If judged by today’s standards (especially the standards expected of a supposed triple-A, first party video game), Crackdown 3 isn’t a very good game. In fact, some might say that it’s really rather bad. It’s repetitive, it’s visually unimpressive, it’s unimaginative, derivative, it has a terrible script and, above all else, unlike Sony’s recent first party output which feels like it’s right on the technological cutting edge, Crackdown 3 feels like it was made a decade ago…..which it kinda was I suppose.
The thing is, all of that is true to one extent or another, but it hasn’t stopped me from being hopelessly addicted to this absolute sugar-rush of a video game. It might not be particularly smart, it might not be particularly clever, but I’ll be damn if it’s not a huge amount of utterly mindless fun. It won’t be for everyone of course, but I for one found its rather old-fashioned commitment to explosions and collectables surprisingly refreshing. Oh, and orbs too. I do love those orbs.
I say that, but man, I didn’t feel that way when I started Crackdown 3 – I can’t think of a game in recent memory that has made a worse first impression. The first 20 – 30 minutes of Crackdown 3 really are utter pipe. As you make your way through an array of boring and visually limited indoor sections, you’ll likely be shocked at just how simple it all looks, how basic the gameplay feels and how horrendously bad the dialogue is. Yes, everyone loves Terry Crews, and yes, this is a Crackdown game, but having Terry Crews shouting about blowing stuff and being all über American actually gets boring rather quickly. The lock-on system also feel archaic, and even after you beat the first boss and wander out into the open world city of New Providence, the game, initially at least, looks painfully dated and aesthetically boring. Stick with it though as Crackdown 3 soon gets good – well, good might not be exactly accurate (not in the traditional sense anyway), but it definitely gets better, and in my case at least, utterly addictive.
The thing is, Crackdown 3 only really hits its stride once you start powering up your agent and you get beyond the games’ visually bland first district. When you start the game off and your jumping abilities are basic, your move-set limited and your arsenal far from extensive, Crackdown not only doesn’t work, but it simply doesn’t make sense. That horrible start though, it doesn’t last long. The good times really do start with that initial, nostalgia-fuelled ping as you pick up your first agility orb. You hear it, then you see it, then you collect it – it’s just a collectable orb, but the makers of Crackdown created something special with those orbs, something that remains as elusively magical today as it was way back in 2007. There are collectables in loads of games (most games in fact), but few are as rewarding as the fantastic agility orbs in Crackdown. Yes, they are exactly the same as in Crackdown 1 and 2 (most things are in Crackdown 3), but after more than a decade, they remain as fiendishly moreish as ever.
Just picking them up is entertaining, but like just about every action in the game, the more you do it, the more fun everything becomes. Crackdown 3 is a game about excess, and once you get your levels up towards 4 and 5, that excess begins to show, and with it, a totally different side to the game begins to appear. All of a sudden, those design choices that didn’t make sense, they suddenly work. Yes, the game still feels old fashioned, but it no longer feels like a problem – instead, it all feels, well, right. The lock-on system, initially so basic, suddenly makes sense, the world, previously so boring, soon becomes a neon-infused playground that you race through with nary a second thought for the level of detail on display. The game, despite its old fashion design, basic mechanics and repetitive mission structure, abruptly opens up into a perfectly crafted playground of pure destruction, one in which every piece of its design seems to fall beautifully in to place. Those early moments of clumsily climbing around dingy looking locations are replaced by your agent essentially flying from one skyscraper to another as you almost mindlessly take out whole armies of enemies with lazily aimed grenades, rockets and, rather brilliantly, black holes. Again, this kind of simple, pure fun won’t be for everyone, but the more I played Crackdown 3, the more I began to love it.
Even its repetitive design suits the game – in the same way that I loved the original Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown 3 presents a very repetitive but wholly addictive set of objectives. It’s hard to define exactly why this kind of approach works in some games and not others, but Crackdown managed to nail that loop of completing objectives and upgrading your character like few games out there. Sure, Crackdown 3 doesn’t do anything particularly new in that regard, but it says something about the original’s design that so few games in the years since its release have manged to better (or even match) it.
Crackdown 3 isn’t a great game, and a lot of people are going to be very disappointed by the campaign’s lack of ambition (all the tech appears to have gone in to the rather mediocre multiplayer mode), but if you can see past the lack of innovation, you might well be treated to a game that gets better and better the more you play it. As great as Spider-Man was on PS4 (and let’s be clear, that’s a far better game than Crackdown 3), I think I’ve probably had more fun with Crackdown 3. That will invariably sound ludicrous to some, and I’ll happily admit that nothing in Crackdown 3 comes close to matching the high points of Spider-Man, but equally, I actually got rather bored with Spider-Man towards the end of the game, but with Crackdown 3, I can’t seem to get enough. I’ve already cleared every mission on the map and rinsed most of the collectables (I’ll get all of the those bloody orbs one day), but now, I’ve found myself addicted to rooftop races. I’m going to run out of actual content soon enough, but one thing is for sure – I’m not running out of enthusiasm for a game that I had all but given up on years ago.