To say that Crackdown 3 has had a turbulent development cycle, would be a gross understatement as it was originally intended to launch sometime in 2016, almost 3 years before it actually hit the market. Piecing together different reasons and delays, it painted a clear picture that the game was struggling because it didn’t know what it wanted to be.
One day it was being called a cloud powered, destruction-heavy game, and another was relegated to only the multiplayer component. It wasn’t always clear what vision the game was aiming for. Even after the game has finally released, it struggles with that issue.
The main problem lies in its open-world approach which comes off as an half-cooked mixture of games like Saints Row and Middle Earth series, but it doesn’t really focus on a specific vision like them. In Saints Row IV for example, it was all about power and the overall objectives both story-led and side missions were designed with this in mind. Middle Earth’s key component was its Nemesis system that the game focused around, no matter what the other mechanics were.
Whilst the superhero similarities might make sense with Saints Row IV, you might be wondering why I mentioned the Nemesis system. Well, the thing is, the game basically pits you against an evil corporation, bent on controlling and abusing people. This organisation has a few different heads, some who overlook the logistics, whilst others overlook security. Regardless of what they do, they all have an equal hand in maintaining the corporation’s power.
These are basically the people the game asks you to take down, in order to open a pathway to the CEO, and as you might have guessed, they are presented in a hierarchical fashion similar to the Nemesis system, where you can uncover and learn more about these bosses. However, that is where the similarity ends, as neither is it as dynamic as the NS(Nemesis System), where one person overtakes another in real time, or as strategic, where you get an insight into your opposition’s weaknesses that can be exploited.
Most of the game is a rinse repeat effort to check off markers on a map, ultimately causing enough damage to draw out a battle with one of the antagonists. Due to its repetitive nature, I very rarely felt compelled to continue doing these objectives.
Not to mention, the movement isn’t really the best traversal system I have seen in games due to some odd design choices. Without going into too much detail, here are some of the things that manage to irk me about the overall movement controls.
First thing is the dodging, as even though you can do a dodge roll, it is based on where your character is facing, rather than where you are pointing your left stick. Making it much less precise in a situation where the enemy has surrounded you as it takes a few seconds for the animation to blend your character into the movement direction you are aiming for before it initiates any sort of roll.
Second, climbing is very restrictive. In a lot of aspects, Crackdown 3 feels like a last gen game with a shiny new coat of paint, harking to a time in gaming where due to limitations, you were given clear indicators as to what you could climb and couldn’t on a building, like in the first few Assassin’s Creed games where items were sticking out of structures that your character latched on to. It is the same here, but much less fluid.
What they should have done is have a continuous run up the wall, or Zelda-esque climbing mechanic where you could scale any building no matter how tall. It would have really worked well with the superhero mechanics, especially as games like Prototype and Saints Row IV have not only done it well but did so during the last generation.
In fact, if that is something that really isn’t testing well, maybe increase the wall run length, as the amount currently is low, which doesn’t really push you much up the wall. To be fair, if something is within range, your character does automatically jump towards it, but it would have been exhilarating to be able to run up further even when something isn’t in range, allowing you to reach more handhold items.
The level design does account for the jump at least, where most buildings are always within a jump or two’s reach, so the level designers did do a good job with the mechanics in mind. However, it could have been cooler if we could hold down the jump button and really get thrust up into the air, as even though your character does jump relatively high, it does not feel as powerful as it does in games like Saints Row or Prototype.
Lastly, there is no sprint button. Sure, there are cars, but cars unlike superheroes are tied to an unimaginative road system which they drive on. If I am playing as a superhero, I want to be able to run at super-fast speed, climbing and jumping my way to the objectives. This game doesn’t really give you that much control.
I didn’t have many issues with the shooting as it felt responsive for the most part, even allowing you to target specific parts of the body once you level up. It was a nice touch that does push on the superhuman element of the game. Same thing with the melee, it does feel good enough with a one button combo system, but it would have been nice if they explored it further by giving you more melee attack abilities.
As you can tell from the review so far, whilst it does try to do a lot of different things, they don’t all feel fully polished. I believe if they had a stronger vision for what they wanted to achieve with the combat and traversal, it would have been better. Now, I might be wrong and there might be a key design philosophy I am missing, but what it is, isn’t apparent enough.
The story whilst barebones is functional with some interesting characters, but this game does something I usually despise in singleplayer games, which is taking importance away from the character you are playing as, making them feel more like an avatar than an important protagonist. This is mainly since the NPCs have more of a back-story and personality than your character, making NPC’s feel less like supporting characters and more like the main ones. Therefore, I feel more games that let you choose who you want to play as should be fully voiced with set characters.
From the top of my head, if there was one implementation that could have really made the game much better, it would have been the destructibility they initially promised for the campaign. Just imagine being able to shoot holes into buildings and structures, toppling them along with any enemies on it. It would have really felt like you were toppling an empire. Alas, this is restricted to the game’s multiplayer mode.
Speaking of multiplayer mode, the game includes a multiplayer component which is separate to the campaign, with its own launcher. Cloud powered destruction is the star of the show in multiplayer allowing you to level structures across two different game modes. Agent Hunter is similar to kill confirmed from the likes of Call of Duty where you have to pick up a tag upon killing an enemy, whilst territories is basically a conquest mode where you have to takeover and defend objectives.
You are limited to a few weapons, with a slot for your primary weapon such as mini-gun, rifle or shotgun, and one for an explosive one. This balance allows you to target both players and structures around them. Destroying structures can be a key part of your strategy, especially in territories, preventing players from gaining any sort of unintended vantage point. However, this does make me wish the campaign had destruction as well, which would have easily helped me forget a lot of the game’s shortcomings.
The multiplayer mode can get really fun with structures and statues falling around you left and right, but it does make the game struggle a bit as I noticed quite a few framerate drops on my Xbox One X whenever the match got hectic. This does in turn mess with certain networking features, having effect on mechanics like movement and scaling.
Overall, the game might feel fun to play for a while, but monotony does set in rather quick once you realise that all you are doing is clearing your map repetitively in order to progress through the story. What is here is fully playable, but not as well as it should have been after years of delays and development. I have said this a few times now but will say it again that the game needed a stronger vision of what it wanted to be rather than trying to be a jack of all trades.
So whilst I can’t recommend it at full price, it does feel perfect for Xbox’s Game Pass. I just hope that it doesn’t mean this is the quality Microsoft starts aiming for, thinking people would play it on the game pass anyways.