Crackdown 3 Review: A Fun, Open-World Romp That's Stuck in 2007

Bullets rain down on me from every angle as I climb the towering structure toward the heart of Roxy, a corrupted AI that runs the city's transportation systems. My health depleting rapidly, I make a last-ditch effort to clear the area of killer robots. Without skipping a beat, I use my new agility and weapon skills to launch myself into the air and send a volley of explosives onto a group of unknowing androids. That buys me enough time to pick off snipers overhead and climb my way up to the evil computer while collecting those delicious, colored orbs along the way.

That near-death encounter is one of many satisfying sequences I experienced during my playthrough of Crackdown 3, the open-world action game first announced in 2014. Since its reveal, Crackdown 3 overcame countless delays and was worked on by multiple studios before it landed solely in the hands of Sumo Digital. We've seen games cycle through development hell only to be shelved after years of anticipation, which is why my romp through New Providence felt like a minor miracle.

It's also why I'm relieved to report that Crackdown 3 is as addicting as ever, thanks to its relentless action and familiar skill system. A colorful new world along with destructive environments (courtesy of cloud computing) give plenty of reasons to revisit Crackdown. However, after all these years, this latest release ultimately falls victim to the same pitfalls that its immediate predecessor encountered while failing to expand upon the formula that made the original Crackdown such an unforgettable experience.

A Lackluster Story Starring Terry Crews

The plot of Crackdown 3 does little more than provide a framework for why Terry Crews is blasting his way through a hostile metropolis. Commander Jaxon (played by Crews) is on a mission to liberate New Providence from a sinister corporation, Terra Nova, when his squad is shot out of the sky. Conveniently enough, Crews is the only survivor.

Between the over-the-top acting, obnoxious dialogue and plotless story, Crackdown 3 falls into B-movie territory, if I'm being polite. Worst of all, apart from an unforgettably bizarre opening sequence in which Crews' eccentric character gives Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Rod Tidwell a run for his money, Crews feels egregiously underutilized. It was immediately clear that Crackdown 3 wasn't trying to take itself seriously, which I reminded myself of every time I heard the game's macho narrator yell stuff like, "Whack, whack, mother****er."

Same Gameplay, New World

Crews is the star of the show, but you can choose from a list of cybernetically enhanced crime fighters to play as, each with their own unique attributes. No matter which character you select, your goal is to flush out Terra Nova's kingpins and liberate the city from its ruthless leader, Elizabeth Niemand.

First, you need to expose lower-level targets by completing a series of objectives that are unique to each boss; most of those goals involve clearing and capturing points. Before I could eliminate the transit boss, Roxy, I had to take control of multiple monorail stations. Similarly, the Chimera-harvester Reza Khan didn't become vulnerable until I clogged up enough of his mining stations. Once you take out these underlings, you work your way up Terra Nova's corporate ladder until you reach Niemand.

The missions, which you can complete with a friend via "drop-in, drop-out" co-op, are scattered throughout New Province, a city that serves as the setting for this open-world game. While Crackdown 3 isn't the most graphically impressive game of the past few years, I grew to appreciate its Borderlands type of aesthetic. The city itself is expansive and varied. I went from killing scientists in a rocky mining site to climbing a skyscraper in the center of a neon-lit city akin to the Los Angeles depicted in Blade Runner. A useful map lets you set pinpoints and tells you your chances of survival for each mission or boss encounter.

There is plenty to do in New Providence, but I wish there were more variation in the missions; most devolve into clearing away enemies in order to take out a power source. One standout objective requires you to climb towers throughout the city to disable propaganda broadcasts. Despite some clumsy climbing mechanics, the mission provided a rare break from being shot at.

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It's a good thing, then, that taking out enemies in Crackdown 3 never grows stale. Crackdown 3 is so addicting because of the variety of skills and weapons you can use, which make up for the game's archaic shooting mechanics.

Like its predecessors, Crackdown 3's gunplay uses a lock-on mechanic. As long as your sights are set near the enemy, your weapon will follow them. As a result, shooting hordes of bad guys doesn't require much precision. A relic from the Xbox era, the gunplay could have benefited from some minor adjustments; it was frustrating when my gun locked onto a vehicle that was parked nearby or behind the enemy who was blasting away at me.

Crackdown 3 is so addicting because of the variety of skills and weapons you can use, which make up for the game's archaic shooting mechanics.

That's not to say surviving a firefight is easy. It's not, especially in the latter half of the campaign, when you're surrounded by hundreds of enemies who are seemingly firing at you from everywhere. Your only hope of surviving these onslaughts is to use a full arsenal of abilities and weapons.

Weapons, Vehicles and Those Precious Orbs

This brings us to the core of what makes the Crackdown games stand out from other third-person shooters: orbs. Yes, the colorful, glowing spheres you spent countless hours collecting in Crackdown are still the series's bread and butter. For the uninitiated, collecting orbs improves your five skill categories: Agility, Strength, Firearms, Explosives and Driving. The type of orb you retrieve depends on the method you used to down an enemy — knock them out for red Strength orbs or shoot them for blue Firearms orbs. When you've collected enough of the same orb, you'll level up your skills and unlock a new ability.

Unfortunately, Crackdown 3 doesn't do much to expand upon a clever concept we first saw 12 years ago. There are still only five levels for each skill category, and many of the abilities are leftovers from the previous games. Collecting these orbs is still a lot of fun — especially agility orbs, which are hidden throughout the map — but the core gameplay doesn't deviate much from the original Crackdown.  

The same goes for weapons and vehicles. Crackdown 3 has a diverse set of weapons, from a bioweapon that melts enemies to rocket launchers that fire a volley of rounds and inflict lethal splash damage on a gathering of enemies. There is a certain satisfaction in selecting the right weapon loadout to deal the most amount of damage to your foes. However, as inventive as some of these weapons are, they are missing some modern features, like the ability to be upgraded or customized.

Wrecking Zone Multiplayer Mode

One part of Crackdown 3 that doesn't feel stuck in the past is the massively destructible environments that are featured exclusively in the game's Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode. Wrecking Zone is a 5-on-5 game mode in which two teams score points by downing enemies. The mode launches with three different maps, each with its own theme. And yes, there are orbs, although, in this case, they are used to unlock a special attack.

Using Microsoft's Azure cloud to harness the equivalent processing power of 12 Xbox Ones, Wrecking Zone allows you to plow through walls and shoot through structures in order to track down enemies or break their line of sight.

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Unfortunately, Wrecking Zone isn't very fun. I felt that I'd experienced all the game mode had to offer after just 30 minutes of playing. Yes, buildings and structure crumbled as promised, but their destruction lacked substance. Firing a missile at a skyscraper resulted in a bunch of geometric shapes falling weightlessly to the floor as if the game was still being developed. But what ultimately lets down Wrecking Zone is the sheer lack of content. There are only two game modes: Agent Hunter (elimination) and Terrorities (capture), and no progression system. I can't think of a good reason to continue playing Wrecking Zone, especially with so many other compelling free multiplayer experiences sprouting up.

Even worse, Wrecking Zone doesn't support parties at launch. It's not clear why this basic functionality wasn't included at launch, but Crackdown 3's official Twitter page says party support will be added in the future. 

Bottom Line

Despite Crackdown 3's development snags, Sumo managed to produce a polished game that's set in an exciting new world. But while I had lots of fun gathering orbs and using outlandish methods to obliterate enemies in Crackdown 3's campaign, it's hard to overlook how similar the game is to its 12-year-old source. We're now two sequels in, and I can't help but feel that the brilliant gameplay elements introduced in the original have yet to reach their full potential.

If you enjoyed the original Crackdown, then Crackdown 3 won't disappoint you. However, if you don't feel compelled to revisit the franchise, then feel free to skip Crackdown 3. But, if you're part of the majority of gamers who haven't spent hours gathering colorful orbs and are subscribed to Xbox Game Pass, then Crackdown 3 is a no-brainer. Otherwise, save your $60 and download the original — after all, the game was free on Xbox at the time of this review.

Credit: Xbox Game Studios