Crackdown 3 Review

Crackdown 3 lets you play as an action superhero star, leaping tall buildings in a single bound as you systematically take down a mega corporation and yet, I’ve found that sentence far more exciting than the actual game.

Crackdown 3 quickly glosses over the games that brought it here (especially Crackdown 2). The mutant-infested island of Pacific City has been swapped out for a new megacity on an island after a terrorist attack literally knocks out all major cities by destroying their power sources. The Agency accuses Terra Nova, a mega corp that’d get along nicely with Umbrella, of the attack and launches a raid on their headquarters in New Providence, only to be all but eradicated. Thankfully, in a world where super science and futuristic technology reigns supreme, the player-controlled Agent is brought back to life by a burgeoning resistance movement inside New Providence and uses the Agency to expose the numerous human rights violations committed by Terra Nova under the leadership of its cutthroat CEO, Elizabeth Nemand.

All this makes for a great elevator pitch. I mean, what’s more fun than unleashing a super soldier with a limitless supply of guns on a bunch of evil doers? In practice, however, Crackdown 3 suffers from a visible lack of originality. The hours I spent running, jumping, collecting orbs and shooting my way through New Providence shared an uncanny resemblance to my playthrough of 2005’s Crackdown, a game that most people - let’s face it - played because of the Halo 3 beta. That’s not to suggest Crackdown was a largely inferior product. On the contrary, it was pretty fun! Hopping across Pacific City, especially with a friend, made for a great time and was probably responsible for establishing my on again/off again Pavlovian response to doing everything an open world game has to offer. The run-and-gun combat was effective and the gradual evolution of the player character’s driving, agility, and combat abilities over time made for a dynamic gameplay experience. I suppose, then, it makes sense that Crackdown 3 goes out of its way to lean hard on same mechanics, thereby replicating the experience of the 2005 game. Transplanted to a new island city, you’re still running, gunning, and hunting down Agility orbs so you can run and gun more effectively. Nothing hasn’t changed much but at least the game’s antics have  a more defined sense of purpose.

Your adventures in New Providence are structured kind of like Mafia III. As an Agent, you’ll take down Terra Nova by drawing out the leaders that make up the company’s major captains, killing your way up the corporate ladder. This means attacking targets of opportunity across the corp’s three main operational branches: Logistics, Industry, and Security. These targets take the form of industrial complexes, prisons, and vehicle storage facilities waiting to be blown up in exchange for intel on the branch targets. Many of these isolated combat encounters are designed the same, making the game feel overly repetitive. Logistics sees you taking over monorail stations that are identical to each other. Industrial has you destroying a machine or opening up a central valve by either taking out drills or blowing up storage tanks. Security is all about destroying Terra Nova vehicles and freeing people from street corner prisons. The bottom line is that Crackdown 3 is held back by a protracted feeling of sameness.

Destroying all of the targets in a particular branch opens up the path to a large scale boss fight that is either a one-on-one encounter or a drawn-out environment-based assault. And once the target has been defeated, you’ll do it again for the next tier of Terra Nova bosses. It’s easy to fall into a groove and it didn’t take long for me to realize that you don’t have to care about what’s going on. All that matters is pointing yourself towards an objective, shoot it until it blows up, then move into the next to do it again. You can do anything you want here and tackle missions in any order, so any sort of “structure” to the game is rendered rather meaningless. Eventually, I found myself putting on headphones to catch up on podcasts and listen to audiobooks because I didn’t need to pay much attention to what was going on beyond shooting stuff to bits.

That in itself is a problem in light of Terry Crews’ voice and likeness being licensed. As the face of the game, I was really looking forward to Crews’ brand of wacky, oddball hypermasculinity. The cartoony antics of the Crackdown series feels made for him and I was down for all manner of quips, over-the-top screaming, and funny one-liners. Beyond the game’s opening cutscene, I thought that Crews’ involvement feels wasted overall. This is because you’re allowed to switch between a number of non-Terry Crews avatars that all animate the same way. Additional Agent skins can be unlocked by tracking down DNA samples, all of which have pretty generic voices. Why go through the trouble of paying Crews to participate and not use him to his fullest potential? He has one-liners in the game but they tend to play against the cacophonous din of explosions and gunfire, making them almost impossible to hear. I caught snippets of dialog whenever I punched enemies apart instead of shooting them and even then the dialog was hard to catch.

Audio problems extend to the rest of the game. Like the first Crackdown, the soundtrack barely exists. You’ll get pulse jolting and bass-heavy thumping tracks during combat encounters but your adventures in traversing the city, either on foot or in a vehicle, is always accompanied by an awkward silence that desperately needs to be filled either by a overworld theme like in Spider-Man or a collection of irreverent radio stations a la Grand Theft Auto. Just give me something! The crowd dialog and vehicle sound effects are boring and generic, instilling an overall sense artificiality and lifelessness to this supposed thriving megacity. Were it not for the inclusion of Terry Crews and the return of Michael McConnohie as the Agency director, Crackdown 3 would be devoid of any meaningful personality.

All that said, Crackdown 3 is not without fun. The story is forgettable but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the action. Furthermore, the map is completely open from the start of the game and there’s no stopping you from going wherever you want. Taking on the city’s verticality means hunting down those delicious Agility orbs, a practice that’s still more fun than it has a right to be. Also, major conflict zones include a “chance of survival” percentage that lets you see how hard or easy the battle can be based on your current ability stats. Taking out those industrial, logistical and security facilities also increases your chances. Like the original game, your Agent’s ability to do things evolves dynamically as you collect orbs. Taking out the city’s twelve propaganda towers is easy at first but only by collecting Ability orbs will you successfully climb taller towers riddled with hazards. Boosting your driving skill eventually grants access to a sweet Agency vehicle that moves fast, handles great, and even transforms! The upgrades to the character evolve naturally and while the early game might seem sluggish and a little unrefined, you’ll grow to love how the character’s abilities change over time.

At the time of this review, the destruction-based multiplayer mode was unavailable to play. Despite its cartoony approach to madcap violence and destruction, the original Crackdown had little in the way of environment destruction. Crackdown 3 takes it a half step forward by giving you things to blow up during the combat engagements, such as big, bulky machinery and oil tanks. The bulk of the shooting is done against the enemies that make up the three arms of the Terra Nova corp, such as armed security agents, robots, and huge piloted mech suits. Weapons, from pistols and singularity grenades to rocket launchers and plasma rifles, are collected by picking them up from the dead or special terminals. Any weapon you collect is automatically saved to your arsenal that can be switched out by taking over supply points which double as respawn zones if you die. Crackdown 3 gets a bit more technical with its weapon types, making certain enemies more susceptible to specific guns, forcing you to strategize your loadouts a little bit.

In the end, Crackdown 3 isn’t a bad game. It’s just... fine. It’s largely inoffensive, the combat is generally OK, the driving is harmlessly average. Graphically, the game looks alright and retains the finely cel-shaded look adopted by the 2005 game. It’s a fun enough to spend a couple hours with at any given time, be it hunting orbs or taking down Terra Nova facilities. I imagine it’d be even better with friends, being one of those games that’s fun to meet up and just goof around for a little bit. The thing is, though, Crackdown 3 feels stuck in 2005. Hero-based open world games, like Spider-Man, Just Cause, hell, even Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto, have either pushed the genre further in their own ways or made playing around in sandboxes fun, fast, and thrilling. Crackdown 3 isn’t bad, it just drives aggressively down the middle of the road.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.