Twelve years ago this month, Microsoft began distributing invites for the Halo 3 beta through copies of an Xbox 360 exclusive title called Crackdown. The explosive open-world action game might not have made much of a splash if not for the inclusion of the beta invite, but once people actually got their hands on Crackdown, they discovered something unlike any other open-world game on the market. Crackdown went on to garner critical acclaim.
Crackdown looked poised to become a staple of the Xbox brand, standing alongside the likes of Halo, Gears of War, and Forza, but then, in 2010, the sequel dropped. Despite the three-plus year wait, critics and consumers complained that Crackdown 2 was too much like its predecessor. It would be more than eight years and a new console generation later before the series would return, but after all that time, Crackdown 3 has arrived.
Crackdown 3 is, first and foremost, more Crackdown. You play as a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier tasked with taking down an evil corporation that has set up shop in the city New Providence.
In order to do so, you’ll need to augment your powers by shooting, punching, running over, and blowing up members of the villainous factions that have taken over. Every time you dispatch an enemy, you’ll receive orbs which boost one of your core skills (agility, firearms, strength, explosives, and driving). The orbs you receive depends on how you took them out. If you punch them into next week, you’ll get red strength orbs. If you mow them down with a machine gun, blue firearms orbs will appear. And blowing them up with a rocket creates yellow explosives orbs.
You’ll also get orbs for completing objectives and taking out enemy bases. There are dozens of objectives scattered all over the map, and in order to progress, you need to complete them and weaken the defenses of the heads of the various branches of the TerraNova Corporation. You’ll work your way up the chain of command until you reach the person running the show. There’s not much in the way of story here, but there’s doesn’t need to be.
After all, Crackdown is all about picking up cars, leaping over buildings, and collecting everything in sight, and from that angle, Crackdown 3 is a success. There are over 20 weapons to collect, more than a dozen vehicles to drive, and enough agility and mystery orbs (which give you a little bit of everything) hidden around the city that you could spend hours just hunting for collectables before you ever start trying to save the world.
But, as a result, Crackdown 3 ends up feeling more like an HD remake of a game that should have come out five years ago than an Xbox One exclusive that belongs in the same console generation as God of War, The Witcher 3, and Red Dead Redemption 2. That’s not to say that there’s not room for both those highly-polished, technologically-stunning games and a goofy, cartoony, slightly buggy collect-a-thon like Crackdown 3, but I’m not sure this is what anyone expected when Microsoft announced the game all the way back in 2014.
The bugginess of the game is perhaps the most disappointing element, as I more than once found myself having to leave a mission and reset my progress because something didn’t activate like it was supposed to, or a key enemy that needed to be defeated for the mission to end got stuck in the floor or a wall. Bugs in open world games are inevitable, and I am a forgiving gamer, but the lack of polish almost makes Crackdown 3 feel unfinished.
On the other hand, when this endlessly-delayed sequel is firing on all cylinders, it’s incredibly fun to play. There is still nothing else quite like finding that last agility orb to put you over the top to the next level, and then finding out just how high you can jump now. The same goes for firearms and strength, as you morph from a slightly overpowered action movie star to a bonafide superhero that can launch baddies a football field away with a single punch.
And while the objectives basically all boil down to shooting a bunch of bad guys (while occasionally hacking a terminal or two), the boss fights are just unique and challenging enough to offer a reprieve when you grow tired of running from one location to the next. And while it can be somewhat finicky at times, the platforming remains compelling, and you’ll find yourself running and jumping and clambering through the city just for the sheer joy of it.
As for Wrecking Crew, the multiplayer mode — you’re not likely to find a more bare bones competitive experience in any other $60 game this year. There’s no progression, there are no unlocks, and the character customization might as well not have been included. You’re just jumping around big, bland arenas while shooting other players. Yes, all of the buildings are destructible, but you’ll spend most of the match leaping on to open vents and shooting opponents down below while you fly overhead. It’s fine, but after a single match, I felt like I’d already seen everything.
Had I not replayed the first Crackdown on my Xbox One recently (thanks to backward compatibility), I would probably have believed you if you told me that Crackdown 3 was actually an HD remake of the original. It doesn’t mess with the formula that made the series successful in the first place, and it doesn’t have any of the frills of most modern triple-A games. Honestly, it’s a pretty baffling package from top to bottom, and it’s clearly at odds with itself. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun in between the occasional bouts of frustration and repetition.
Crackdown 3 probably never needed to exist, and certainly not as yet another sequel that sticks too close to the script of the first game, but if you desperately wanted more Crackdown — but in HD — you’ve got it.