So it's called Crackdown 3 after all. At first they didn't want to use the name, but in the end they have decided to embrace it. The open-world actioner delivers pretty much exactly what you would want as a fan. Maximum chaos in an open game world in which everything is destructible. Although one must make a distinction between the solo campaign, playable offline co-op, and the online experience. There's big differences, because online Crackdown is probably the first game that impressively demonstrates the power of cloud access for Xbox One. Previously used 'only' in the Forza series for its Drivatar system, it was tricky to demonstrate what might be achieved by the enormous computing power of additional online servers.
In Crackdown 3 the difference starts online with the fact that pretty much the entire game world is destructible and can be blown to pieces. One can spend several minutes damaging a concrete wall, perforating it with single shots to make a larger hole. Meanwhile fragments then tumble out, physically correct, and we're shown what's on the other side of the wall. All of the fragments remain lying around, persistent. Theoretically all structures - everything - is destructible, and can be blown into the smallest of smithereens, but of course this is only of limited use. It's much easier to disassemble a forty-storey skyscraper using a rocket launcher than it is to whittle away its lower and inner structure. Larger structures will fall and eventually collapse, or explode from the inside out when the gas pipes go up. One tumbling skyscraper might also crash into the next, causing both to collapse, creating a glorious staircase up into the night sky of the city.
The trick behind the impressive destruction is that the online game world has access to cloud servers. Because of this more and more computing power can be harnessed and more destruction can thus be created. In our short hands-on session with the game we managed to get fourteen additional servers online that were busy trying to calculate debris and chaos. There's no limit on the number of cloud servers the developers say, "it is, after all, Microsoft," one jokes. The potential processing power is actually about twenty times higher than that of a single Xbox One without an online connection. The online game will therefore be very different from the offline game, in parts it's almost a different game.
This huge online playground will be available to play as a co-op campaign, but there's also various multiplayer modes. We can compete against each other in deathmatch, fight together in teams and, indeed, can enjoy the fact that the entire game world is quickly becoming a deadly opponent. If you've made yourself a nice sniper's nest on top of a building, a cozy hideout, you'll very quickly become the target of direct and indirect attacks. And to fall among the debris of an exploding bridge, taken down with a rocket launcher is, of course, not healthy. We've been bombarded with rocket launchers, sniper rifles and pistols - the arsenal is stocked with all the weapons that you'd expect.
The look of the game is based on its predecessors, but of course the cel-shaded game world and the agents in it look much better today. This applies both online and offline. The campaign also quickly makes clearer what Crackdown 3 is: a vertically-staged 3D platformer. As a male or female agent we must rid the city of crime lords. These gangsters we can kill in any order. We'll also be getting a more powerful narrative that should help players empathise with the character's hatred of their criminal adversaries, opponents who in turn are able to hijack the numerous digital billboards around the city in order to taunt us and make us even more angry.
Each agent has five stats (running, shooting, power, explosions, driving) which level up over the course of a game. Each agent also has a private vehicle and special abilities. A digital paint job means that the vehicles are highly customisable. Some can even project avatars around them. It looks cool, but what role this'll play in both multiplayer and campaign remains unclear.
Another new feature is a hate bar on the right side of the screen. This rises when certain enemies are pissed off by you destroying their buildings and possessions - to the point where they'll want to hurt you even more. As a result the crime lords will creep out of hiding (which of course means you too can mount your own attack), sometimes (as we discovered) they'll put on an exoskeleton and try to take you down. Such a well-protected boss can only be killed by clever attacks using whatever the world around has to offer. You might cause containers to fall on him or help barrels of gas explode nearby. All the while we have to minimise civilian casualties. It's a move that seems almost cynical when considered in the context of a game that's programmed with maximum destruction in mind.
Crackdown 3 should provide fans exactly what they want and expect. You get more of what you know, but it's all better and more mature. The great innovation is to be found neither in the game mechanics nor the graphics, instead it comes via the possibilities of multiplayer through the cloud. The formula for success on the paper reads: F = C x C. Fun equals cloud times chaos. Let's hope that there's lots of chaos, because that's what you'll need if you want to turn a city to ruin in order to liberate it from the clutches of evil gangsters.