|System: Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Sumo Digital|
|Pub: Xbox Game Studios|
|Release: February 15, 2019|
|Players: 1-10 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence|
by Jenni Lada
What happens when a series fails to keep up with its contemporaries? It may be an IP that sets a standard for a certain kind of gameplay, but is then outpaced by one of the titles that set out to copy its success. In short, this all comes down to Crackdown 3 feeling less like a giant step forward for the series and AAA in 2019 and more like it is trying to compete with Saints Row IV, a similar sort of game released six years before.
Crackdown 3 is set around ten years after Crackdown 2, which is great for people new to the series. It means that all you need to know is that an organization known as The Agency has genetically modified Agents that are dispatched around the world to deal with hostile situations, terrorist threats, and unsavory elements threatening to ruin our society. The game begins with a group of Agents, led by Commander Jaxon (Terry Crews), going to handle a terrorist threat.
Except, it was a false flag. Terrorists essentially took everything in the world offline, shutting down the grid. Only one city, New Providence, remained untouched. The island haven is owned and run by the Terra Nova corporation. Fortunately for the player, a scientist named Echo found what was left of Jaxon (and presumably the other 20 Agents on the team, since you can select them) and put together a revival program. Now, Agents are on the ground and ready to both expose and stop Terra Nova.
While the presence of such a prominent story in Crackdown 3, one which sends you against the heads of Terra Nova and their lieutenants, is a positive, its execution is not. The opening cutscene for the game is fantastic, with peak Terry Crews at its center. This makes it all the more disappointing when subsequent story scenes appear as static comics or barely animated segments that seem crude in comparison. Considering we are in a world where other AAA tales of superpowered people, like inFamous: Second Son and Marvel's Spider-Man, have elaborate segments showing what's going on, it makes Crackdown 3 feel less thought out and more rushed. It's not a good look for a game announced in 2014 and in development for years.
Speaking of Crews, it also feels like Crackdown 3 doesn't make the most of him. In the game, players have access to multiple Agents. Each one is diverse, both in terms of their appearance and the bonuses with certain sorts of weapons. But, even though the game is set up so Jaxon is the canon "hero," there isn't enough done to acknowledge that. We get a great opening segment with Crews, but then his performance is pretty much reduced to filler chatter as we accomplish goals like freeing militia members, defeating robots, and completing the destructive missions that will eventually force the Terra Nova bigwigs out of hiding to face us.
The thing about Crackdown 3 is, it has a serious organization problem that other open-world games have conquered. When you are in New Providence, you have a map with icons. You're left to your own devices. It doesn't try to initially direct you to certain spaces to teach you the basics or push you toward what you would consider story missions. Aside from encouraging you to storm the gate into the city and consider taking on the metro system first, you're left to figure things out on your own. There's no journal of what you have done or should do, only a list of objective icons on the map that shows what is available. When you head to your Agent page, you can't choose your skills from a skill tree. You just can see what has unlocked from the actions you performed certain amounts of times or agility orbs you have collected. When you go to the Targets page to see who you need to take down, you can just click to set a waypoint for the next primary mission. As with the story's stripped down "cutscenes," it feels like the bare minimum has been done.
As for the actual gameplay, it's fine. Crackdown 3 doesn't make any revolutionary changes to the open-world formula. Players head into a region. They complete different quests within to help remove the influence of Terra Nova. This means shutting down plants polluting the area, liquor that helps control people's behavior, and freeing people the corporation considered dangerous. Your agent has a lot of weapons to choose from, all of which are easy to find and sort through. There are a decent selection of cars, which can easily be hijacked, often without any sort of penalty. Performing different actions will increase your Agility, Driving, Explosives, Firearms, and Strength aptitudes, which means you have more possible actions tied to each one you can perform.
Violence is always the answer in Crackdown 3. You want to draw out the Terra Nova's head, Elizabeth Nemano, and that means getting her three immediate underlings, Alois Quist, Kuli Ngata, and Katala Vargas to appear. But to do that, you need Wilhelm Berg, Roxy, Liv Sorensen, Reza Khan, and Djimon Keita. Basically, you get to choose what sort of violence you want to use to get your job done. For example, to free some militia members, I used the car I was driving to run over all the enemies in front of the cage, unlocked the door, and was done. Some missions do require specific actions, like sabotaging the Industry chemical operations involves tossing boulders into machinery to shut them down, but the game tends to give you options when it comes to completing missions.
There are some adjustments made and inclusions that help confirm that yes, Crackdown 3 is a modern game. Some of them are about accessibility. It is very easy to see where you are on the map and where you could or should be going. When you get to a hub, it is possible to swap to a different agent. (You know, in case you get tired of some of Terry Crews' exclamations.) When you hover over missions, it is possible to see your odds of survival, helping you better gauge whether or not you should even attempt some tasks. But it is as though enough new stuff hasn't been added or changes have been made. Crackdown 3 feels and looks a lot like Crackdown 2.
Even the element that are meant to be unique have already been done. Yes, luring out the Terra Nova bosses is fun, but we have seen games where the more renown you acquire, the bigger a target you become for random violence in the streets. (Some might even refer to it as a "Wanted" level.) We have seen games where superpowered characters liberate districts of a city. (Saints Row IV did it and offered extra money for areas under your control.) We even had a game already where the events of a single night had a detrimental effect on the entire world and severely hampered the global operations of a military force designed to protect it. (Agents of Mayhem's L.E.G.I.O.N. kicked off the Devil's Night and topped M.A.Y.H.E.M. Perhaps this was a dig at Volition by Sumo Digital, for the whole Saints Row stealing Crackdown's "thing" before?) The only thing it really has going for it is its co-op campaign option, which past Crackdown games offered before.
But the kicker is, Crackdown 3 does not necessarily do anything badly. It is a perfectly capable open-world game. It just happened to be released after a number of other games have already done incredibly similar things. It looks fine, but we've also recently seen the more gorgeous Marvel's Spider-Man, which offered better storytelling and map traversal. There are a decent number of little missions around the map, but they tend to blend together in a haze of "beat everything possible up to save the day."
I did not get to play Wrecking Zone, Crackdown 3's major feature that supposedly allows unbridled destruction with other players. Only the campaign was available to play during this portion. The Wrecking Zone Technical Test was available to Xbox Insider Program members in early February 2019, but everything seen there was in development and perhaps not indicative of the final product.
Crackdown 3 feels like a product of a prior generation. If it had been released in 2014 or 2015, alongside Saints Row IV or inFamous: Second Son, people might have lauded the way it has to smoke out your opponents and praised its many opportunities for destruction. In 2019, it feels like something that has been done many times before by plenty of other developers. It can feel like a wasted opportunity. Terry Crews is here, but he isn't given a chance to really steal the show. (Which is what we know he does best.) It isn't well organized, when it comes to missions and following the story. What is available works well enough, but it doesn't do anything to really set itself apart in a way you would expect from a AAA, first-party game.