CRACKDOWN 3 is not great. It has a myriad of issues, technically speaking, and the gameplay loop is simple, repetitive, and over 10 years old. But aside from all of that, it manages to be fun as hell and generally something that isn’t to be taken seriously, and is the most “video gamey” thing I’ve played in a good while.
You already know what the game is about. A big bad corporation controls the city, and it’s up to you to take them down one stronghold at a time. This typically involves navigating the generic, metropolitan open world and completing various activities to “free” the populace, usually accomplished by blowing up a highlighted building or shooting some highlighted dudes. Think Far Cry, if they removed any compelling missions, cinematics, or narrative.
Players have numerous tools to dole out violent justice and incite rebellion in a futuristic city controlled by a ruthless government. Gameplay is fast, if not simplistic, but gives the player true power to grow and evolve through exploration. Much like the original Xbox 360 title, the player upgrades their various skills and powers by using them in the open world and by completing challenges. The only way to jump over a building is to slowly find as many green orbs placed throughout the environment.
There’s also the much-hyped “cloud-powered” destruction engine that got heavily dialed back prior to launch, and that is best left ignored. The technology is certainly impressive, with its incredible destructive environment, but is now completely relegated to the perfunctory multiplayer mode. The simple deathmatch presets are so bland and generic that I doubt any real thought went into its design, and because of this, the advanced physics here are completely undersold by poor implementation. Matches quickly devolve into Agents awkwardly jumping over rubble, getting caught on wreckage, and clumsily trying to navigate the cluttered mess. It only took a few matches for me to get frustrated with the whole ordeal and hop back into the single player.
CRACKDOWN 3 feels like a game from a simpler time, largely because it is. The original CRACKDOWN came out when open world titles could skate by purely on mindless action and explosions, and the series hasn’t bothered to evolve from there. There is fun to be had, but very little depth and nothing that surprises.
“Fun” is the operative for the entire experience. CRACKDOWN 3 is shallow, devoid of a compelling narrative, and doesn’t do anything to reinvent the open world or third-person shooter genre. But it is also a game that lets me play as a super cop that can leap over buildings, blast cars apart with grenade launchers, and launch enemies a hundreds of feet into the air with a seismic cannon.
If that’s the case, why am I and every other video game critic disappointed? After all, CRACKDOWN 3 is everything it promised to be. It’s not entirely the game’s fault that we’ve set the bar so high. The problem is that CRACKDOWN 3 does not exist in a vacuum. And the landscape of the video games industry has evolved and grown tremendously in the years since the original game launched on the Xbox 360. The games produced today, and the audience that plays them, have matured greatly in that time. And this idea is only worsened by the wait for a true exclusive AAA for Microsoft’s powerful console.
CRACKDOWN 3’s greatest sin is that it exists in the same market as first-party juggernauts like GOD OF WAR, BREATH OF THE WILD, or HORIZON: ZERO DAWN. Suffering numerous delays and constant reveals and trailers, CRACKDOWN 3 has been showcased alongside each of these critical and commercial hits, and fans could only sit tight and hope the hype would be worth it. Owners of the Xbox One have eagerly been awaiting a game that can hold up a true contestant in this battle between consoles, but CRACKDOWN 3 is simply the latest in a line of Xbox exclusives that have neither the ambition or capability of filling that role.
What’s worse, this mythical system-seller will only need to be bigger and better the longer Xbox owners have to wait for its release. Xbox One exclusives are rare enough that it’s a news story each time one comes out. But here we are, barely a month after the launch of CRACKDOWN 3, and nobody is talking about it. It came and went as if it had never even happened. And unless it had become a Halo or Gears, it might as well have not.
But having played the game and seen various threads and reviews tearing it to pieces, I can’t help but think the game was never offered a fair chance. Sure, the game is outdated, but even had it lived up to the hype, even if it had excelled as a Far Cry competitor, it wouldn’t have mattered. CRACKDOWN 3 was doomed to fail simply due to the perfect storm of the expectations set for its console and the competition from others.
Perhaps that says something about the AAA video game industry as a whole. After all, at no point in any of the marketing for CRACKDOWN 3 was it sold as anything but a simplistic third-person shooter with mild RPG mechanics to unlock superhuman powers. Any other expectation was forced upon the game by players who have been spoiled by too many good things in recent years.
A decade ago, games were released and were either heralded as masterpieces or left in bargain bins at the local Gamestop. With the advent of social media and the growing influence of journalists, the industry has evolved and production has only grown more expensive. CRACKDOWN 3 had to be a marvel, or else it would have been declared a failure simply because that market didn’t want to need a fun super cop romp. Microsoft doesn’t need a “fun experience.” It needed a system seller, or a service seller if you consider their Game Pass.
CRACKDOWN 3 is neither of those things.
That alone shouldn’t make it a bad game. The lack of ambition or follow-through should be criticized, but is not overtly malicious like so many third-party endeavors these days. CRACKDOWN 3 was a game that cracked under the pressure of an audience clamoring for the Xbox’s answer to MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN or SUPER SMASH BROS ULTIMATE. Instead, they got a game that immediately feels dated, as if designed for a market that’s a generation old. It’s a conundrum that is unsurprising in hindsight, considering that even a decade ago the original only really became popular due to coming bundled with the HALO 3 multiplayer beta.
But for a few dollars, any gamer can acquire a Game Pass and try it for themselves. And that feels like the way it should be enjoyed, already on a budget, without any preconceptions. Just you and Terry Crews causing mayhem and serving justice, by any means necessary, without having to worry about just how green the grass is on the other consoles.