It's truly bizarre how some things manage to stick around whilst seemingly more important contributions to entertainment and culture disappear without a trace. Bee Movie released in 2007. I watched Bee Movie that year and more or less instantly forgot everything about it. Crackdown, an Xbox 360 exclusive from Realtime Worlds, released in the same year. Although initially snubbed as the game that came with the Halo 3 demo, this open-world explosive shooter with a superb sense of movement resonated with players, making it one of the most loved Xbox franchises. The following 12 years didn't play out as I expected.
Bee Movie focused on Barry, a bee, and Vanessa, a human, who were seen by many to have romantic and sexual feelings toward one another. The suggestion that such an impossible relationship could work has overjoyed an entire generation over the last decade. While Crackdown became little more than a memory, trotted out on internet forums to reminisce about the good old days, every thought about Bee Movie's bestiality acted as a virtual swig of Red Bull to get the meme juices flowing. I'll be honest, I don't understand how people gravitate around bad things. I don't own a t-shirt with the entire Bee Movie script printed onto it and I don't watch 'hilarious' edits of the film on YouTube in which 'funny' changes are made every time the word "bee" is said (although I do admit that the Nicholas Cage screaming dub has its merits). I do, however, understand Crackdown. In 2007, inappropriate pollination had nothing on Crackdown's orb collecting, and now we've finally got the sequel it deserved.
Structurally and plot-wise, Crackdown 3 does little to excite. The big bad, TerraNova—headed by CEO Elizabeth Niemand—has set up shop in the fictional city of New Providence to shut down electricity throughout the world. It's a suitably evil task, but one that feels more like it fell from a Pinky and the Brain script than the next Avengers movie. You play as a super-powered agent (capable of leaping higher than buildings and throwing cars) working for The Agency, with the new Commander being Terry Crews. He's actually called Jaxon, but he is a virtual version Terry Crews with a slightly odd face. (I think it's the wonky facial hair that throws off the whole look.) You don't have to play as Terry, but why wouldn't you? Other agents have bonus XP in different skill areas, but I ask again: Why wouldn't you choose to play as Terry Crews?
Even though you're basically Hulk, you can't take on Elizabeth until you first weaken her defenses. You're required to take down numerous leaders in order to open up the Central Tower for a final assault. Each leader runs multiple locations on the map, which act as strongholds of sorts. Blow up enough infrastructure, enemies, or vehicles in one of these locations (you're always told exactly what to do) and you'll take over that area, weakening the sub-boss' resilience to attack. Eventually, once all core locations have been taken down, you get a crack at the boss, usually tucked away inside a mech, robotic suit, or attack ship. This is not a unique and inventive take on progression in an open-world action game, but it does the job and there's always a lot of stuff to get on with.
It's at this point where you probably have to take a look at yourself. Do you wake up each Valentine's Day morning wishing for a card that has a picture of Barry on it, with the slogan "Bee Mine," Barry pointing suggestively to his crotch? Or do you have a longing for a lot of mindless action, high-powered weaponry, explosions, and 1000 orbs to find in a large playground? You can answer yes to both, but Crackdown 3 probably isn't for you if you're only interested in the former. There is a playful side to the action in Crackdown 3, the voice actors clearly hamming up their performances as much as possible, but Sumo Digital's faithful take on the series won't convince naysayers who didn't board the Crackdown train in 2007.
The Ugly Duckling
There's no skirting around the fact that Crackdown 3 looks pretty dull and uninspired at points. Your first taste of action begins in what must be the most ill-advised room design of 2019 (idea for a new Netflix show). Your agent's first steps are taken in a completely featureless, dank room, the kind you might be familiar with from open-world games circa 2002. First impressions are not Crackdown 3's strong point. Nor, really, are second impressions. Although you don't spend a long time in this boredom dungeon, the insipid combat that immediately follows is another early misstep. There are signs that this is the Crackdown of old, but it's not until you start leveling up your abilities that your character movement and combat start to hit some wonderful highs.
When you kill enemies, blow stuff up, or perform driving stunts in Crackdown 3 you earn XP that go toward leveling up your Firearms, Strength, Explosives, and Driving skills. Your ability to leap over tall buildings (which is never anything but really cool) is determined by how many of the 750 Agility orbs you've found in the world, plus the 250 hidden orbs that are trickier to find but also dish out XP across other skill areas. Leveling up is expected in a game like Crackdown 3, but it's handled perfectly here. By constantly upping my agent's combat effectiveness and agility, my time in the game became more and more fun as I progressed.
It's this desire to keep improving, tied to a need to collect everything, that drives orb hunting. With 1000 in total to hunt down, and less than half of them found during my playthrough of the campaign, there's a lot to do once you take down TerraNova. The only real downside to this quest to track down every orb is the way you end up rooting around every empty underground parking lot and generic building floor. Crackdown 3's visuals pop when fights break out amongst the skyscrapers, lights illuminating the dark streets that stretch far into the distance, but you can very easily end up in uglier environments.
Mechanically, Crackdown 3 just works. The firearms provide a neat mix of rapid-fire assault rifles, science fiction blasters, and ultimate destruction ballistics, which when combined with your agent's aerial acrobatics and numerous foes, makes for smile-on-your-face fun. There's nothing overly complex here (certain enemies taking more damage from specific weapon types being the peak of tactical play), but the way the game ramps up the conflicts until you're air-dashing between an all-encompassing barrage of lethal pyrotechnics is hugely entertaining.
Vehicles, which have their own skill slot, didn't really gel for me. Movement in Crackdown 3 while on foot (although increasingly you spend less and less time on the ground) is so much fun, it feels wrong to jump into a car. Handling inside these vehicles is as forgiving as you'd expect from a game that wants you to feel like you can do the impossible, and there are some nifty upgrades to unlock, but the only times I found myself choosing a vehicle was to tackle some of the stunt challenges. Some of these are truly devilish in design and will provide yet another reason to keep playing beyond the story's conclusion. Mastering the wall-climbing Spider vehicle will take some time.
Other optional objectives also litter the play area, giving you more to do should you want a break from the boss brawling. There are prisoners to free, convoys to destroy, and the corpses of fallen agents to find. The world of Crackdown 3 certainly doesn't feel alive in the way the worlds of the best open-world games aim to be, but it's not empty. This is a virtual world that isn't interested in accurate NPC behaviors, it's a world designed for your agent to leap around in and have a good time. A bigger issue is how I had to restart a few missions due to key enemies falling through scenery and becoming trapped inside buildings. It was never game breaking, but a sign that Crackdown 3 isn't quite as slick as its neon city might suggest.
There is two-player online co-op support throughout the story campaign, which is a great laugh if you have a friend who is as equally up for Crackdown's nonsense as you are, but again, there are no incredible feats of calculated physics on display. Importantly for co-op sessions, orbs are left on the map for your partner if you grab one, and shown as ghostly fragments if you have one but they don't.
Every Cloud Doesn't Have a Silver Lining
You may have seen some early Crackdown 3 tech demos a couple of years ago, showing off what I would describe an astonishing level of environmental destruction. That destruction, which used the power of cloud computing, isn't in the Crackdown 3 campaign. Aside from a lot of large tanks that can be blown up, the game world is extremely solid. You can't blow holes in buildings and nothing will collapse into rubble. Environment destruction is limited to Crackdown 3's online multiplayer mode, Wrecking Zone, which sadly is a bit of a dud at the moment.
Wrecking Zone currently feels like a mode in beta. There are two game types (Agent Hunter and Territories) and just three maps which are chosen randomly by the game. You have incredibly limited player customization, there's no character progression at all, and there is no party support (although this has been confirmed to be coming later). Agent Hunter is a token-collecting take on Team Deathmatch, and Territories sees your team trying to control zones on the map. It's basic stuff and I'd played all I wanted after a handful of hours.
The exclusive use of lock-on targeting for weapons may well annoy some players, but Crackdown is such a lively, jumpy, frenetic experience that I'm not sure the game would function at all without it. A white line connected to your agent shows that a player has you locked on, while red shows that they are firing at you. The aim then is to break the lock by going out of sight, and here the destruction comes in handy, allowing you to blow a hole through a wall and zip through it. Although the destruction isn't on the scale of those early tech demos, it's still impressive. When buildings collapse it's a "wow" moment, with frame rate and network performance holding pretty solid, but after a while the falling buildings become normal and you're left looking at the visually dull maps. Compared to the wonderful color and fantastical design of the campaign's city, maps in Wrecking Zone are a big disappointment.
Orbs once again feature heavily, this time used to build up your Overdrive. Maxing this out will earn you boosted Agility or Firearms skills, although the game decides which of these you will trigger. It's a reasonable translation of the orb collecting seen in the campaign, but a lot of the time it's easy to get distracted by the sheer chaos and forget about the orbs altogether. Other oddities, such as a lack of grenades (you get to choose from a vertical boost or a shield instead), simply add to the feeling that Wrecking Zone isn't ready for prime time.
Crackdown 3's campaign has a foot in the past, but is visually striking and tremendous fun. Wrecking Zone has a modern gimmick, but little else going for it at the moment. I didn't have much fun with Wrecking Zone, which is a real shame.
Let's face it. An executive somewhere within Paramount is probably working on a pitch to bring back Bee Movie. This person no doubt thinks memes equal cash and is ready to double down on the innuendo to catapult their career into the stratosphere. The poster has Barry having a bikini wax with the slogan "Bringing the Honey." It'll probably be called Bee Movie 2: Slumgum Beelionaire, in which Barry figures out humans are just as drawn to the titular slumgum as bees are (Google it). I'm sorry if this happened in the first movie (I can't remember it, at all), but that would be a terrible film. Bee Movie is best left in 2007 and forgotten about forever. Crackdown deserved to be brought back. It didn't fluke its way to being a cult hit. Crackdown 3 makes no attempts to be Game of the Year, but it absolutely delivers the goods in a morish and thoroughly entertaining campaign (I expect MS marketing would have liked that last sentence to read "delivers the boom"). Plus, there's absolutely no way anyone is going to make weirdly sexual art or memes about Terry Crews.
Crackdown 3 isn't an instant hit, but after a slow start it rapidly builds into an action-packed shooter with brilliant character control and movement. While orb collecting is the key for prolonged play, the campaign in Crackdown 3 is always entertaining and visually there's a lot to appreciate if you look at the bigger picture. Crackdown is back. Shame about the multiplayer Wrecking Zone, though.