Crackdown 3: Our First Take

'Crackdown 3' is a choose-your-own-adventure game about irresponsible policing

'Crackdown 3' brings the series' super-powered action back in a truly open world.
'Crackdown 3' brings the series' super-powered action back in a truly open world.
'Crackdown 3' brings the series' super-powered action back in a truly open world.

Highs

  • Fun, super-powered action
  • Organic progression system
  • Truly open world gameplay structure

Lows

  • Full destruction physics limited to multiplayer

Emerging from relative radio silence after its explosive reveal in 2015, Crackdown 3 is back at E3 in full force. We had a chance to play through a ten minute demo and chat with design director Gareth Wilson about the upcoming third-person action game.

In Crackdown 3’s future, the world has been ravaged by a series of terrorist attacks using a mysterious new weapon called Chimera. You work for an elite agency, sent in to track Chimera to its source and stop the attacks. The trail sends you to New Providence, a small, urban island in the Pacific run by a shadowy corporation. After an ambush leaves you reeling, you (and up to three fellow agents in co-op) will gather your wits to take down the criminal organization running the island, and find out who is behind the attacks.

Virtuous cycles of badassery

The best way to investigate is, of course, to fly around the city like a badass superhero, blowing up everything in your path. The closest gameplay analog in recent memory is definitely Saints Row IV. While Crackdown 3 isn’t quite as overtly irreverent as Volition’s deliberately silly GTA-like, it embraces the same bombastic sensibility and over-the-top power fantasy.

It’s all designed around being completely freeform, completely open.

The ludicrous powers are improved through a system very similar to the original Crackdown. Characters have stats for agility, gunplay, melee, explosives, and driving. Rather than unlocking generic points and spending them as you see fit, skills are improved by performing the relevant activity. Taking out enemies with guns or explosives add to the respective skill, allowing you to do more damage as they level up. Collecting agility orbs (positioned in tough to reach places) increases your speed and the height of your jump (and double jump).

This direct feedback between actions and capabilities is a great way for players to organically customize their play style. It felt great in the original, and it still feels great here. 

An actual open world

The other design feature that really piqued our interest is how truly open gameplay will be in the campaign mode. “There’s no ‘mission failed’ screen,” Wilson told us. “The missions are open from the very start, and you can do whatever the hell you want.”

Your goal is to take down the city’s Kingpin by defeating their captains and lieutenants to whittle away their support. The order in which you eliminate them is completely up to you. Like in Breath of the Wild, skilled (or foolhardy) players can skip all that and head right for the Kingpin as soon as they land. 

If you take the sensible course and opt to take down the Kingpin’s support first, they will eventually take notice. “As you start damaging a particular area of the city, the gang leaders get pissed off at you and start retaliating, but those retaliations can happen anywhere in the city,” Wilson told us. “If you take out enough of the captains and lieutenants, eventually the Kingpin will be like ‘Fuck you, then,’ and she’ll send in a load of guys after you.”

While many ostensibly open world games actually hold your hand quite a bit in the mission structure, Crackdown 3 is ok with letting you skip through content as you please. Wilson said he would rather encourage people to play through repeatedly and find new things, instead of ensuring that every player goes through all of the content in one go. “I want people to replay the game plenty of times,” he explained, “so you can take your level five agent back into a new game, and we’re going to have cool challenges and leader board, around things like how quickly can you take out all of the guys in one go.”

Multi-player means more chaos

Sumo only had the campaign at E3 this year, so we did not get to experience the much-vaunted destruction physics, which will feature prominently in multiplayer matches. In the single-player mode, destruction is limited to the traditional, props-based physics we’re used to seeing in games like Just Cause. Multiplayer, supported by cloud computing, will empower players to literally level the entire playing field.

Our gameplay demo was a condensed and deliberately crazy slice of the overall experience, so we’ll have to wait and see how the flow and pace works in context. As a taste of the explosive insanity that’s possible, however, it left us hungry for more.