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Crackdown 3 didn’t go according to plan, but it’s better for it

The first Crackdown (I think it’s wildly accepted that no one ever talks about Crackdown 2 again) was this kind of under-the-radar gem that came right at the peak of open-world mania in gaming. It built up this passionate community of gamers that battled through strongholds and collected agility gems, and safe to say that community looks back on the first game’s mindless fun with fond memories. It wasn’t a great game by any means, but it utilised a simple gameplay philosophy that still stands strong some ten years on.

When Crackdown 3 was first announced back at E3 2014, the game was looked at as one of the console’s AAA exclusives. An open-world action game that utilised the “power of the cloud”, and introduced players to a newly designed and fully destructible open world. I saw that destruction at Gamescom 2015, and while impressive, it always felt kind of at odds with the core drive behind the Crackdown experience. Simply put, the destruction seemed to distract from the original game’s obsession with exploration, navigation and simple shooting mechanics.

Maybe I was being pedantic, but someone at Xbox HQ must have felt the same way. Some two years on and we had seen very little of the game in action, and following on from the cancellation of Scalebound, it seemed likely that Crackdown 3 would soon be forgotten. Turns out the game was simply going through a number of significant changes, and one of the core features used to promote the game was being removed. That is of course its destructibility, which has now been demoted to the game’s multiplayer component. The destruction on show in trailers and at gamescom — the “power of the cloud” — won’t be present in the game’s single-player.

That probably has something to do with Microsoft’s change in direction for the Xbox One. Initial plans had the console utilising always-online functionality, something that was met harshly by gamers. Crackdown 3‘s reliance on the cloud to offer up those destruction elements would have required the game to be constantly connected to the internet, a big no-no in the world of single-player games. All too often have publishers found out the hard way that an individualistic, single-player campaign that still requires an online connection is the complete opposite of what gamers actually want in their campaign experiences.

I think it’s a wise choice to make that change, for a number of reasons. As I mentioned above, my early previews of Crackdown 3 painted a game hellbent on destruction and not so much on the agility and mobility of the agents, things that really define the Crackdown experience. It also doesn’t quite make sense for an agent of peace to be blowing up buildings. Having spent some time playing Crackdown 3 at E3 2017, I think it’s important that this change was made, because the destruction is not really necessary in a game like this. That’s because Crackdown 3 feels like Crackdown 1, and in the best possible way. I don’t really see how bringing a building down adds to that.

The standout element of the Crackdown experience was always traversal. It was just fun to jump from building to building, mindlessly searching for agility orbs and taking out random strongholds. At first it’s difficult to really pinpoint what it is that separates Crackdown 3 from the original, because they seem so alike. But initially subtle changes really highlight how far the series has come in ten years. It’s more of the same, but make no mistake: Crackdown 3 feels like a game made for release in 2017. Things like the double-jump and air glide make navigation and exploration more of a flighty trip through the city, as opposed to the first game’s frustrating sense of navigation and landings. Crackdown 3 also allows Agents to cling onto and slide down buildings, a massive improvement on the first game as it allows you to establish some ground and positioning for a secondary push upwards, which would otherwise have been impossible in the first game after an ill-timed jump.

There’s little to gauge in terms of story, depth, and challenge, because the demo Microsoft showed of Crackdown 3 was only ten minutes. The fundamentals, however, paint a picture that, unlike what was initially showcased with a weird obsession for destruction, Crackdown 3 actually wants to be more of the same, while still feeling firmly embedded in modern day definitions and expectations of the open world action game. Sure, it was far from being in consideration for “best in show”, but after its disappointing showing during the Xbox briefing, it may yet find itself as one of E3 2017’s surprise packets.

Crackdown 3 launches November 7 on Xbox One and Windows 10

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