Review: Crackdown 3 isn’t the Microsoft exclusive we needed after all these years

February 19, 2019

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Reviewed on Xbox One.

For the first couple of hours with Crackdown 3, I was thoroughly enjoying it. Playing as cinema’s beefcake Terry Crews as a genetically engineered super-agent with a whole stockpile of weapons to “blow shit up” with was refreshingly fun. The more time I spend with the game’s campaign, the more I came to the realization that Crackdown 3 isn’t as fun as it initially appears. In fact, it’s simply a repetitive third-person shooter situated on a generic and empty cyberpunk island.

Crackdown 3’s story never feels particularly ground-breaking, instead resorting to an overused action movie premise. The paradise resort of New Providence isn’t as peaceful as it appears (just like Scooby Doo 2001 – Ed). It’s a standard evil mastermind and her psychotic henchmen taking over the world’s power and controlling the masses through the use of an evil corporation—Terra Nova. The only hope the rest of the world has is sending in The Agency, the ethically-immoral super-police force. After a brief cutscene and an even shorter tutorial, you’re let loose.

Most of your time in Crackdown 3 will be spent conquering the city by dismantling the Terra Nova hierarchy. You’ll start by taking out the Lieutenants—portrayed by a Shadow of Mordor styled hierarchy chart—until you get to the CEO. The hierarchy is split into three branches: the purple Logistics division who have asserted their dominance over New Providence’s monorails; the green Industry division who’ve taken over industrial work; and the red Security division that has set up vehicle depots, prisoner hard-points and defensive turrets.

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Your mission is to weaken the corporation by taking back each of these assets, call out the lieutenants and eventually taking on the leader of Terra Nova. It sounds fun, but the constant dimensionless cycle of discovering an asset, shooting objects/guards/robots, hacking a panel or removing/placing a battery to remove a force-field is as deep as the gameplay gets – and didn’t take long before the enjoyment quickly turned to boredom.

Amongst everything, the boredom didn’t come from the game’s unique sense of combat. Although simplistic, fighting is fun and watching your surroundings explode in a barrage of gunfire and grenades is almost zen-like in its presentation. The highlight of the many, many firefights are the bosses—the crème-de-la-crème of any Crackdown game—despite the fact that they all lack any form of challenge. Despite having only a 22% chance of beating a boss, all it took was three rockets to put him out of his misery… it was a complete joke. I never felt any sense of threat or danger throughout the entirety of my time with the campaign. If that’s not enough, Crackdown is extremely generous with your health, not only does your health and shield regenerate over time, the game rewards you with health for every kill you make – further removing any form of challenge.

As a result, the return of the ‘skills for kills’ system where players can level up their skills by performing actions within a certain skillset feels surprisingly useless. For new players, this leveling up design means melee attacking enemies, earns you strength experience, making you hit harder. Shooting enemies increases your firearm skill and thus making your guns more effective. Bigger, more frequent explosions, more explosive skill experience. Driving with flair, stunts and vehicle kills earn you more driving experience. It may be an intriguing system to some by unlocking further skills for each set, but with Crackdown 3 being too easy, the skills feel flashier than anything meaningful. As long as you can lock on and shoot, you shouldn’t experience any form of difficulty whatsoever – although that’s all you can do as free aiming is atrociously bad. While unlocking new weapons, vehicle transformations, and abilities sounds fun, you never really need to use them; you’re already overpowered with your basic moveset,

Throughout the game, you can pick up or unlock a plethora of weapons to use at your disposal. Unfortunately, most of them have cool names but no bite. Imagine discovering weapons such as the Jackhammer, the Ragnarok or the Mulcher, they sound cool, right? Maybe so, but they were some of the worse weapons in the game. Within the first couple of hours, I had already found the two best weapons for decimating every enemy in front of me: The Pulse Beam which sends a continuous laser beam to burn the Terra Nova alive, and the Homing Rocket. Every other weapon I came across felt useless in comparison. And don’t worry about running out of ammo, there is an absurd amount of supply points and ammo caches lying around – just go full Rambo mode.

New Providence is a sight to behold from afar. Skyscrapers tower the city partnered with brightly lit advertisements, motorways and monorails stretch for miles, everything has a touch of flair helped by a Bladerunner-like polish that is nothing more than eye-catching. However, it is a whole different story on ground level – New Providence is an empty shell that fails to bring the world to life. Everything is designed using identical textures with a limited amount of detail, the city is populated with cars driving around but disappointingly, the people tend to stand around lacking any form of life (unless you drive or shoot a gun near them, then they dive or run in a dramatic fashion). For a game that has been delayed three times, Crackdown 3 feels shockingly unfinished.

On the positive side, despite New Providence being a dull, empty shell in its design, there is an array of activities to do to achieve a 100% completion rate. Enjoy scavenging for collectibles? The game has you covered: you can find dead agent’s DNA to unlock new skins, discovering lost intel, collecting Agility orbs and Hidden orbs to improve your character’s skills, and so much more. If that wasn’t enough, there is plenty of side activities to accomplish: platforming your way up propaganda towers, hacking surveillance caches, destroying Monkey Moonshine Kiosks, completing rooftop and car races and even pulling off insane stunts by jumping through floating purple rings located in hard-to-reach locations.

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Crackdown 3 does a great job of creating a fun, over-the-top combat system for the first few hours, but it has too many problems. Maybe a die-hard Crackdown fan can find some enjoyment of the short campaign with plenty of side activities to accomplish, but I was glad for the journey to be over. The repetitive nature of the control scheme, the empty shell of an open world and a useless skill system made me feel like the game needed more time in development. I can give praise for the developers for sticking with this project for so long, but truthfully, I’m so glad this game is free on Game Pass.

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