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.”
RND/ to consider poor old Rage 2, as perhaps the worst videogame of modern times – one crying out for a new theory of Hollow Videogaming to explain its particular deficiencies.
A fascinating example of a global industry long gone to creative pot and perfectly content to sit on its distinctly minor laurels, imagine Rage 2 as the digital equivalent of taste free Styrofoam Packing Peanuts; the epitome of safe, by-the-numbers design by neckless committee – the apogee of lazy and cynical Corporate Gaming Culture. Yet do not lament for its D.O.A appearance, nor its near-instant passing.
Mechanically speaking of course, its movement system and moment-to-moment gunplay seem perfectly tuned to standard AAA sub-standards. While decidedly ordinary and mindlessly repetitive (read: normalized), these systems easily pass for what’s commonly termed Fun(TM) by wandering, easily impressed ‘PC Master Race’ hordes. Rinse and repeat till you finally uninstall due to Terminal Boredom.
Blowing up spanner dumb baddies with rockets – unloading round after predictable round of shotgun ammo while in ‘overdrive’ mode into blank, expressionless faces of idiot A.Is somehow remains interesting throughout the short length of the main single player campaign. It has to be – there’s almost nothing interesting about any other aspect of the world presented. As a fragmented whole far less even then the sum of its dull, listless parts, Rage 2 feels like a vast, open world stuffed full of.. nothing much in particular.
To say this game and others like it “doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel” seems a cosmic scale understatement. It’s a long abandoned sandbox in a post apocalyptic playground, casually littered with a few dried lumps of mutant dog crap and crushed beer cans – their ancient corporate logos scoured away by the dust of digital time and the synthetic ravages of game engine sunlight. As though every element of the game merely dropped in, right out of the Digital Void – or was simply pinched off, straight out of the industry’s dark arts.
Users often report crashes to desktop, while repeatedly sighing like unwell wood pigeons. Day one patches abound. Before release, the trailers are pure AAA, hyped up ‘bullshots’ – in game Rage 2 often looks smeary, flat, largely free of geometric detail (bring back megatextures, all is forgiven!) and amazingly devoid of anything approaching Life, Emotion – or Meaning. A barren gaming wasteland, listlessly explored in a little armoured beep-beep mobile, wondering why the heck you pre-ordered (while waiting for Doom Eternal, Halo Master Chief Collection or Keanu Cyberpunk 2077 to arrive.) In the meantime, there’s yet another wastey bandit camp for you to clear out to the deep virtual north of here.
Remember those Super Ultra Generic cans of quality consumer digestibles seen in the Alex Cox’s cult punk road movie Repo Man (1984) which just said “FOOD” on the label? Well, consider Rage 2 in the exact same hopeless category. The helpful phrase ‘naff’ describes it well; a UK term indicating something is of poor quality; dull, flat, deficient. (Think of some cheap widget brought off Ebay that breaks within a week, some small plastic bit snapped off forever.)
Despite the use of awful Andrew W.K whiteboy music, Rage 2 is about as edgy and hardc0re as Your-Dad, a game nobody asked for – and yet still somehow didn’t even really arrive, even as it limped on and then instantly off our collective memory screens. Just view recent Steam Charts for desperate, saddening proof. It’s the long tale of a dead rat.
The only reason it seems to exist, is that by now it’s pathetically easy for companies to throw violently uninspired games like this together, and then (apparently) make easy polystyrene profits. One can imagine the design brief, tacked to the corner of some poor, half Crunched to death gamedev’s monitor screen – “Wacky Post Apocalyptic Something Loot Shooter.” (Even so, Gamesindustry.biz reports that, comparatively speaking Rage 2 is selling about half what the original did, despite the increase in digital sales.)
As regards artfully chosen aesthetics and coherent overall art direction, at least the original Rage had some – unlike Rage 2, where precise, considered design has been replaced wholesale by garish neon hues and dumb spiky hairdos. (Most NPC’s look like Keith Flint [rip] after a heavy night out on the sauce.) Someone’s making a killing in post apocalyptic hair gel! Fetishistic dystopian nuke porn for a generation all but undead from exposure to the gamma radiation of pre-order hype. (*Cough* I returned my virtual copy within half an hour.) Despite expressing what Jim Sterling disliked about Metro Exodus – that it was hopelessly cluttered and extraneously detailed to near-Baroque levels, featuring “immaculately detailed rust” – at least the original Rage clearly indicated that, at least someone somewhere was honestly trying their best.
With Rage 2 however, the overall tonal deafness and disjunction is complete. It looks and feels like it was thrown together almost automatically, via Algorithmic Google A.I Hive Mind Tech. The visual results are at worst, amazingly banal but at best express a kind of lonely, hollow kitsch. As though the entire game’s universe is simply milling about. Much like its NPC’s. Disconnected fiddling. ‘Faffing’. Permanently idling. Waiting around for a player to come and put it out of its miserly misery with multiple bullets. Truly, a game both from and of a digital post apocalypse.
Several places in Rage 2 remind one of PUBG’s desert map Mirimar – but instead of a timeless desolate beauty, their simply non-places, disappointing loot-deficient cubes.
With Rage 2, the desperate illusion of a dynamic, breathing world has finally come to rest, utterly spent and wasted by the side of the Mad Max highway to videogaming oblivion. It’s a toothless dog that’s crawled under the porch to die, alone and unloved. From this point on, there’s an argument to be made that Rage 2 symbolically stands as the ultimate in abandoned movie sets – half built and jerry-rigged, stuck together with sun melted duct tape and cheap cans of neon paint. (Even now, you can still hear the bearings rattling inside the cans, fading into the silently howling digital desert night winds.) Rage 2 as the static between dead stations, now and forever offline.
Of course, the best-worst aspect of the Rage 2 experience must be the endless (false) need to keep running forward, endlessly scooping up those fucking blue Feltrite Cells (health shards) dropped by recently killed enemies. Naturally these disappear almost instantly, and so must be proactively collected like crack vials. This exactly mirrors 2016’s “Doom Lite”, giving players back health with each kill, thereby forcing them to wade into the fray, like Mario collecting coins. Deliberately putting oneself in harm’s way, chaining – kills like empty, unwashed milk bottle days between – because such action directly feeds into the game’s focus on constant movement as raw AAA corporate videogame consumption.
This is a naked gambling mechanic which seems inspired by the repeated pull of Las Vegas slot machine levers. A straight up dirty psychological tactic, designed for short and long term reinforcement and guiding behaviour, a form of ‘learning’ about dopamine-potential-spike like rewards. In terms of raw disgust, it has to be up there with using Deliberately Slow Walking Speeds to pad out play time (eh, Metro Exodus?) Anything, anything at all to keep us gaming and our attention off the fact we’re being actively diverted from all that truly matters. From the plain fact Rage 2 doesn’t matter in the slightest (and most certainly doesn’t give a single rusted bottle cap about us.)
The two dimensional dialogue of Rage 2 ‘characters’ is amazing – like listening to the inner cringe inducing psychic ramblings of mildly coked up strangers in some try-hard XPox 360 game lobby. Someone disposable (with bad lip sync) yelps “There’s plenty more where that came from. I’m telling you. This is the big one.” To which the listless response is “Alright, then let’s go fuckin’ get some.” Yea. Certainly the kind of quality AAA Industry writing that gets anyone pumped for the action to come! And ooh boy does it ever go on, especially in cutscenes, the first of which players encounter in a sealed vault has them breaking fingernails in attempts to claw the front door open, trying to escape what might be termed an ‘unskippable, unending inquisition by turgid narrative exposition’.
As Danny Brown says or rather screeches in one of Rage 2’s bizarre trailers, “Ain’t it funny how it happens?” To which the answer is no Dan, not really. It didn’t happen by accident but was designed that way. It seems the only point of Rage 2 is to help combat gamer insomnia. Perhaps passing poly-dimensional alien anthropologists from the impossibly distant psychedelic future will eventually pry open the dusty, long-abandoned ark of ‘our’ Corporate Gaming Culture and scratch their elegant insectoid heads in bemusement at this oh-so slight, kinda pathetic 21st Century example of Brainless Digital Fun. Hopefully they will then unceremoniously seal the ark for good, and have no trouble at all forgetting about its existence – and the oh-so safe, dull and hyper derivative product contained within.
Observant players will notice the high numbers of store front mannequins dotted around Rage 2’s blandscape, many of which sport broken televisions (maybe oldschool computer monitors?) on their idiot heads; could there be any more accidentally on-the-nose symbol of this game’s pathological uselessness – perhaps of gaming’s profoundly un-profound cosmic uselessness as a whole?
Expect to pay no more than 20 dollars when it comes out on sale, fished from the bottom of some dusty Digital Walmart bargain bucket – a mummified rodent, partially covered in pink spray paint. A dead land of bone tired existential waste and impotent ‘rage’ indeed.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images [..]
– The Waste Land by fascist T.S. Eliot