way back in 2014 for a
Crackdown 3 has certainly taken its time in finally reaching Xbox One and Windows PC players this week. Despite all that time in the proverbial oven, though,
Crackdown 3 comes out feeling dated and half-baked—though it’s still a fun world to jump around in.
This time around, the super-powered agents of, uh, The Agency, are unleashing their carnage-filled version of justice on the secluded city of New Providence. The metropolis is controlled by Terra Nova, an immensely powerful corporation that apparently organized a blackout of every major city in the world (and incinerated most of the Agency agents dispatched to stop them) in order to attract new citizens to their futuristic haven. Once there, though, these refugees find they’re forced to exist as impoverished grist for Terra Nova’s economic mill, enriching company executives who live in relative opulence.
The stratified architecture found in the different regions of New Providence provides some important grounding for the battle between the haves and have-nots that the Agency finds itself in. For the most part, though, the game is annoyingly blunt about telling—rather than showing—how your actions are inspiring the proletariat to “rise up” against their authoritarian masters (throwing in plenty of “edgy-for-a-thirteen-year-old” random cursing along the way).
Free some dissidents from jail, for instance, and a voice in your ear immediately tells you how they will help “take the fight to Terra Nova.” But I can only recall one time in my play-through when I actually saw citizens taking up arms against their corporate masters (rather ineffectually, I might add). Shut down a mining operation for Chimera—a poisonous weapon Terra Nova gathers for vast profits—and you’re reminded how it will disrupt the company’s plans without ever really seeing that effect in the city itself.
The plot takes some pains to try to set up a relatable critique of income inequality and the power-distorting effects of runaway capitalism but only manages it in the most ham-fisted and nuance-free way. The handful of company higher-ups that serve as bosses are, to a person, cliche-filled scenery-chewing bad guys who monomaniacally want to amass power. They all scream and snarl their way through extremely hackneyed lines; one literally says they “just want to watch the world burn” at one point. Another echoes Mengele in his desire to conduct Chimera experiments on “lesser” people.
Run and jump
You probably didn’t come to a new Crackdown game for a nuanced story, though. At its heart, Crackdown 3 isn’t that different from the two open-world run-and-gun titles that preceded it. You’re still completing objectives that are all variations on killing enemy agents, blowing things up, or getting quickly from point A to point B.
As with those earlier titles, what really sets Crackdown 3 apart from the open-world pack is the locomotion. You start with an extremely floaty jump that lets you ascend three or four times your height and cover dozens of yards in a single leap. As the game progresses your running and jumping capabilities get faster and higher, with the added bonus of triple jump jetpack assistance and the ability to string two quick air dashes to add speed and distance in mid-air.
The sheer freedom of movement for a leveled-up agent brings to mind the best parts of traversing a game like Spider-Man or the Batman: Arkham games, but with less complexity. I will say, though, that I’d kill for a decent wall-jump ability to be added to the free-moving repertoire here. Sliding ineffectually down a wall just feels sad after a huge, city-clearing jump.
Improving your mobility means finding glowing green agility orbs, hundreds of which are peppered throughout the city. They’re so numerous you’ll likely stumble across plenty on your way to completing other objectives, but hunting down the well-hidden, out-of-the-way ones ends up being the game’s greatest joy. I would often explicitly ignore whatever nearby location the game wanted me to blow up just to aimlessly explore the well-arranged architecture, leaping from rooftop to rooftop searching out more orbs, which would make it even easier to jump to more rooftops for more orbs.
There are a few flies in this smooth run-and-jump ointment, though. Most notably, the game can be extremely touchy about letting you grab onto ledges unless you’re perfectly aligned with the grab point. Your agent will also sometimes get stuck on a piece of architecture as they try to ascend, adding an annoying hitch to the traversal. And trying to land on a small platform can be a bit cumbersome, thanks to a too-close camera angle that requires constant mid-air adjustment to align your landing view.
Less than explosive combat
If the movement has occasional annoyances, though, the combat only has occasional moments of non-annoyance. First among the problems is the finicky lock-on system, which is key to focusing fire amid the chaos. The lock-on rarely worked as seamlessly as I’d have expected. Sometimes I’d jam on the lock-on button when staring right at an enemy only to have nothing happen. Other times I’d lock on to another far-off enemy that I didn’t mean to target. Then there were times I’d lock on to far-off objects for no reason, without even hitting the targeting button. This made combat much more of a chore than it should have been.
The real problem with the combat, though, is its general lack of any feeling of impact. Both hitting and being hit by enemies often feels utterly weightless, with only a slowly reducing health bar and a small red arrow or damage number indicating anything has happened (the too-close over-the-shoulder camera, which makes it hard to gauge attacks coming from behind, doesn’t help). Enemies will take melee attacks without budging until they die, then suddenly go flying like rag dolls. Even a huge boulder thrown by an opposing mech lands with all the force of a wet ball of toilet paper.
Then there are the enemies themselves—all reliably dumb as dirt. Most will just stand or shuffle around ineffectively, firing when you get in range. Not that I can exactly blame them; Crackdown 3 environments for the most part aren’t really built around taking cover or even dodging effectively. Instead, you’re more or less expected to run in and take out enemies as quickly as possible while soaking up their return fire like a sponge. Each enemy downed gives orbs that refill your shield in proportion to their difficulty, so as long as you’re constantly killing something in the immediate vicinity, you’re practically invincible.
Success, then, depends on your ability to efficiently take out whatever enemies are nearby. Your ability to take out enemies in turn depends heavily on how much you’ve leveled up your various skills. The more you use explosives, guns, and melee attacks, the stronger those types of attacks become. The game accounts for this by scattering the same handful of enemy types across the map, but at highly variable power levels.
This has the odd side effect of essentially putting you in charge of your own difficulty curve. Each objective is marked on the map with its own “chance of success,” measuring how over or underpowered you are for the challenge on offer. Go in to an objective with a 20 percent chance of success, and a couple of enemy attacks will quickly down you. Go in with an 80 percent chance of success, and even powerful attacks will bounce off your toughened armor as you tear through enemies like they’re made of tissue paper.
There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle that hits just the right point on the challenge curve, where making your way through is tough but not impossible work. But the game’s fully open map structure doesn’t exactly guide you to the correct objectives at the right times. It’s quite possible to unknowingly level past the appropriate “challenge point” for a number of the game’s objectives (or stumble into objectives that are way beyond your current level). Sure, there’s some visceral joy in tearing through enemies like a vengeful god, but being that overpowered gets old kind of fast.
When you’re not dealing with combat-related annoyances, there is some fun to be had just running and jumping through Crackdown‘s brutally beautiful authoritarian world, looking for shiny orbs. It’s too bad that this is only half of this half-baked game.
- Beautiful architecture and a well-rendered futuristic metropolis
- The sheer joy of triple-jumping and air-dashing
- Hundreds of hidden orbs are a delight to hunt and find
- Multiplayer mode has some intriguing twists on the usual team-based combat
- Blunt storytelling constantly tells without showing
- Frustrating combat with a wonky lock-on system
- Brain-dead enemy AI leads to mindless action
- Inconsistent challenge scaling can lead to disjointed difficulty spikes
- Hearing a voice in your ear saying “Ooooh, I like that weapon” for the 20th time
Verdict: There are better ways to get your superhero action fix, but there are worse ones, too. Crackdown 3 is at least worth a try.