Crackdown 3 Review - Man Of Steel

  • First Released Feb 15, 2019
  • XONE

A disappointing, dated return.

It's been a long wait for Crackdown 3. Delays can be a positive thing, offering developers time to refine and polish a game. In other cases, it can result in what feels like a dated experience. Crackdown 3 firmly falls in the latter category, offering some amusement but little in the way of interesting new ideas or fun things to do. It's large and bombastic, with plenty of chaos and collateral damage, but few redeeming values--like a video game version of Man of Steel.

You play as a superpowered member of The Agency who is sent into a city to dispense justice as you systematically eliminate the comically evil members of a nefarious evil corporation. You start out relatively weak but progressively grow in power, jumping higher and gaining the ability to perform ground pounds, pick up and throw increasingly heavy objects, and so on. Enemy factions are responsible for certain aspects of the criminal operation, such as manufacturing a sort of poison, and taking them out weakens that area and makes your ultimate goal of taking down the big bad leader more feasible. There will be collateral damage along the way that is frowned upon--kill too many innocents, and a local militia puts up a halfhearted effort to put you down--but is soon forgotten. Yes, I'm describing Crackdown 3, not its 2007 progenitor.

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It would be fine for this to feel so familiar if the action itself were more engaging. The core of collecting orbs (to level up your agility and jump height) and wreaking havoc remains enjoyable, but it isn't strong enough to make up for Crackdown 3's numerous shortcomings. From the moment you gain control of your character, it's hard to shake the sense that this doesn't feel like a game from 2019. Draw distance aside, the visuals are underwhelming, leaning too heavily on recreating the simple cel-shaded look of past Crackdown games. The one technological advancement the game has to boast about--large-scale destruction, powered by Microsoft's Azure cloud servers--is reserved entirely for the online Wrecking Zone mode, which uses mode-specific maps rather than letting you blow up parts of the city itself. There's no meaningful destruction in the campaign, and the end result is a world that feels lifeless, as if some key element of it is missing.

The game's opening takes place in a small area of the city and lays out the basic structure of your goals: Take over a particular boss's various bases to locate him or her and then complete a boss fight, which, in most cases, is a pretty standard encounter where the enemy has more health than usual. This tutorial is somewhat of an off-putting start; for a game about freedom and doing badass superhero things, you're stuck in a tightly confined area, underpowered, and tasked with a goal that entails killing some enemies and then removing a pair of batteries powering a propaganda station. Before long, the game opens up and you're given access to the full city and a wider selection of objectives to tackle, at which point there's some hope that the newfound freedom and variety will provide the excitement that's lacking in this early area.

The problem is, what you do in that opening section is representative of the entire game; there's very little variety to speak of. Ostensibly, each of the different factions presents its own unique challenges and objectives for you to complete. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that what distinguishes them are only surface-level details. No matter the faction, you're always mindlessly shooting an endless wave of foes as you work your way toward objective markers. Once you're there, you'll usually hold a button. Sometimes you'll have glowing targets to shoot. For a certain objective, you have to shoot a piece of machinery or throw a rock underneath it (always two times) to destroy it. After multiple hours of this, the action begins to bleed together. All of these bases you complete are just another box you can check off the to-do list, rather than a satisfying challenge you look forward to dealing with. I suffered a crash midway through the game that might have resulted in me losing some small amount of progress, but with how same-y many of the objectives are, I honestly wasn't sure if I was repeating one I had already completed. One of the major criticisms of the original Crackdown was a lack of things to do, and while there might be more here on paper, far too much of it feels like filler, rather than worthwhile missions.

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Interesting enemies could have made these rote objectives more exciting, but they too suffer from a lack of diversity. There are different archetypes with their own attack patterns, but they do little to shake up the action, even if some do fly, have shields, rush at you, or pilot mechs. Snipers, due to the heavy damage they inflict, were the only enemies that prompted me to break from my otherwise uniform approach of attacking whatever was closest to me. Weapons have certain types of targets they're more or less effective against, but certain guns are so powerful that I found little need carefully evaluate what I was using. You move from one objective on the map to the next, hold down the trigger to lock on to enemies, hope it picks the target you want (not always a given), and then blast away.

And that's okay. Crackdown 3 isn't a game where you should need to carefully consider your loadout and the precise manner in which you need to approach a fight; you're supposed to be a superhero who can dominate whatever is in front of you. But the combination of stale objectives and cannon-fodder enemies makes combat mindless and, at times, even boring, which is strange for a game filled with explosions and enemies flying off of rooftops. If you were to chart the excitement of playing through the campaign, there would be few peaks or valleys; it's just sort of a constant white noise, like you're taking a weed wacker at whatever is in front of you. It's not until much further into the game that you gain the weapons (like a gun that creates black holes) and high-level abilities (like being able to pick up and throw tanks) that make combat more entertaining. By that point, the repetitive goals and encounters have long since become stale. Making your way up the skyscrapers that serve as headquarters for the final few bosses provides some of the only memorable combat sequences, but these only serve to emphasize how rote so much of the game is otherwise.

it's just sort of a constant white noise, like you're taking a weed wacker at whatever is in front of you

Outside of the core objectives, there is some fun to be had. Stunt rings that require you to drive a vehicle through them are an amusing challenge, even if the solution is often to rely on your transforming vehicle's ability to jump into the air. (Your Agency car can be summoned at almost any time and transforms into various forms, which is a cool concept that's spoiled by the poor driving controls that make it feel like you're riding across a sheet of ice.) Rooftop races that have you going from checkpoint to checkpoint on foot, often by leaping from one building to the next, are a thrill. Likewise, climbing puzzles that have you ascend tall structures make for a chest-pounding activity. Just be sure to do those as soon as you meet the recommended agility level designated on the map; wait too long, and the satisfying rush of landing a difficult jump is gone due to your ability to skip obstacles with massive leaps.

Co-op multiplayer improves things across the board, letting you race against a friend and engage in general shenanigans. The old Crackdown standby of picking up someone driving a car and throwing it--whether to help them reach a distant goal or simply to doom them--is a hilarious way to interact with another player, and it's nice that rooftop races can be a competitive activity. But all of this only masks the underlying problems of the game; the action is just as repetitive, and I found myself wishing my partner and I had something worth doing together. Still, co-op is easily the best way to play the campaign.

Wrecking Zone, Crackdown 3's competitive multiplayer component, brings in the much-hyped cloud-powered destruction elements--but little else. There are two different 5v5 modes available: Agent Hunter, where you kill enemies and collect badges they drop to score points, and Territories, where you capture and hold zones to score points. Much like the campaign, neither mode brings anything new to the table, relying on the gunplay and destruction to do all the heavy lifting. What you see in your first few matches is repeated ad nauseam, with little variety.

Rather than requiring players to freely aim, Wrecking Zone allows you to target enemies by holding a lock-on button that works even at long range. Doing so alerts the enemy to your position, but because this lock-on can be maintained so easily, securing a kill rarely feels enjoyable or as if you've truly earned it. It also means that deaths are often frustrating because they tend to be the result of someone spotting you first from an angle where it's difficult to break their line of sight. One-on-one duels amount to two players holding down their respective triggers and jumping around each other to little effect, due to the sheer strength of the lock-on; at that point, it's just a matter of who began firing first or if someone has to reload mid-fight. The end result is combat that's never truly satisfying.

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Destruction is Wrecking Zone's lone standout feature, but it's underutilized. Technically speaking, it's impressive, and the spectacle of watching buildings crumble is delightful. However, there tends to be the slightest of delays between when you'd expect that crumbling to begin and when it actually does, presumably due to the fact that this destruction is being processed by the cloud, rather than on your console. It's a nearly imperceptible wait, but it's enough to cause a feeling of disconnect with what's going on. Despite that, blowing things up is the most enjoyable part of Wrecking Zone, which makes it frustrating that it's not tied directly to what you're tasked with doing. There are times where you might be able to destroy a floor or wall to expose an enemy's position, but far more often you're better off repositioning yourself. Destruction tends to feel like an incidental event, rather than something that is a core aspect of gameplay. Because of that, Wrecking Zone is at odds with the one notable thing about it; your best opportunity to appreciate the destruction is to remove yourself from the action and hope no one comes to bother you as you blow things up.

Leaping high through the air across rooftops and collecting orbs--which still feature one of the all-time great sound effects--is fun and rewarding, because that pursuit has a direct correlation to further improving your jump height. Lifting large objects and chucking them at foes is likewise an entertaining alternative to typical gunfights. Just like in its predecessors, these two superpowers are the primary source of what entertainment there is to be had in Crackdown 3. But it soon becomes apparent that the game has little new to offer beyond cool destruction tech that never gets put to good use. It certainly delivers on letting you blow things up and jump around the city. However, a dozen years after the first Crackdown offered that same experience but failed to provide you with enough interesting content surrounding that, it's truly disappointing to see this latest iteration suffer from the very same problems.

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The Good

  • Once you're powered up, it's fun to jump high into the air and throw tanks at enemies' faces
  • Rooftop races and missions where you climb towers are exhilarating

The Bad

  • The vast majority of objectives are repetitive and uninteresting
  • Most enemies are little more than cannon fodder lacking any meaningful points of differentiation
  • Driving physics are frustratingly imprecise
  • Wrecking Zone offers unsatisfying combat and doesn't make effective use of its destruction tech

About the Author

Chris loved the original Crackdown and was excited for it even before it got him into the Halo 3 beta. He played through the entirety of Crackdown 3's campaign and completed almost every side activity before moving to Wrecking Zone, where he won a bunch of matches without ever feeling satisfied. Review code was provided by the publisher.