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Did you know you could feel nostalgic for the mid-2000s? Because I didn't, until I saw Crackdown 3. Despite all the whistles and bells Sumo Games put into Crackdown 3 has thanks its development on a current-gen console, the beating, nitroglycerin heart of the series will always beat like the 2007 Xbox 360 game, for better or worse.
Don’t get me wrong, Crackdown 3 is a modern game tech-wise. It runs on the latest hardware, and features cloud computing technology, AI programming, and I’m sure other under-the-hood advancements. The city you play in, New Providence, is two-and-a-half times the size the world in the first Crackdown game—a whopping four kilometers-by-four kilometers. The small section of the game I got to play and see was already intimidatingly huge.
Crackdown is very much a game of its time. When the goal of a lot of Triple-A titles was to give players the biggest, coolest new weapons and a world full of things to shoot. Crackdown 3 does just that. As a member of the “Agency”, it’s your job to load up on firepower and take to the streets and...crack down on the futuristic street gangs that have taken over the city. It’s a game about being as ridiculous and destructive as you can be. It’s about stamping out injustice, regardless of the collateral damage.
You can shoot big guns, and rocket jump into the air. You can punch out enemies, and you can go almost deaf when your energy cannon causes a chain reaction of explosions you can see for blocks. It’s fun and in today’s irony-starved pop-culture landscape, Crackdown 3 almost comes across as camp. It worked for Saint’s Row, it works here for Crackdown.
My demo began part way into the game. I was told that there are gang strongholds I would need to take out in an effort to liberate the city from the various criminal syndicates in charge. The enemy has a distinct chain of command with a unique mob boss sitting at the head of a network of lieutenants and grunts. In an almost Metroid-style of progression, the player starts with no Agency technology, instead evolving your arsenal and tools as you progress in the game.
The shooting and jumping were definitely the highlight of Crackdown’s gameplay, but I couldn’t help but feel that the controls felt a little too flighty for me. It wasn’t anything that ruined the gameplay or anything, but perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by some of the more modern third-person shooter games that offer precision shooting.
Crackdown 3’s most interesting feature is a dynamic AI system called “Gangs Bite Back” which makes enemy behavior unpredictable. One of the main problems of the early Crackdown games is how quickly overpowered your character becomes, practically flatlining any difficulty. With Gangs Bite Back, Sumo hopes to keep players occupied as they grow stronger.
Our guided demo took a turn for the worse, when our developer player accidentally blew himself up (in a glorious blaze) just as enemy reinforcements were being called in. When he respawned, the reinforcements as well as the original enemies were there. As the body count rose, I assume the game sensed the carnage and sent in an actual boss character into the fray. It was at this point Crackdown 3 escalated into a full on war on the streets.
All-in-all, Crackdown 3 is a very similar game to the original two. The graphics and visual direction are dated, and the controls aren’t as tight as I’d like. But as I said at the start of this preview, I genuinely felt a pang of nostalgia in my heart when I saw the Crackdown 3 demo on the big screen. Video games today are more ambitious in both storytelling and gameplay and the medium is all the better for it. But games also have roots in muscle headed shooters like Crackdown 3 and I liked what I saw, if only because the game elicited a genuine moment of emotion from me.