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The Real Reasons Crackdown 3 Bombed

Crackdown 3 had such potential.

The game, a third entry in a cult-classic series, was announced at a time when Microsoft and the Xbox One desperately needed some good news. It was the first E3 after the Xbox One launched, and the console was already falling behind in its battle with the PlayStation 4. But that E3 brought heaps of good news for Xbox One owners. There would be a new action-RPG called Scalebound! A reboot of the Phantom Dust series was coming! And yes, a brand new take on Crackdown would grace the platform at some point.

Scalebound was eventually canceled. That Phantom Dust reboot morphed into a remaster of the original Xbox game. And Crackdown 3, which might have been canned under any other circumstances, lingered despite many delays, and despite a mid-development studio change. It had all the telltale signs of a troubled game, yet Microsoft pressed on, eager to avoid yet another game cancellation.

In all honesty, Crackdown 3 should've been to Microsoft what Quikster was to Netflix. Netflix, to its credit, opted not to see that terrible idea through. Microsoft, on the other hand, slapped a $60 price tag on its mistake and shipped it to stores.

So yes, Crackdown 3 bombed pretty hard. And below, we're going to tell you all the reasons why it did.

There is nowhere near enough Terry Crews

Let's be honest: Crackdown 3 was marketed as the ultimate Terry Crews experience. He starred in the advertising for the game. He did press interviews to promote it. His over-the-top personality seemed like a perfect fit for the tone Crackdown 3 wanted to achieve, and the idea of Crews taking the lead role in the game instantly made it more appealing. We had dreams of leaping from rooftop to rooftop, raining hell down on enemies while Crews constantly delivered quips. We waited with anticipation for all of the Crews-heavy cutscenes that would undoubtedly crack us up while simultaneously getting us hyped.

And then we played Crackdown 3, and discovered there's not a whole lot of Terry Crews here at all.

Aside from a short introductory scene at the beginning of the game, Crews doesn't really get a chance to grab Crackdown 3 by the horns. Once you're ready to jump into Crackdown 3's open world, it turns out you can select one of several different agents — and one just happens to look like Terry Crews. He becomes a forgettable character skin rather than the standout headliner everyone expected him to be, and it honestly left us feeling like the victims of a bait and switch.

This was one of the easier things to get right, but Crackdown 3 didn't do it.

The story is bland

Crackdown 3 isn't the first property to feature the head of a large, evil mega-corporation as the main antagonist. You can look to countless comic books, movies, and other video games to find similar villains, along with a subset of mini-bosses who range from biologists to military goons to computer scientists. These types of baddies are cliche at this point, so it shouldn't be all that surprising that Crackdown 3 leans into them in a big way.

That should not excuse the dearth of storytelling in this game.

Your task is to save the day, yet you don't get a lot of narrative beyond that. Your agent gets next to no character development whatsoever, nor do any of your allies or enemies. The voices you hear the most throughout the game — those of Agency Director Charles Goodwin and rebel leader Echo — are just that, voices. They pipe in every now and again to compliment you on your ability to blow things up, or to provide information on a target. But that's pretty much it.

What is it that makes everyone tick? What makes the good guys good and the bad guys bad? Rather than take a stab at answering any questions at all, Crackdown 3 punts. It wants you to be content with simply running around and destroying things, and the game is decidedly worse as a result.

The missions are repetitive

Crackdown 3, for the worse, is a game that doesn't require much of your noodle to play. It's a shame, too: there was an opportunity here to do something really and truly special as a third-person shooter. But a few missions in, you'll find that you're essentially doing the same things over and over in different locations. And it doesn't matter if the task at hand is a main campaign mission or a side mission.

Go somewhere. Blow a bunch of stuff up. Rinse, repeat.

Want to weaken Terra Nova's response time? Drop into a vehicle compound, mow a bunch of bad guys down, and blow the cars up. Want to affect Terra Nova's ability to produce Chimera? Do you even know what Chimera is? Doesn't matter. Run into a Chimera production facility with guns blazing, kill a small army of Terra Nova soldiers, and blow the Chimera pipelines up. Want to hijack a captured monorail station and give it back to the people? You probably know what you have to do. Go there, shoot more enemies, blow up the station boss.

There are many, many story missions that follow this template, never mind the slew of optional side missions that do, as well. There is very little variety here, and it makes Crackdown 3's six-to-seven hour campaign feel much longer than it is.

Multiplayer is just as boring as the campaign

If you're on the outside looking in and know nothing at all about Crackdown 3, its multiplayer mode — Wrecking Zone — might sound appealing to you. It gifts you the abilities you're able to wield during the game's main campaign and tosses you into a destructible arena, full of towering skyscrapers, with four other agents. The concept of leaping onto tall buildings while firing at your opponents, and the prospect of knocking those tall buildings down, should set Crackdown 3's multiplayer apart from other shooters on the market.

Instead, Wrecking Zone is about as dull as everything else Crackdown 3 has to offer.

Wrecking Zone has a grand total of two modes out of the gate. One is called Agent Hunter, in which you're awarded points for killing other players and collecting the crests they drop. The other is called Territories, and in that one, you're tasked with capturing zones while fending off enemy players. Due to Crackdown 3's extreme verticality, all aiming is done via a lock-on, which removes skilled shooting from the equation. And thanks to the ever-disappearing cover, there's not really anywhere to hide. Each match, regardless of mode, devolves into which squad can get more kills via team-shooting with few clutch hero moments to be found.

We couldn't get back to playing Apex Legends fast enough.

The shooting mechanics suck

About those shooting mechanics. We've already talked a bit about how they do more harm than good to the multiplayer half of Crackdown 3. In the main campaign, they're a bit more understandable, as you'll be blasting away at hordes of enemies coming from (what feels like) every conceivable direction. But, again, they're a means to an end. You're granted the ability to lock on to enemies not because it makes the game fun, but because it makes the game somewhat playable.

Even then, the lock-on isn't a great solution.

There are plenty of ways for the instant lock-on to fail you, whether it continuously grabs the wrong enemy, or insists on working even if you want to spray a general area full of bullets or fire. This is particularly frustrating when you're faced with shielded enemies, who are almost always impervious to whatever you're firing at them. You can chuck a grenade in to stun them, should you be so inclined. But sometimes things are hot, you're out of grenades, and three shielded soldiers are marching at you like the Spartans from 300. And all you want to do is fire at their feet, but you can't, because aiming instantly locks you onto center mass: their shields.

It's really hard to die in Crackdown 3, so these moments are more of an annoyance than anything. But in a game that's already lacking in fun, annoying the player further isn't something you want to do.

There are very few standout guns

It's been many long years since the last Crackdown game came out, and in that time, many other video games found ways to make guns exciting. You know when you've found something truly remarkable in Destiny, for instance. And the Borderlands series practically wrote the book on how to create really cool weapons. You'd expect Crackdown 3 to have learned something in the time between 2010 and now, but sadly, that doesn't appear to be the case.

There aren't many guns to write home about in Crackdown 3, and in a game that promises mayhem and destruction at the highest levels, that is a sin.

Sure, there are a bunch of guns with different names. But you'll find, more often than not, that one is a machine gun and another is a heavier machine gun. You'll pick up a pistol, hoping it does something drastically different than the one you're holding, but it doesn't. The one gun worthy of existing in a Destiny or Borderlands world — the Oblivion — is well hidden, which means that you might not happen upon it during your playthrough. What Crackdown 3 should've done is given you a gun like that, along with a bunch of other experiments in weapon design, and let you go to town.

Instead, you'll likely just settle for whatever works, cursing the game's boring armory under your breath.

Traversal doesn't feel very good

We've come a long way from 2007, the year the original Crackdown released. Back then, the game's world was a little more remarkable. Running around, collecting orbs, and upgrading your agent was far more fresh. And the movement wasn't nailed down and perfect even then, but it could be forgiven. Crackdown was a new franchise, after all. The original was just a first step in a series that would undoubtedly grow and become more refined over time.

Again, it feels like Crackdown 3 has learned nothing. The traversal in this game is sometimes unpredictable, sometimes frustrating, and sometimes both.

You'll likely encounter your first bit of disillusionment early on when you discover that the "double-jump" isn't a jump at all, but rather, a far-too-brief boost. Platforming objectives will test your patience later on, as you struggle to get your agent to land in the right place. You'll learn that falling from a tall enough building will kill your ability to double-jump, triple-jump, or mid-air dash, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. And seriously, why include climbing in this game if your agent can do so little of it? Some ledges you can grab. Some you can't. Sometimes your agent will clamber up the side. Sometimes your agent will fail to do anything at all.

So much of this game is built around its movement. For Crackdown 3 to fall short in this department — well, it's not good.

It's not all that impressive graphically

It's easy to disregard what a bump in resolution can do for a game. But all you have to do is boot up an Xbox One X, load 2010's Red Dead Redemption, and see that a higher resolution can make a game passable. That title came out at the start of the decade, and got a boost thanks to some behind-the-scenes emulation magic. Crackdown 3, however, came out in 2019 — in a world where Red Dead Redemption 2 set the new bar for how a game should take advantage of the current generation's power.

Yet Crackdown 3 doesn't really look or feel like a 2019 game. It looks like a higher-res version of a game that came out years ago, and in some ways, it is.

Don't put a whole lot of stock into the "art style" argument that some might put forth. If Crackdown 3 started development today, it likely wouldn't look the way it does now. The game's simplistic graphics seem more a result of its tortured development rather than a stylistic choice. It was announced in 2014, changed developers along the way, and inevitably pulled a major power source — cloud computing — from the campaign all together.

Crackdown 3 isn't an ugly game by any stretch. But in 2019, what it looks like is exactly what it is: a game that was supposed to come out a lot sooner than it did.

The destructibility in Wrecking Zone got downgraded significantly

The promise of Crackdown 3 evolved rather drastically over its many years in development. You might recall that, back in 2014, the power of the cloud was something you could not escape. Rarely could you pass by a TV without some technology company talking about how they'd use the cloud to change your life. And Microsoft — being a huge cloud computing provider itself — was right there with everyone else, talking about how the cloud would make Crackdown 3 even better and change the way people made video games.

That was the dream. The reality, as it so often is, was far less impressive.

Crackdown 3's cloud computing eventually got yanked from the game's campaign, but was salvaged for its multiplayer mode, Wrecking Zone. Demos of Wrecking Zone a few years back show incredible amounts of detail in the destruction, with bullets chipping away at walls, leaving small piles of dust and debris, and large buildings collapsing into heaps of rubble.

Today, Wrecking Zone is a shadow of its former self, much like the rest of the game. No longer do the walls crumble into dirt. Instead, they tear off into large, manageable chunks. And buildings now stand firm until someone really puts the work in to knock them over, only to watch them fall like a tower made of popsicle sticks.

It doesn't do a lot to sell the cloud. And it really doesn't do a lot to sell Crackdown 3.

Something is off about the sound

We can't stress enough how much we were looking forward to playing as Terry Crews. The man is adrenaline in human form. It's why we — like so many other players — chose him as our agent when we started the Crackdown 3 campaign. If there was ever a being to rip directly out of an insane Old Spice ad and put into a video game, it was this one. And yes, it was disappointing to learn that he doesn't talk a lot. He's not as central to the plot as we'd like.

But he does talk sometimes. He does yell some things every once in a while. Except you can barely hear them.

Something is awfully wrong with the sound mixing in this game. The disembodied Agency director is a little too loud. The bullets flying at you from a distance are audible enough to make your ears hurt. Yet the character you're controlling — the one you just want to hear some trash talk from — sounds like he's yelling from a mile away.

This game managed to quiet Terry Crews. That's not what any of us wanted.

The game doesn't explain certain mechanics very well

This particular beef with Crackdown 3 comes at a pretty opportune time, as there exists a debate in the video game world about how well a game has to explain itself. Some expect a game to tutorialize key mechanics, laying them out in-game and giving the player a chance to use them. Others are fine with consulting outside sources, or perhaps, diving into the controller settings to learn what button does what.

Crackdown 3 almost expects you to remember what you did in the original Crackdown, despite the many years that have passed, regardless of whether you played it or not.

To be fair, the game doesn't skimp entirely on this front. It explains the potential world benefit of the missions you take up, for instance. But a lot of the game's mechanics will be learned as a result of your own investigating. You can summon an Agency vehicle at any time, but that's not immediately apparent unless you poke around in the settings and discover the button tied to that action. You can refill ammo at supply points, but the game also has separate points specifically for reloading your ammo, so you might run right by a chance to stock up without realizing it.

It's possible that Crackdown 3 would've addressed an issue like this with more time. The problem is, it had plenty of time already.

Wrecking Zone launched without a way to play with friends

If you're looking to build a case that Crackdown 3 was rushed out the door, there's no better evidence than the game's Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode. We've already talked about how barren it is when it comes to gameplay variants. And we've discussed how scaled back the destructibility is now from past demos of the game.

But Crackdown 3's omission of in-game parties truly takes the cake.

At launch, Crackdown 3 came with no way whatsoever to party up with friends in Wrecking Zone. This game literally comes with two separate clients: one for the campaign, and one for Wrecking Zone. There's an effort here to try and use multiplayer as a way to sell the game. Yet somehow, despite all of that, Microsoft thought it perfectly acceptable to ship a game with a multiplayer mode that doesn't let you team up with friends.

According to Microsoft, this feature will come in an update somewhere down the line. But it's truly baffling that this company — the one that showed everyone how to do console multiplayer with Xbox Live — allowed this to occur.