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Crackdown 3 Review - Breaks Under Pressure

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Kurt Hvorup
Crackdown 3 was title that Xbox users have been waiting for, for a very long time. Unfortunately it doesn't live up to the hype. So check out our Crackdown 3 video review to see why.

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Among those who’ve spent time with the “Crackdown” series, there’s this sense that the games to date have been dreary to actually experience, yet thematically fascinating to consider. After all, the original “Crackdown” was largely notable for being a not-awful open-world game attached to the “Halo 3” multiplayer beta... and having an alarming ending twist which added grim context to the player’s actions. “Crackdown 2”, meanwhile, was seen as a disappointing deviation from the original’s strengths that also relegated the darker ‘truth’ of its plot to collectable audio logs.

And so we find ourselves in the position of reckoning with “Crackdown 3”, nine years after the previous instalment. Other open-world games have come and gone in the interim, with some building upon or reworking mechanics first seen in “Crackdown”. If the game market wasn’t already over-saturated with open-world titles, it’s quickly approaching that point. In such a context, without even getting into its own share of production delays and changes, what can “Crackdown 3” offer that makes it stand out as an interesting work?

The game opens in chaotic confusion, as your character – one of several swappable Agents of the, well, Agency – awakens in the poverty-stricken outskirts of the city of New Providence. It turns out an operation to infiltrate and liberate the city from the clutches of corporate tyranny went horribly awry, with all but the player’s chosen Agent vaporized under mysterious circumstances. With their only support being a lone hacker named Echo and the Agency’s Director, the player is thus tasked with picking up where the mission left off.

Don’t worry about brushing up on series history; “Crackdown 3” is thoroughly detached from the events of past games. Barring the occasional vague reference shoved to the margins, the game mostly works as a soft reboot that sets the stage for possible future entries. That’s for the best, since certain details such as the Agency now seeming altruistic in nature don’t quite line up with previously-established plot threads. Instead it’s all about the Agency clashing with their latest threat, the mega-corporation known as TerraNova.

Plot-wise, the game relies heavily on moment-to-moment play to create player investment. Traversing the neon-lit streets of New Providence and destroying TerraNova’s property makes up most of the experience, with occasional animated cutscenes to further clarify the impact of the player’s carnage. It’s fine for letting open-world exploration and combat experimentation take centre-stage, but the downside is that this approach leaves “Crackdown 3” feeling deprived of deeper theme or purpose. This especially grows tiresome around the last string of bosses, wherein the implication of a more elaborate conspiracy beyond TerraNova is reduced to mere sequel setup.

Fortunately for players, the surrounding game proves engaging enough to accept slapdash story elements. Unfortunately, said engagement never truly rises past the level of ‘competent but unexceptional’. “Crackdown 3” plays very much like the quintessential sandbox game of the 2010s, right down to the eclectic range of firearms and the fixation on repetitive busywork. Liberating towers, locating and collecting various items as part of a checklist, striking locations of interest to gain control of the map – name an open-world activity and it’s likely present. The game is as unabashed in embracing the open world template as it is rote in executing on the specifics of said template.

What’s worse is, it’s less of the game actively failing to meet its goals and more a case of it being rooted in now-dated design cues. Without necessarily intending to, it evokes works like “Saints Row IV” in the layout of its map and the variation in urban zones, to say nothing of a shared neon-cartoon aesthetic between the two. Yet “Crackdown 3” lacks the boundless personality and messing-with-virtual-world justification that elevated “Saints Row IV” to greatness – instead this newer game revels in being passable fare.

Only in comparing “Crackdown 3” to the first do the former’s strengths truly shine through, primarily because the game comes off as a somewhat more slick version of the original. Picking up Ability Orbs to improve the five player skills is still innately rewarding, as a means of mechanical improvement and as an extension of the compulsive ‘collect ‘em all’ mentality. Hopping across rooftops and clambering up ledges remains important to play, proving satisfactory thanks to the emphasis on vertical ascent in the city’s design and the solid animation work for the player model. Even the gunplay is a tad more engaging, benefiting from a shift to a three-gun loadout system and the aforementioned variety of weapons to discover.

But there rests the biggest issue: no matter what the game does or tries to do, another game has done that same thing before and better. It repeats and slightly refurbishes where others in the genre and the wider medium of games strive to innovate and vastly improve, with the difference in results readily apparent. That’s not to say “Crackdown 3” can’t deliver the odd cheap burst of entertainment, just that such moments are fleeting and fail to stick in the mind.

Anyone looking to the game for audio-visual flair may also want to take heed, as what’s on offer is familiar and merely adequate. While its depiction of bright explosions during combat is spectacular and its multi-coloured skyscrapers are distinctive, much of the game world ends up falling flat due to an otherwise muted palette. The sound design similar leaves little of a lasting impression, though credit to veteran actor Michael McConnohie for absolutely owning his role as the overly-enthusiastic Director.

Alas, such cannot be said of Terry Crews, whose contribution to the game has been wildly exaggerated to the point of being borderline dishonest. While his character Commander Jaxon is one of the playable Agents available from the start, Jaxon doesn’t have much more than a handful of canned lines during play. Instead, Crews’ most significant contribution to the game is voicing the holographic version of Jaxon heard from captured propaganda towers. Because what we really wanted was a charismatic actor being relegated to a bit part in an already underwhelming game.

The bottom line is, while not a bad game, “Crackdown 3” is astoundingly superfluous and tedious in its conception. Perhaps it does find an audience, and perhaps it does lead to a whole new rebooted series of “Crackdown” games. But if this is the starting point for a new beginning, it’s hard not to feel like this whole endeavour wasn’t worth the effort.

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