Games Preview: Playing Crackdown 3 feels like opening a time capsule

After spending three and a half hours with Crackdown 3, I’m still not sure I know how to feel about it.

On one hand, Crackdown 3‘s multiplayer is superlative and legitimately thrilling, a mix of classic Quake III era team deathmatch with modern mobility and verticality. On the other, the time I spent with the early campaign wasn’t quite as exciting.

Playing through the opening of the campaign, it was possible to feel how long Crackdown 3 has been in development. Before going any further, I want to make myself clear: it’s not that the campaign struck me as being bad in any way. It didn’t. I’m saying that my short glimpse of it felt like a solidly-made, large scale open world experience from several years ago.

Around five or six years back, open worlders like Saints Row and inFamous were still around but their popularity was on the wane. A core part of their design was clawing back territory from marauding slum lords, weakening their grip on each suburb or borough before clearing them out. It was around that time that Crackdown 3 was first announced. Despite the many delays on its way to launch, it makes a certain amount of sense that Crackdown 3’s campaign could feel like a bit of a time capsule.

The campaign actually looked great, each area sporting a pleasantly Retrowave near-future aesthetic. Everything is covered in Tron-style strip lighting, the entire world awash in fluorescent colours. Character models carry on the series’ pseudo cel shaded look, a visual that has always allowed Crackdown to revel in its overtly silly premise. Indeed, Crackdown 3 appears to steer into that silliness more than any previous installment — less scatological than Saints Row, but every bit as self-aware. It’s this willingness to make fun of itself that gives me hope for the campaign. Your game can feel like it’s from a different era, as long as you make that part of the joke.

There were quite a few elements that remained from the original Crackdown — your character improving skills like shooting or driving simply by performing those actions. Your agility increases by collecting green orbs typically located on top of buildings and high places that must be jumped or climbed to. Your character learns the fundamentals by doing, allowing your character to grow organically in accordance with your play style. This is something I’ve always liked about the series and I’m relieved to see it return.

Our demo session began with an hour and a half of multiplayer and it was pretty easy to see why — it makes a compelling argument for purchase all by itself. Crackdown 3’s multiplayer, at least the Team DM mode we were dropped into, played like an early 2000’s shooter in all the best ways. It took me a single round to get my head around movement — a frenetic combination of jetpack jumping, mid-air dashing and jump pads — and the way the targeting snap locks to an enemy player for greater accuracy.

There was a lot going on; I was hitting jump pads, circle strafing and trying to time the rhythm of my shots, feeling out how quickly I needed to switch weapons after initiating maximise my damage output. On top of this, much of the architecture was destructible so ducking behind a wall to break line of sight could only save for me a second before whatever I was hiding behind was eaten by rocket fire.

It is important to note that for our preview, we were only shown this one multiplayer mode on one specific map. While I would have liked to see what else the multiplayer had in the tank, you should know that I’m basing my opinion on a pretty narrow slice of content. Crucially, playing this one mode and map didn’t get old. I was ready for another round by the time Xbox PR announced we were moving onto the campaign mode. That said, if the rest of the multiplayer package can stack up as well as Team DM, it has the potential to rank among the Xbox One’s best online offerings.

My short window with Crackdown 3 was a bit uneven, but positive overall. The multiplayer, I think, is the standout component. That no-one is really expecting that could be its greatest weapon. Under the right circumstances, it could be another feather in the Xbox One’s already bristling multiplayer cap. The campaign may yet have some surprises up its sleeve, and I hope that it does. I’m excited to dive in properly when it launches February 15.

Crackdown 3 launches February 15, 2019 exclusively on Xbox One and Windows PC. The author of this piece was flown to Sydney as a guest of Xbox Australia.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.