Crackdown 3 Review — This Ain't It, Agent
Crackdown 3 has finally arrived and instead of being a next-gen iteration of the franchise, it feels like a lost relic of the Xbox 360 era.
Xbox One X
Review copy provided by the publisher
For one reason or another, Crackdown 3 has been one of my most anticipated releases of the past few years. As a big fan of the first Crackdown, and someone who even found quite a bit of fun to be had with Crackdown 2, when the third game in the series was announced back at E3 2014, I was thrilled.
Unfortunately, the road to Crackdown 3 has been a bumpy one. Originally slated to launch in 2016, news on Crackdown 3 eventually fell silent and release was then pushed to 2017 to coincide with the release of the Xbox One X. However, that release again fell by the wayside and Crackdown 3 was pushed back, this time with an indefinite release date. After multiple delays, Microsoft eventually committed to this new February 2019 date.
Despite this development hell that Crackdown 3 found itself in, I remained confident that the finished product would be good. I played a section of the game back at E3 2017 and I thought it felt about like it should. Even though many others have continued to voice concerns with the game, I help out hope that Crackdown 3 would be a solid next-gen entry in a series I’ve always loved.
I state all of this up front to make it clear I was extremely excited for Crackdown 3 and I wanted nothing more than it to turn out great. Unfortunately, Crackdown 3 is anything but great and instead serves as a shining example of how far video games have come this generation. From its visuals, to its aimless mission structure and bland open world, Crackdown 3 feels nothing at all like a next-generation iteration of the series and more like a holdover from the Xbox 360 era.
“Crackdown 3 feels nothing at all like a next-generation iteration of the series and more like a holdover from the Xbox 360 era.”
If you’ve played a Crackdown game before, then you have a good idea of what to expect from in Crackdown 3. This time around, you find yourself as an Agent in the city of New Providence, the biggest locale seen in the Crackdown series so far. You’re tasked with taking down an organization known as Terra Nova which has slowly taken over New Providence. After choosing from one a variety of different Agents to play as, you’ll slowly level up your character’s abilities, take down a number of different bosses associated with Terra Nova, and lead a revolution to give the power back to the people.
Before I begin endlessly laying out the issues that Crackdown 3 has, I will say that the leveling structure of the game as a whole is likely its biggest saving grace. If you like the way in which previous Crackdown games have played out purely on the basis of leveling up and running about collecting orbs, that’s still found in Crackdown 3 and it’s the best part of the game. If you’re fine with that formula and that’s what you’re looking for, it’s still here, but the surrounding aspects of the game don’t do that base outline any favors.
The biggest problem with Crackdown 3 above everything else though is that the game just lacks any sort of structure. As mentioned, you’re tasked out of the gate with traveling around New Providence and taking out many of the different bosses associated with Terra Nova before eventually challenging the organization’s leader. The issue I have with challenging these, mob bosses, as I’ll call them, is that the objectives you have to complete before fighting it out with each one are downright mindless.
Crackdown 3 throws a litany of different tasks at you to accomplish, but none of them are enjoyable in the slightest. Some of these missions or objectives will see you saving imprisoned citizens of New Providence, climbing tall beacon towers, or destroying random vehicles that are stashed away in garages. What’s even more frustrating is that every single one of these objectives are nearly all identical to one another with the completion of each feeling more like busywork rather than being enjoyable and unique.
Essentially, Crackdown 3’s entire mission structure feels like an amalgamation of the side activities that other open world games will throw at you nowadays. There are no specific missions you ever need to do in the game, other than the boss fights themselves which are largely terrible. I know that these complaints might sound unfounded because what I’m describing is somewhat similar to the original Crackdown, but I can promise you that this lack of structure just doesn’t work. I could tell that the developers were purposefully trying to make Crackdown 3 open-ended in this manner, which is great in theory, but it instead just led to me as the player feeling confused as to why there was nothing really interesting to do in this world that dealt with the game’s main path.
On the gameplay front, Crackdown 3 still plays like previous games in the series, which sounds good on its own merits, but again, this style hasn’t aged all that gracefully in 2019. Shooting still allows you to target different enemy body parts and you’ll have a lot of different weapons to choose from as well. On the weapon front though, some I clearly found to be vastly superior to others leading me to rarely rotating out my guns and instead sticking with the same five or so for the entirety of the game.
“Crackdown 3’s entire mission structure feels like an amalgamation of the side activities that other open world games will throw at you nowadays.”
Driving is also present in Crackdown 3, though I’m hard pressed to know why anyone would really ever jump in a vehicle all that often other than to complete some of the stunt jumps or races that are spread out across the city. I know that I rarely hopped into my vehicle while playing because I wouldn’t ever want to pass orbs or other hidden goodies. This was honestly fine by me though as the controls for most cars felt pretty bad anyway.
Honestly, the best part about Crackdown 3 on the gameplay front to me remains just running around and collecting orbs. This might sound like a dumb thing to say, but anyone who has played previous Crackdown games knows how fun it is to collect every orb that you see in sight spread out across the city. Leveling up your agility abilities specifically by grabbing every green orb in sight continues to be an oddly fun grind, for one reason or another. Then again, I’m just a fan of any sort of collectathon in games so this is likely just suited to my own specific tastes.
Probably the strangest factor of Crackdown 3 though, and the aspect of the game that I think ages it the most, is the open-world itself. The city of New Providence isn’t all that terrible to look at–I’ll touch on this further in a moment–but it just feels so lifeless. Yes, you will see civilians wandering around or cars driving across a highway. Other than this though, everything just feels so empty and dull. Going from playing games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, or Marvel’s Spider-Man to then jumping into Crackdown 3 was a stark reminder to me of how far we’ve come the past few years in creating these living worlds.
Visuals aren’t great either, unfortunately, even if you have an Xbox One X. This was the one area of the game I never had a ton of hope in due to how lengthy development cycles almost never end up being up to snuff with modern graphics, but it’s still a bummer that a first-party game from Microsoft Studios barely takes advantage of the premium hardware that I invested in. I still really enjoy the overall aesthetic of Crackdown 3 and I think it has a vibrant color palette. Other than a nice-looking opening cutscene though, there are no “wow” moments to be had while playing Crackdown 3 on the visual front.
I also have to touch on Terry Crews in this review, because of course I do. Crews has notably been involved in much of the marketing for Crackdown 3, but he’s also one of the primary Agents you can choose to play as. In-game known as Commander Isaiah Jaxon, Crackdown 3 opens with a Crews voicing the character in his usual loud and boisterous manner — and it’s great. After this opening though, Crews is pretty much totally done being part of the game, other than his likeness being used. It’s clear that Crews was never really slated to play a major role as Jaxon in this game other than with the marketing and this is pretty much seen most easily by the fact that Crews himself never really has any in-game voice lines to speak of. Maybe I was expecting a bit too much from Crews’ inclusion to begin with, but it was really weird to me how underutilized he was.
“The emphasis that Microsoft placed on destructibility in Wrecking Zone feels very unwarranted.”
Multiplayer is also included in Crackdown 3, but it isn’t anything to write home about. Remember back about 10 years ago when every game that hit the market started randomly also containing a multiplayer mode tacked on? That’s kind of how Crackdown 3 feels. Despite multiplayer being voiced as one of the game’s key components from the outset, Wrecking Zone, as it is called, is just boring. Multiplayer offers two different game modes with one being a team deathmatch the other being a rotating king of the hill style mode called Territories. Wrecking Zone isn’t bad by any means, but it’s essentially the most straightforward iteration of multiplayer in the Crackdown world that you could expect.
The destructibility of environments, which has been highlighted to make multiplayer stand out in Crackdown 3, isn’t special whatsoever. I’m not really sure why Microsoft put so much emphasis on this area of multiplayer and the “power of the Cloud” that supposedly makes it happen. Battlefield: Bad Company was doing more interesting things with its destructibility over 10 years ago when it released. The emphasis that Microsoft placed on destructibility in Wrecking Zone feels very unwarranted. The original reveal trailer for multiplayer back at Gamescom 2015 looks ten times better than the end product, which is just a shame.
“Despite how much I wanted to enjoy Crackdown 3, I can’t say that it’s anything but disappointing.”
Crackdown 3 feels like one of the final holdovers from the Don Mattrick era of Microsoft. For one reason or another, this game has been through the ringer over the past few years behind the scenes and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it took so long to make. Both the campaign and multiplayer portions of Crackdown 3 have ended up being such straightforward, simple iterations on previous titles that it boggles my mind that we’ve been talking about this game for nearly five years.
Despite how much I wanted to enjoy Crackdown 3, I can’t say that it’s anything but disappointing. If you’re a longtime fan like I am, you still might find some redemption in collecting orbs or the simple act of leveling up your abilities, but you’ll still just be left appreciating better modern open world games at the end of the day more than you’ll enjoy Crackdown 3. Likely the best part about Crackdown 3 is that the game is finally out and we can quit collectively asking questions about when it’ll arrive. Microsoft, in turn, can also just move forward and focus on future first-party titles rather than having to worry about this shell of a game any longer. Crackdown 3 should have been great, and I wanted it to be great, but now I just really don’t want to talk or hear about it anymore.