There was a point where Crackdown 3 seemed to be one of those games that we never thought we'd actually see, like Shenmue 3 once was and the Final Fantasy VII remake still is. It's been talked about for so long and despite bombastic trailers at E3 featuring Terry Crews, it's still been a very long road with a lot of radio silence. We recently got invited to get our hands on the game for ourselves in London though, which made the long-awaited sequel just that bit more real.
Microsoft Senior art studios Dave Johnson gave a very humble opening speech thanking everyone for their time and stressing that the team had been working with their heads down to make sure Crackdown 3 lives up to its full potential, before eventually letting us loose on either campaign or multiplayer. We chose campaign first, since we wanted to sharpen up our skills before facing our fellow man (this wasn't the case, but more about that later).
We hopped straight into the thick of it as we dropped into the city map with no context at all. Well, there's one key bit of context - there is an evil organisation called Terra Nova, and you do what you can to either piss them off or destroy them. This city of New Providence is your Agent's playground as you control one of these super-powered warriors to deliver justice, one punch and explosion at a time.
As we wandered around we noticed that this was your typical open-world game, with the city and the art style reminding us a lot of Agents of Mayhem. You have your usual mix of foot races, car races, strongholds to take over, and added extras like freeing prisoners and destroying Terra Nova car depots. This is all in the name of disrupting the organisation's power to lure key members out and crush them, but it also works as a box-ticking exercise that'll be particularly important for achievement hunters.
One neat little feature here is that you can look at your map to see your survival chance for each activity, so you don't have to wander into a world of hurt straight from the start. Johnson did want to make clear though that nothing is gated off for you, and if you really want to try the big tough challenges right from the start you can.
You might want to upgrade your Agent before you do though, as we got to see how agility points increase your jump distance and make traversal a bit easier (something you'll want to do because climbing up everything is awkward and annoying). Getting new weapons is also a must as well since a pistol isn't going to cut it against armoured bad guys - you'll be needing a Cryo Shotgun or even a Grenade Launcher for that. Already we can see there are plenty of tools of destruction, and with three weapons available on the fly as well as a gadget like a grenade or a launch pad, variety is the spice of life. You can even upgrade your car as well, so it becomes a sort of spider-car that can jump around.
No matter which way you turn in the game there's always some quip being said or something to try and get a chuckle out of the player, and the narrator is constantly telling you what's what and whether you need to heal. Of course Terry Crews is there to bring the energy too, and the whole game is dripping with the kind of personality that we've seen peek out in previous games.
In fact, the overall feel is very over-the-top, especially since you can throw everything from cars to explosives and send people ragdolling around to your heart's content, hearing them screen as they go flying. It's packed with enemies to fight and stuff to do as well, so you never find yourself twiddling your thumbs and wondering where to go.
Once we'd had our fill of the campaign we headed over to the multiplayer. We mentioned earlier that we thought the campaign would prepare us for the multiplayer, but we can confirm we were 100% wrong. If the campaign mode is at a 9 when it comes to madness, multiplayer cranks it up to 11, which we found out instantly as soon as we customised our character and headed into what the developers call Wrecking Zone.
A lot has been made of the destruction enabled by the cloud technology Crackdown 3 uses, which in practice means that everything you can see you can destroy. We played on a map called Hall of Heroes, packed with giant towers and colossal statues, and engaged in a match similar to Kill Confirmed, where you need to finish your enemies and pick up their badges before they disappear.
As we stepped out into the map we saw it was large, but we didn't think much of it. Crackdown 3 quickly taught us we were not prepared for the action though, as we were reminded instantly of the good old days of Halo, with launch pads sending us across the map like a pinball machine as we flew over and into our opposition. Verticality really is a big factor in Crackdown 3 multiplayer, with higher jumps and more speed than we saw in the campaign.
Keeping track of your targets is hard, but Crackdown 3 works to highlight enemies that are shooting at you via silhouettes on-screen and lines directed towards you that show when you're being aimed at. Also, you get your aim snapped onto an enemy if you're looking towards them. Sounds easy, right? The trouble is that everything moves at such breakneck speeds that controlling the space in this battlefield is nearly impossible because in the time it takes to move towards someone they could've shot across the map and out of reach.
It might have been hard to approach from a tactical perspective but it was certainly intense and we came away from each bout with our brain frazzled. The action never lets up for one second and you're always invited to head back in and try again. The beauty of this is that you're never shackled by the map either because if an enemy is hiding in a room you can just blow it up or punch right through. The developers know this as well, which is why you're always given an explosive weapon to cause some carnage with.
While these sessions were admittedly brief, we came away with concerns regarding whether Crackdown 3 can set itself apart from the many open world games that have come before it. Sure, the multiplayer uses brand new technology for added destruction, but there's a reason we made the comparison to Agents of Mayhem earlier on. The proof will be in the pudding, and for now all we can do is wait until February 15 which is when the game will launch for Windows PC and Xbox One.