The cloud finally comes to life, but in practice, it doesn’t seem to help make Crackdown 3 a great multiplayer game.
Crackdown 3 has been through a lot. Plenty of games have – making video games is immensely difficult, after all – but the difference is that Crackdown 3’s issues have been on public display. It’s suffered delays, big hype around new technology, developer shifts, iffy showings at major conventions, and more delays. But unlike former first-party peers Fable Legends and Scalebound, Crackdown 3 was spared Phil Spencer’s guillotine and here it is, finally releasing on February 15. Surely there must’ve been a reason why it has lived while the others died?
Ostensibly, that reason is because Crackdown 3 – and specifically its Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode – is a Trojan horse for the ballyhooed cloud-powered multiplayer technology it’s premiering. Microsoft Senior Creative Director Joseph Staten told me as much: “[Crackdown 1 co-creator] David Jones came to Phil and said, ‘I want to wrap my brain around cloud compute and what kind of game experiences cloud compute can unlock.’…[And then] Phil [Spencer] or somebody else said, ‘Why don’t we do it with Crackdown?’”
Crackdown 3 is a Trojan horse for the ballyhooed cloud-powered multiplayer technology it’s premiering.
In fact, the Terry Crews-ified single-player campaign (which can also be played in two-player co-op) “wasn’t [part of] the original plan,” Staten said. “In the very beginning it was, ‘What can we do with cloud compute that’s fun?’” It’s an interesting backstory on Crackdown’s revival, but the litmus test was whether or not it helps make Crackdown 3 fun. After an hour of multiplayer spent entirely on one of the three included maps – this one peppered with tall buildings and emphasizing the environmental destruction – my best answer is “kinda.”
It’s very no-frills in just about every regard – neither great nor bad. Success found me once I figured out I should collect the orange orbs scattered about the arena in order to power up my Overdrive ability before heading into battle. But that moment-to-moment combat is rather standard fare: attacks are lock-on-based, so you don’t want to LT over your target until you know you can get clean shots off, otherwise the target-painting lock-on line will alert your foe to the fact that you’ve got them teed up.
Buildings break apart like they’re made of cardboard or styrofoam.
The hook, of course, is supposed to be that cloud-powered map destruction. “Right now to run one match of Wrecking Zone it’s the equivalent of 12 Xbox Ones,” Staten said. That’s all well and good, but my main issue after playing it was that Crackdown 3 doesn’t deliver any weight or impact behind its destruction. Yes, you can smash up the place, but buildings break apart like they’re made of cardboard or styrofoam. It didn’t add anything to the experience. But perhaps other first-party Xbox studios will come up with compelling uses for the tech down the road. Staten suggested as much, telling me, “Already, even now, the work that Crackdown has done is work that’s being picked up by other studios and they’re making their own experiments and figuring out what they want to do with it.”
As for the single-player campaign, I admit I didn’t get a chance to play much of it. It’s aiming to be goofy and over-the-top (“We are making Sharknado,” Staten told me with a laugh), but how long the story can remain interesting is probably directly proportional to the amount of screen time the irresistibly charming Terry Crews gets. I played the first half an hour or so, and there’s nothing here that the Xbox faithful are likely to be boastfully thrusting into the faces of their Sony-fan friends. But that’s not to say it can’t or won’t be a fun experience. It just didn’t wow me. It felt and, in the non-literal, yes-I-know-it’s-running-in-4K sense, looked like an Xbox 360 game.
At the very least, no prior Crackdown experience is required. “It’s not a sequel,” Staten said. “You don’t need to know anything about the events of Crackdown 1 or Crackdown 2. But the game is [narratively] conscious that there are other Crackdowns that have been made.” As such, you can expect “Easter eggs and references [to the other games].”