Score: 5.0/10 Platform: Xbox One, Windows PC Developer: Sumo Digital Publisher: Microsoft Studios Release Date: February 15, 2019 ESRB: M
As I played Crackdown 3, the long awaited third entry in Microsoft’s series of brutal police justice adventures, my daughter came and sat down on the couch beside me. She watched in silence for a few minutes, sucking on a salty seaweed snack. Then she said, “That looks like a really violent superhero game made for kids. Cool that the main guy looks like Terry Crews, though,” and got up and left.
I seriously considered simply publishing those two sentences and calling it a day, so perfectly do they capture the Crackdown 3 experience.
With its colourful, cartoon-like appearance, it does indeed look like a game made for kids. The preposterously architected city in which it is set — a ramshackle collection of oddly scaled futuristic freeways, towers, and plazas that hardly make sense even by video game standards — only heightens this impression. And the story that takes place inside this island metropolis — some nonsense concerning a corporate megalomaniac who blacks out municipalities around the world in order to get people to immigrate to her city so she can make more money — withstands about as much scrutiny as the plot of an episode of The Powerpuff Girls.
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To be fair, none of these elements are among the reasons why people play a Crackdown game. The franchise’s main draw has always been over-the-top superhero-style action. Players take on the role of ridiculously powerful police officers who can do things like throw cars at bad guys and punch people so hard they soar from one rooftop to another. These agents only get tougher as the game progresses, gradually earning new abilities across a range of disciplines, such as triple jumping and jet boosting to cross wider gaps and pounding the ground with a fist to cause splash damage to large groups of enemies. And the weapons are kind of ridiculous. I mean, an automatic rocket launcher? A wormhole gun? If you’re just looking for a variety of ways to mindlessly shoot folks and blow stuff up, you’ll find it here.
I don’t have a beef with any of this. Little of it is particularly original, but it can be good mindless fun. The controls are responsive, and we’re made to feel satisfyingly powerful and destructive. It’s a little weird that police officers would be so nonchalant about the collateral killing of whole groups of civilians while fighting a corrupt army — Judge Dredd seems downright cautious in the undertaking of his duties by comparison — but whatever. Crackdown players are here for a little smashy-smash, not to let pesky ethics get in the way of justice.
Problem is, even the spectacular action grows tedious in short order thanks to lazy mission design. It seems nearly everything we do is based on simple math. Kill X number of bad guys to make them retreat. Blow up Y number of power sources to unlock a door. Destroy Z number of this type of facility in order to draw out the next boss. It’s about as basic as it gets. And the side activities — collecting hidden orbs, rooftops agility races — are of a kind that felt old in open world games at least a decade ago. Unless you’re absolutely in love with the game’s mechanics, it doesn’t make for particularly compelling progression.
Many of these problems could have been mitigated to a degree had the designers injected a bit of personality into the proceedings, and Crackdown 3‘s trailers — starring the always loveable Terry Crews — made it seem as though the game was poised to do just that. Alas, the musclebound Brooklyn Nine-Nine star’s talent is squandered, as Crews’ performance as Commander Jaxon —just one of several playable officers — is relegated to a short opening story sequence and some in-action grunts, yells, and taunts. Would that Sumo Digital had leaned much more heavily into its — presumably quite costly — celebrity voice actor.
Outside the campaign — which can be played alone or with a friend in tow — is Wrecking Zone, a collection of team-based multiplayer modes and maps. I suspect this is where many players will end up spending the majority of their time, and not just because going up against unpredictable human opponents is a bit less mundane and repetitive than working through the story mode’s simplistic missions.
For starters, we’re given even greater powers, including the ability to smash through just about anything you see, from walls to entire buildings. With collapsing structures, an astonishing amount of verticality, and explosions going off constantly, it’s like watching five Iron Men take on five other Iron Men. Add in the ability to lock onto targets — which helps put less skilled players on par with more experienced ones — and earn limited overdrive boosts to increase your agility, strength, firearms, and explosive skills, and it can make for splendid pandemonium. Multiplayer feels a little lean at the moment with just a couple of modes and a handful of maps, but it will likely be fleshed out over time.
So, is Crackdown 3 worth grabbing just for a bit of eye-popping multiplayer havoc? Usually I’d say probably not. But with the advent of Xbox Game Pass — Microsoft’s Netflix-like subscription service, which provides access to first-party games the day they launch — subscribers have nothing to lose by downloading a game and seeing if it sates their appetites.
Non-subscribers, on the other hand, can do better things with $80 (like, say, get a six-month subscription to Game Pass). There’s a glut of terrific open-world action games out there, and Crackdown 3 doesn’t stand up particularly well to most of its competition.