over the city. It’s also been knocking out the power of major cities across the world in an effort to make the pollutive Chimera, the glowing green energy resource it’s mining, irreplaceable to the rest of the world. At least, I think that’s what the story is. As with Crackdown 2, Crackdown 3 tucks away all its most interesting character beats and story moments into recordings you can find hidden around the city. Its main narrative, meanwhile, probably amounts to a half-hour of 2D animated cutscenes at most.
Structurally, Crackdown 3 is less satisfying than the original. Instead of taking on a series of bosses before fighting with their faction’s kingpin, Crackdown 3tasks players with completing what basically amount to a series of side quests before unlocking a boss fight. In total, there are nine boss fights, and when I said you have to “unlock” them, I basically meant that you need to level up your agent enough so that you don’t get pancaked.
I didn’t test this, but I’m pretty sure that you can beat Crackdown 3 without completing any of the game’s mission objectives, just by finding where the bosses are holed up and knocking down their door. Besides unlocking one cool perk that gave me control of auto turrets along the city’s monorail system, completing mission objectives didn’t seem to accomplish anything tangible other than helping me level up my agent by providing me with tons of cannon fodder. Was this fun? Yes, in a slack-jawed, repetitive way. But was it as satisfying as taking down a couple dozen bosses one by one, each with their own themes and bases? Not really.
Given enough narrative motivation, dismantling Terra Nova’s operations across New Providence would have at least seemed like a noble cause. But without that, I was basically left with a few dozen side objectives that either tasked me with blowing something up, killing a low-level enemy, or killing several low-level enemies. Each of these activities are centered around Terra Nova’s different factions—tech, security, and industry—and after completing enough activities per faction, the game will tell you where the boss is located. You could potentially just stumble upon these locations by exploring, especially considering most of the bosses are housed in the giant skyscrapers in the middle of the map, but at least the unveiling of their locations gives some sense of accomplishment and progression.
The boss fights are easily the highlight of Crackdown 3. Each one requires you to either climb a gigantic skyscraper beset with platforming obstacles and hordes of enemies or to at least figure out the boss’ main gimmick. Some of the bosses repeat the same giant mech themes, but most of them have completely different movesets and capabilities that all complement your agent’s core abilities. Reaching the top of every tower and taking down bosses is thrilling and satisfying. Unfortunately, there are only nine boss fights, when these should have taken up the majority of the play time. After ditching the destructibility, had Sumo Digital pivoted its focus on making dozens of awesome boss encounters, with some exploration and side quests put in as distractions, Crackdown 3 would have seemed like something novel and fresh. Instead, the boss fights function more like respites from a ploddingly repetitive gameplay loop.
Where the much-discussed destructibility is experienced is in Crackdown 3’s multiplayer mode, Wrecking Zone. After about an hour of playtime with the mode (due to Microsoft’s strictly timed sessions for review), I’m a bit torn on Wrecking Zone. The destructibility is cool. You can punch, slam, shoot, and explode your ways through walls, floors, and almost everything else on the mode’s condensed, vertical maps. Chasing down enemies through layers of concrete is pretty darn fun and chaotic, and it shows the potential that Crackdown 3 had in terms of pure spectacle and gameplay innovation.
But there still seems to be a lack of imagination here. Compared to the full-scale city destruction that was previously shown off, Wrecking Zone’s smaller maps, while extensive and complicated, don’t necessarily live up to New Providence’s towering skyscrapers and networks of roads, monorails, and vent systems. The multiplayer also retains the single-player’s lock-on mechanic, which limits the game’s “skill ceiling” to your ability to maneuver around the map and to your knowledge of when to attack and when to back off. It’s not like the agents are so fast that manual aiming couldn’t have been possible, and it would have made getting kills in multiplayer infinitely more satisfying. The maps, weapons, and modes on offer feel equally limited. There are about four explosive weapons, four standard weapons, a handful of maps, and just two modes at launch, and you can’t even start a party with your friends and jump into a match together at launch. Don’t get me wrong: Wrecking Zone can be mindlessly fun, just like the single-player. But there’s a similarly frustrating lack of ambition and direction.
I certainly wouldn’t say Crackdown 3 is the most disappointing game I’ve ever played, or even that it’s not worth playing. It’s a blast when you just feel like zoning out, hunting orbs, jumping across rooftops, and blowing up bad guys. But compared to what Crackdown 3 originally promised to be, it isn’t the innovative sequel I expected this late in the Xbox One’s life cycle. As one of the swan songs for the current generation of Xbox exclusives, it’s perfectly fitting: It’s good, solid fun, but it’s not going to completely revolutionize the industry.
Crackdown 3 is just more Crackdown. For some players, that will be enough. But compared to what Crackdown 3 initially promised, what we ended up with seems lacking in depth and destruction. When it’s good, like with its boss fights, there’s nothing like it. Unfortunately, there’s just too much filler, and with its most exciting feature demoted to a fairly minor multiplayer mode, Crackdown 3 just isn’t the step forward that it could have been.
Microsoft Game Studios
M - Mature
|Crackdown 3 is available on Xbox One, PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by Microsoft Game Studios for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.