Crackdown 3 Review

February 18, 2019

Originally viewed as a Halo 3 demo delivery device, the original Crackdown surprised many with just how fun it was. The verticality of the open world, combined with the superhuman abilities your Agent developed, led to a game where simple exploration became addictive and combat was explosive, Its sequel, Crackdown 2, was a rushed mess that went a long way to damaging the brand, and leading to a hiatus that lasted until Crackdown 3 was announced at E3 2014. Five years, and multiple delays later, Crackdown 3 is finally here, and while the moment to moment gameplay can be incredibly engaging, the rest of the game can only be described as bland and uninspiring.

The biggest reason for the love the original Crackdown received came from its over-the-top nature and how that flowed into its overall game design. Skyscrapers and apartment blocks towered around you, waiting to be scaled. Hordes of minions flung themselves at you, only to be dispatched with flurries of punches and hails of bullets. Tougher enemies charged you, as massive explosions hit them from grenades and rockets you shot, and cars you flung. It was a masterclass in designing a world around player mechanics, but today the game’s controls would be met with a grumble about how relatively cumbersome they feel. This is the one way that Crackdown 3 truly builds on and surpasses its precursors. Your Agent is incredibly responsive, turning on a dime without delay, and instantly moving at top speed. The introduction of a dodge roll makes you feel like you can alter the flow of a firefight with something other than bullets and bombs. For traversal, the air dash makes you feel even more agile in the air, while cars are built with extremely arcadey handling that is built around responsiveness and fun, as opposed to realism. Movement in Crackdown 3 is where the game truly shines, and I loved simply climbing buildings, dashing across rooftops and dodging enemy fire to get close enough to plant my fist into a minions belly.

Beyond the simple joy of its movement, Crackdown 3’s oft-extended and seemingly fragmented development begins to rear its ugly head. The most apparent of this being the combat encounters you’ll be tasked with taking on throughout the game. No matter the combat-based activity you’re performing, most encounters take on a simple flow- Enter area, be immediately shot at by 5-10 enemies, take them out while performing an objective of destroying x items, killing y special enemies or hacking z terminals, all while waves of reinforcements appear as even the smallest firefight causes an instant threat level escalation. The further you get into the game, the more numerous and tough the initial enemies become, which causes the threat level to escalate faster, resulting in more, and tougher, reinforcements, while still performing the same three actions. While some activities combine these elements together, there are only so many times you can fight 50+ enemies of increasing difficulty in a relatively confined space before you get bored. Now consider that to meet the games suggested completion levels prior to beginning boss battles you’ll need to do this same basic sequence at least a couple dozen times. Adding to the frustration is an auto-aim system that often though I was aiming at a barrel 50 metres away – instead of the enemy 2 metres from my face.

This frustrating combat design goes beyond the open world activities and continues into some of the worst boss encounters I’ve played in recent years. People often complain about bosses that simply feel like bullet sponges and lack interesting mechanics or hooks. In Crackdown 3, bullet sponges describe all but one of the nine bosses you’re tasked with taking out throughout the campaign. In fact, to go one step further, three of those nine are humans sitting in big mech suits, and another two are humans in weaponised/armoured vehicles. While it’s understandable that humans are unlikely to go to toe-to-toe with a genetically engineered super soldier, I feel that the possibilities for interesting boss battles in a technologically advanced world is much higher than what we see here. In fact, the most interesting boss battles come in the form of the more human adversaries you face. A teleporting boss who is constantly on the move, causing you to carefully time and pick your shots. Another features a series of platforming sections as you hack terminals and destroy release valves, eventually causing the bosses hiding spot to explode. Beyond these, the formula is the same for every boss encounter- slowly whittle away their health as they fire weapons that obliterate your armour and health in seconds, while also fighting off waves of summoned underlings. In a game based around making you feel like a superhuman killing machine, Crackdown 3’s boss battles make you feel like an ineffectual gnat.

In reality, while the combat design is frustrating, there are other elements to the game’s open world that are significantly more enjoyable. Agility orbs are back again, and they’re still incredibly fun to find and collect. Foot races push you to chain your movement abilities together to clear checkpoints in a race against time, never feeling unfair or cheap in the routes they take. Road races task you with completing a route/laps as fast as possible, with handpicked cars assigned to each to make sure you can’t break them with car faster than what the route was designed for. However, the best open world activity is easily the propaganda towers spread across the city. These present difficult platforming challenges, that task you with pushing your movement skills to the max to reach the tower’s top. Falling isn’t a death sentence either, with the game’s larger towers also including extremely welcome checkpointing that allows you to reset after a fall. This helps alleviate some of the nail-biting you’ll be doing as you try to nail jumps with pin-point precision. Crackdown 3 could have used more of these sorts of activities to help break up the monotony of the combat.

As you complete objectives, collect agility orbs, perform drifts and jumps, and murder any who dare oppose you, you’re earning experience orbs that go towards your five stats- Agility, Firearms, Strength, Explosives and Driving. As you level up each ability, you’ll gain new abilities and items, as well as general improvements. This includes unlocking the air dash with Agility levels, while also increasing your run speed and jump height. The improvements are noticeable, especially the agility and strength stats, and by the end of the game your Agent will feel totally different from the start. The Agent you select changes things as well, with each Agent receiving bonus experience and specific stats. Playing as Commander jaxon (Terry Crews’ character), I gained bonuses to strength and explosives, which mirrored my chosen playstyle. The constant improvements, along with the unlocked abilities and items, proved to be an engaging treadmill to walk, especially with the constant visual feedback you receive.

Something especially noticeable about Crackdown 3, is that the City of New Providence is incredibly densely packed with activities. However, this isn’t because there’s so, so much to do, but instead because of how small it is. While the verticality helps offset the small land footprint to a degree, the real issue with how small the city is that all of its activities are packed in much too tightly together. You’ll rarely go more than a block in the game without having something pop up to complete, which wouldn’t be as much of an issue if there was more variety in the activities, or you weren’t constantly being attacked by enemies. The biggest issue with the small world though, comes in the fact that the game still suffers from performance issues, audio glitches and a general lack of graphical fidelity. I had numerous occasions where the game’s sound would completely cut out or weird popping noises would come through, and had continued issues throughout the whole game with stuttering, frame rate drops and sometimes complete freezes. The game also isn’t amazing to look at, with the art style being a weird blend of realism and cartoony that doesn’t quite come together when viewed up close. There is a cleanness to the game’s world that is welcome, but many textures are lacking in the detail common seen today, enemy designs are busy to the point where detail disappears and there is a general lack of variety. Altogether, this isn’t what I would expect from a game that has had almost five years between its announcement and release.

All of this could be partially excused if the story of Crackdown 3 was interesting or engaging, but it really is anything but. The game opens with Commander Jaxon and a cohort of Agents on the way to infiltrate New Providence to take out the mysterious organisation Terra Nova that built it after wiping out power from across the World. Their intel turns out to be dodgy and they’re blown out of the sky, seemingly all dying- except for your chosen Agent who is rebuilt by the mysterious Echo. Echo reveals that she is also trying to restore peace to New Providence by overthrowing Terra Nova and returning power to the people. What ensues from this point on is small spurts of exposition as you face and defeat bosses, and not much else. I’ve seen more story in the opening hour of most other games, than in the entirety of Crackdown 3. There are allusions to a larger story throughout the game, but it ends without any form explanation or closure, clearly setting up a sequel or DLC that will contain more. As much as I love a mindless power fantasy, I would have liked to have a story that could fill more than a few sheets of A4 paper. This is especially true when you consider just how wild they could have gone, given the setting of the game.

The feeling of sparseness and missed opportunities continues into the multiplayer of Crackdown 3, Wrecking Zone. Wrecking Zone consists of two 5-person teams competing against each other in two modes, Agent Hunter and Territories. Agent Hunter is your run of the mill Team Deathmatch mode, except you need to pick up badges from the corpses of your enemy to confirm a point for your team, while Territories is a perfectly standard Capture mode, where you have to capture and hold areas for long enough to convert them into points. The unique hook across both modes is your mobility, deadly weapons and an incredibly vertical, destructible landscape. Gone is your standard double jump, replaced with a booster triple jump that allows you to quickly gain vertical momentum, and a double dash that helps you fling yourself between points, aided by jump pads across the maps. This verticality quickly loses its purpose though, due to the aggressive auto-aim the mode contains. While you can tell the instant an enemy locks on to you, you’re often dead to rights if they’re behind you, as the auto-aim means that almost any attempt to run is met with lead and explosives straight in the back. What I found tended to happen is that most firefights ended up on the ground, with the verticality largely ignored by players. This was the same with the destruction, which seemed inconsequential, and often accidentally used, as opposed to something that could be used to influence a match. Silhouettes appear as opposition players get near you, and vice versa, largely preventing any strategic use of of the buildings and popping out to damage an unsuspecting player. Combined with an unruly chaos to the mode as a whole –  given the collapsing buildings, flashy explosions and super-agile Agents – Wrecking Zone is a massive disappointment.

In the end Crackdown 3 feels like it needed more time in the oven, which feels insane to say considering how long ago it was announced. Beyond the movement, and activities specifically built around it, the game is a cluttered mess lacking in design variety that gets more frustrating the longer you play it. I couldn’t suggest buying Crackdown 3 to any but the most diehard of series fans.



- Movement and controls are on point
- Propaganda towers are challenging and fun


- Combat encounter design lacks variety
- Bosses are largely boring bullet sponges
- Art style doesn't quite come together
- World is small and cluttered
- Regular audio and performance issues
- Wrecking mode is chaotic, and not in a fun way

Overall Score: