Crackdown 3: a game of empty, clockwork megacity sadness
RND/ consider a mashup of online review transcripts and edited Loltube video footage to express the empty, clockwork megacity sadness of Crackdown 3:
In which Crackdown 3 has had a bumpy ride full of delays and studio departures, and now after everyone from developers to consumers has finished and done with the final product, it’s all too clear that something went very wrong.
While the bright lights of neon techno-tinged New Providence might seem attractive from afar, the city feels small, hollow, and incredibly bland. It’s a shock to play any game in Crackdown 3’s condition that’s been in development for so long, especially one created exclusively for Microsoft. There are multiple playable agents, but after such a lengthy advertising campaign, selecting anyone but Terry Crews aka Commander Jaxon, feels like a waste. He’s the only recognizable face, and his pseudo humorous outbursts provide the only deadpan chuckle-worthy moments in the game.
You’re sent to this island metropolis to shut down Terra Nova, a private militia run by the psychotic female badguy cliche Elizabeth Niemand. There are brief, crap 2D cut-scenes that give you as little story as possible; the rest of your direction comes from bullshit waypoints and idle radio chatter. Director Goodwin returns from the previous Crackdowns to cheer you on, along with Echo, the refugee-turned-rebel. Good grief. Once you get past the first area, you’re set loose in New Providence to complete the map’s checklist in whatever order you choose. In short, busywork.
Finishing each category of missions brings one of nine bosses out of hiding, eventually leading you to the top brass of Terra Nova. There are a few recordings you can track down and listen to, but they rarely offer new details about the world, merely giving the villains a chance to speak and granting a bit of XP. The near complete lack of an evolving plot or even a base of operations to return to, makes jumping around the map the entirety of the experience. It may seem unfortunate that there’s so little structure, but there’s certainly something to be said for a city-based open-world action game where you just sprint and shoot and cover as much ground as you can. But what, exactly?
The issue may be that there’s so much else going wrong here that even the minute to minute carnage loses its impact after a while – roughly thirty seconds to a minute and a half. Once you take over one of Terra Nova’s locations, like a defense turret or a toxic pipeline, the rest in that district will be labelled on the map. You can focus on one area to hunt down a specific boss, or take off and go to war with whatever nonsense ambles your way. There are also samples of agent DNA you can recover to unlock more characters, poisonous canisters to destroy, and races both on-foot and in vehicles. Woo fucking hoo.
The objectives at each location are repetitive and they can be confusing because specific terminals aren’t always highlighted right away, forcing you to hop around and guess what the game’s asking you to find. Some of these map missions rewire the city to work in your favour. Releasing citizens from prison increases the chance you’ll see them fighting alongside you later on, and capturing monorail stations will unlock travelling turrets that back you up. The city also evolves depending on the order you choose to eliminate bosses, removing their forces from subsequent encounters and increasing your chances of l337 gaming success. Players will noticed these perks as the campaign wears on, but much like the entire game they feel more like set dressing rather than a feature that can really be engaged with, existentially, in any truly meaningful sense.
Your agent can level up in six categories: agility, firearms, strength, explosives, driving, and weeping to themselves internally. You soak up bullshit ‘experience orbs’ when you practice each of these activities, or earn a dose of all types of XP when you locate hidden orbs. Each time you step into a new car or pick up a new weapon, it’s added to a catalog of astoundingly useless items so you can request it later at Agency supply points. These markers also let you respawn or fast-travel. This system encourages you to keep seeking and destroying mindlessly, but gives you little freedom in how you level up your agent, and aside from weeping silently to oneself, the rest of the skills aren’t really necessary. They become an afterthought unless you want to gain access to crazier vehicles or spend time tracking down agility orbs to upgrade your idiot jumping.
Despite the emphasis on the destruction of dead time on planet Earth through playing brainless videogames, the platforming is actually what separates Crackdown 3 from most open-world shooters. Lots of rewards sit in hard-to-reach areas, like propaganda towers you have to climb one ledge at a time. Leaping between tall buildings can be challenging in a way that not many open-worlds experiment with, but there just aren’t any exciting places to visit. The city is entirely believable as an entirely unbelievable nonplace of charmless fakeness, lacking entirely enough style to more than adequately highlight the soul sucking emptyness of the waste-pits, empty freeways, and barren rooftops. (In this strict regard it’s kinda desperate and beautiful.)
Aside from some very tall buildings, high-speed railway lines, and dancing projections, Crackdown 3’s visuals on the standard Xbox One look like something that launched on the Xbox 360. It’s one thing to replace detail with a foul rainbow of neon and bright, dim explosions, but even this is a significant step below already low AAA Games Industry expectations. Muddy textures are always popping in, the framerate chugs every now and then and the character models are frankly embarrassing. Enemy types are simply mindless drones with stiff animations and zero personality, and they sometimes freeze in place or fail to respond when you shoot them.
The bosses are also dull, with only a few offering scenarios that differ from the standard missions. The map is tiny, failing to impress at first and second glance, and it doesn’t resonate in any way when the brief campaign is thankfully over. In that way it exactly mirrors and exemplifies modern (synthetic) life in and under the contemporary hyperreal spectacle of global videogame capitalism.
Like before, the entire game can also be played alongside another human agent online in co-op. Having a partner makes everything only 2-3.75% bit better, whether it’s spotting and eliminating tricky-to-find bad guys or causing a minor ruckus on the barren city streets. It’s up to you to make the most of co-op as not much was designed with a second player in mind, aside from races and supply points. Your buddy is there merely to goof around with and supply a bit of extra firepower.
If you want to challenge other agents, there’s Wrecking Zone, the first attempt at PVP in the series. Matchmaking places you in one of two modes on a team of up to 5 players. Agent Hunter is like Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed, requiring you to not only eliminate enemy team members, but to pick up the badges they drop to earn points. Territories is your basic conquest mode, continuously creating spots on the map for each team to capture and keep. Everyone’s l337 agility skillz are maxed out, and there are multiple air jets on each map that rocket you to higher ground. Deadpan-yea.
The series’ lock-on shooting comes in handy because agents can move so fast. Other than competitive multiplayer, the big difference between Wrecking Crew and the Campaign is the inclusion of environmental destruction. Most of the walls and platforms can be knocked down in large ugly clumps, clearing segmented parts of the map and giving you few places to hide. It’s supposed to look cool to see each area fall to pieces, but aside from filling up a meter for a super ability that you can also fill by picking up orbs there’s little strategy to demolition.
The maps are separate from New Providence, so you never get to cause similar damage to the actual city. Wrecking Crew is amusing for thirty seconds, but otherwise too chaotic. And with no progression system, there’s zero reason to keep coming back. Crackdown 3 is partying like it’s 2010, ignoring every advancement the open-world genre thinks it’s made in the past decade. The attempts at hu-mor and provocation are amazingly forgettable, and if it wasn’t for Echo and Goodwin prattling in your ear there’d be almost nothing but “absolutely nothing much” to any of it. Indeed, Crackdown 3 precisely excels at “almost nothing” – even in comparison to several of its more recently, pseudo-groundbreaking competitors. No matter how strong your agent can get or how much demolition you can cause, there are simply better cities to save.
In short, Crackdown 3 is an uninspired lazy retread of the original Crackdown, which The Industry might have gotten away with if this was 2007. This game just looks and feels like a budget basement title at best and not even a good-bad one at that. Just a bland mess of clunky physics and impact-free combat. Basically you’re just locking on and holding down a fire button until things are dead. The character floats around when you try and jump and it’s often hard to control – back in 2007 this kind of stuff was acceptable because it was all new and interesting and the open world marketplace wasn’t completely saturated.
As a hollow whole / hole, it’s just so rough and cheap and lazy looking – not lazily made as such, but rather its entire present universe feels so complacent – silently, violently uninspired – inert, lifeless and passive. Bog Standard Fun is all that’s on offer. Congratulations then to Crackdown 3 – the game that only exists to repeatedly tell players it doesn’t need to exist at all.
Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within
– Arthur Erickson, architect
The following gameplay video features quiet and lonely ambient music. Mechanical and dumb – welcome to an absurd, lifeless neon wasteland of aimlessly swirling virtual particles. Pew pew pew. Why, the pseudo-movement of brainless cellular automata crawling across an empty screen seem infinitely more interesting to look at. “Hey buddy you need to lite-en up and play Crackdown 3. It’s [/the?] shit.”
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