Crackdown 3 Review: Gameplay Impressions, Videos and Speedrunning Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2019

Microsoft Game Studios

The tale of Crackdown 3 is one of tumultuous chaos.  

Few games have had as wild of a ride to release, with the game initially announced in 2014 before hitting several walls. An initial release date in 2016 was followed by a handful of delays and shifts to new developers. Advertised as a cloud-gaming powerhouse meant to stretch the limits of next-gen technology, the long-awaited sequel instead arrives  to little fanfare near what is presumably the final gasps of the generation. 

Late or not, Crackdown 3 still has the feel of a direct sequel to the first game in the series (we won't talk about the disaster of the middle child). For those who loved the initial release all those years ago, this Xbox/Microsoft-exclusive effort from Sumo Digital presents a welcome arrival. 

Equipped with a strong sense of self and a mix of fun gameplay elements within systems that mostly hold up well, the destruction-fueled madness boasts a campaign and co-op offering worth players' time, regardless of whether they played the original. 

      

Graphics and Gameplay

In 2007, Crackdown pulled in gamers initially because of its style. 

This sentiment holds true today thanks to revised visuals sticking to the core of the series. With cel-shaded looks reminiscent of a graphic novel, Crackdown 3 is a vibrant techno-based treat for the eyes. Agents and the creative weapons they holster are all unique and fit the tone well, and the constant explosions have the necessary pop to feel fun. 

The city of New Providence is a treat in itself. There are the typical neon-plastered buildings, dancing holograms and colorful cast of citizens and vehicles on the highways, sure. But what is perhaps most interesting is the variety. It isn't uncommon to turn the corner of a basic-looking skyscraper and find a tropical patch of trees and bushes where a typical boring alleyway would be. The variety increases as a player makes their way across the vast open world (no loading screens after the first, by the way), allowing them to encounter everything from toxic green puddles to vast stretches of clean water. Getting as vertical as possible gives an impressive overview of a world that stretches far off into the distance. 

It didn't take long for the original Crackdown to turn away from "that game we had to buy to get a Halo 3 beta code" and into something much more—the gameplay then was that unique and refreshing. 

It's the same story here. After the story starts, players are once again turned free in a huge open space to do as they please. This can range from orb-hunting to tackling various challenges or, as most will do, experimenting with the combat against different enemy types. 

For those out of the loop, players can level-up a Crackdown agent's skill by collecting orbs. These orbs unlock various new abilities. Getting a little Mario-inspired action on to go after green orbs, for example, increases jump height and unlocks things like additional booster jumps. Shooting enemies unleashes shooting skill orbs, and throwing in some melee combat rewards the corresponding orb. Mowing down enemies in a vehicle or winning driving challenges increases the driving skill, which also grants access to better-leveled vehicles. 

Where Crackdown 3 shines and separates itself from the pack is not only the freedom to choose how to play, but that it never feels tedious. A player could grind for hours trying to grab as many green orbs as possible, but those will come organically enough through typical gameplay. It never feels like a player isn't powerful enough and the task at hand has to be shelved to grind experience, a common problem in games with level-gated features like Assassin's Creed. 

Nothing about the combat is complex, either. One trigger locks on to an enemy, another shoots. One button handles the jump, and a few later unlocks open up other buttons as movement options. One button handles melee attacks before a few modifiers get introduced. It is stringing all these together in a hectic environment against different enemy types where the fun really starts. 

Balancing skills is key against those different enemy types, though not a requirement. But certain enemies have resistances to different gun types. Players have a huge arsenal at their fingertips once they start picking up guns off enemies, with the best coming off bosses. Other than managing resistances to mow down enemies quicker, a system that lets the player target limbs creates some additional interesting wrinkles to combat, especially when fighting pesky shielded enemies. 

As longtime fans of the series know, there is incredible fun available via simple traversal too once the agility orbs start unlocking movement options. Leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper is a treat. General traversal can be frustrating at times, with it sometimes hard to tell if an agent will grab on to a ledge or be able to run up a wall. Camera wonkiness can also make it easy to mistime or outright miss jumps, particularly when different enemies are peppering damage across the screen. 

That small gripe aside, the gameplay in Crackdown 3 is a blast both in its freeform nature and in the way mastery can create memorable moments. While some will weigh it against other triple-A releases and slam the lack of initially promised destructibility, removing oneself from those prerequisites for a moment means enjoying Crackdown for once again mastering its niche. 

      

Story Mode and More

The opening cinematic to the Crackdown 3 story is hilarious and contrived at the same time. 

Players should realize from the start that this game doesn't take itself too seriously, and the humor throughout is exaggerated to the point of producing a chuckle, but never a cringe (see the failed attempts at humor in the Destiny 2 base game for cringe). The Narrator is back and commenting on what he sees to funny results, and the big baddies are funny in their stereotypical pursuits, which is all interwoven nicely into some comic book-style cutscenes. 

In short, the story boils down like this: The Terra Nova corporation led by big bad Elizabeth Niemand has overrun New Providence, and agents have to stop her. The end. 

Nothing fancy about it. Players have their massive skill sets from the original Crackdown wiped clean via a narrative device and get turned loose on the city to fight back. Niemand is shielded by several big bosses who have their own backstories and responsibilities within the evil organization. Ransacking those segments of the corporation lead to exposing the bosses, which in turn makes Niemand more exposed. 

The story isn't great by any means and isn't meant to be, but how it drives the action assuredly is. One of the bosses protecting the organization's leader runs the mining operation. Destroying several of those outposts draws him out. Another controls the transportation hubs across the city, and defeating the bosses at those makes her weaker too.

Every zone on the map a player can attack provides a percentage of possible success. It sounds like a bad level-gating mechanic but doesn't have the effect it seems to suggest—oftentimes blowing through a sub-50 percent chance area isn't overly difficult. Consider it more of a suggested way to progress through the map with the ultimate decision in the player's hands.

There are plenty of fun diversions across the city too outside of the story-based camps and orb-collecting. Driving challenges are available, and there are police stations where freeing prisoners strengthens the rebellion, which leads to organic fights between allies and enemies across the city. Shutting down propaganda towers requires scaling a variety of unique, massive structures. Not only is each one challenging, they are downright fun and a good test of a player's platforming skills, timing and aim. 

Checks and balances mean the action never stops too. Chipping away at the organization's power throughout the city will spur on retaliatory attacks. Hurling hurt at certain segments of the gang raises a threat level in a way similar to the star system in Grand Theft Auto. If the player's agent is wrecking the evil corporation's mining operation, for example, the head of that area is going to send his drones, mechs and infantry troops to put a stop to it. These threat levels cool off if a player slips away, but keep putting the hurt on them and it only gets more intense. 

As hinted, the acquisition of skills is varied and fresh, as is adding to a player's arsenal. Plucking guns off enemies means they are forever available, as are vehicles an agent decides to commandeer. Supply points throughout the city serve as fast-travel points and let a player pick from anything they have acquired.

And while some might stick with the Terry Crews-led cover agent, there are 20 agents available to players, each with their own look and feel. They have different skills and play styles too, so swapping out an agent at a supply point for another better equipped to handle the task in question adds some depth to the gameplay. 

With the game attempting to do so much at once, everything isn't bound to feel perfect. Outside of quips about traversal, driving feels mundane across most vehicles, and the targeting system can fall apart at times. One boss battle has way too much going on, which shows the problems with some of the environmental traversal and gunplay.

The city appears vibrant for the most part, but paying too much attention to the NPCs and driving behavior will lead to some bad revelations about what's going on in the background that players are usually too busy to notice. Similarly, limited time with the multiplayer was interesting, but the lock-on mechanics didn't make it feel like something players will come back to, not when the campaign is so great. 

Even so, the sheer scale of what unfolds over the course of a single play session is impressive. The game lends itself to being a blast as a pick-up-and-play title or one where mastery of the systems is waiting to be proudly displayed on social media. Sprinkle in a fun two-player co-op experience, and these positives somehow get kicked up another notch. 

        

Speedrunning Tips

Crackdown 3's final boss is available for killing as soon as players load into the game. 

Oh, the speedrunning possibilities. 

Ambitious speedrunners will gun for the boss right out of the gates, of course. Taking her down means traversing her gigantic (no really, the scale of it is staggering) tower that comes equipped with a vast number of defenses in place. 

Getting to the boss as a measly level-one agent without any orb-collecting or boss takedowns requires gaming the systems a bit. Chipping away at isolated enemies is key, as downing one and picking up their weapon permanently adds it to the inventory, making it selectable from a supply point. In other words, earning a rocket launcher and a few other powerful weapons during the ascent is not only possible but recommended. 

The traversal segments aren't impossible with a low agility skill, but they will take some skill. Triggering a wall-run up into another double jump is a must. Navigating poison by spamming the roll ability is the only way to get through certain parts. 

Playing the game normally removes some of these roadblocks on top of simply permitting the player new abilities and better skills. Taking down the robotic boss means fewer sentries spamming the agent during ascent. Taking down another boss removes the poisonous clouds. 

While taking down the boss right away will set world records, those who want to take a more traditional approach can as well. The key pursuit there will end up being world navigation. Grabbing as many supply points for fast travel and easily obtainable green orbs will be a must to solid run times. When all else fails, stealing a vehicle will be the fastest way to get from one point to the next. 

Individual players will have to decide which bosses, if any, are worth taking down. But certain area leaders have unique weapons that may come in handy when trying to slam through the game quickly. For example, one transport area boss drops a powerful laser rifle that causes burning to enemies. 

The race for world records should be interesting. Crackdown in 2007 created speedruns that went as short as 40 minutes and required taking down all the bosses throughout a map. That inspired almost a decade of speedrunning attempts, so the skills and creativity required to master this game could create another decade of entertainment in his area. 

               

Conclusion

Crackdown 3 is one of the best surprises of the year. Like the player's cast of agents, it was left for dead before raging back with new life and traits. 

The story for many will be what the game originally promised and the hype machine behind it, not to mention its first-party status. But putting that aside for a moment, what the game delivers is a refreshing open-world experience at a time when those are starting to become dull. Like Kingdom Hearts 3, it doesn't innovate too much and can feel like a last-gen title at times in terms of gameplay, though that isn't as big of a knock as it sounds. 

Allowing players the freedom to do whatever they choose, Crackdown 3 is hard to put down and one of those games where losing track of time is all too easy. Playing it never feels like a chore and nothing feels out of reach, and the game is perfect for both those who want a quick romp or to grind for hours. 

Despite falling short of its initial goals, there's something to be said for a solid, fun experience. Crackdown 3 is goofy, varied fun capable of standing out even in the heavy-hitting spring for monster releases. 

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