Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC

In many ways, Crackdown 3 feels like a game that should have come out five years ago. If it had followed more closely behind its predecessor, 2010’s Crackdown 2, I imagine it would have been a pretty big hit, especially as an Xbox One launch title. However, in 2019, the game looks and feels like a relic.

Sure, Crackdown 3 can be fun at times, and it preserves the satisfaction of slowly building your playable character up into a superhero-esque powerhouse, but the fun is fleeting. And worse, said fun is also often buried under a thick layer of monotony and frustration as you’re flung from one explosion-filled gunfight to the next. Crackdown 3 is most certainly a Crackdown game, but that’s much more of a bad thing than good.

Heroic aspirations

Given its strong emphasis on mindless action-based gameplay, Crackdown 3 tries really hard to build up a compelling world and backstory, mostly through cinematics which both bookend the actual game and are peppered liberally throughout the campaign. Players once again suit up as a liberation agent and are sent to do battle against an evil corporation called TerraNova which has taken over the game’s cityscape setting of New Providence.

Rather than creating your own agent from scratch, you instead pick from a series of pre-set male and female agents. Aside from minor bonuses to the rate at which they acquire certain skill XP types, there’s really no gameplay-based difference between the playable agents, and you can even unlock and switch to new agents over the course of your playthrough.

One agent, Commander Isaiah Jaxon, is even played by actor Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), expanding on his role from the various Crackdown 3 pre-release marketing materials. The game makes some effort to position Jaxon as the game’s main protagonist, but not to the point where you feel like you’re missing out if you decide to play as a different agent. Your playable agent never speaks or has any story development of their own, instead interacting with the world purely through violence.

Destructive catharsis

When it’s firing on all cylinders, Crackdown 3’s gameplay is a lot of fun. You can put the hurt on your enemies with unarmed melee attacks, firearms, explosives, and (once you’ve leveled your skills up a bit) special super moves like ground slams and rocket punches.

Much like in the first two Crackdown games, killing enemies is also how you acquire skill orbs which correspond to the manner in which you dispatched them (so punching an enemy awards red strength orbs while shooting them awards blue firearms orbs). Gather enough of these orbs and you’ll level up their corresponding skill, unlocking new attacks, abilities, and passive perks.

Along with the strength, firearms, and explosives combat skills, players also have driving and agility skills. You earn driving skill orbs by running enemies over with vehicles, jumping through stunt rings, or completing time trail races. Agility, meanwhile, is increased by tracking down agility orbs placed on high points throughout the city. As was also the case in the first two Crackdown games, leveling up agility should always be a high priority since it increases your jump height and unlocks essential on-foot navigation abilities.

Squandered potential

Considering how superhero-like your playable agent quickly becomes, Crackdown 3’s city setting always feels like a pain to navigate, even once you’re able to scale tall buildings with a single leap. Combat and driving feel serviceable enough, but on-foot navigation is constantly hampered by an inconsistent ledge-grabbing mechanic and an unintuitive control scheme which clashes hard with the precision-based platforming the game often throws at you.

The game also constantly interrupts your gameplay with cinematics and dialogue exchanges meant to play up just how evil TerraNova’s various lieutenants and bosses are, but the process of actually defeating them is a straightforward (and painfully formulaic) by-the-numbers process. First, you have to clear enough boss-specific objectives to access their base, then you spend 10-15 minutes scaling a vertical tower, and then finally when you reach the boss they hop into a vehicle (usually a mech) for the equally formulaic final showdown. Rinse and repeat.

Every one of Crackdown 3’s nine different boss encounters is either maddeningly boring, frustratingly cheap, or sometimes even both. There really are no special mechanics to master or puzzles to solve. When you finally encounter a boss, the strategy to defeat them is always the same: whip out your biggest guns and fire away. Really, the only semblance of “strategy” involved in the game’s boss fights is making sure you occasionally pause to kill smaller enemies so you can regain any lost health (health is awarded whenever you pick up skill orbs).

Wasted effort

Completionists might enjoy checking off all of Crackdown 3’ main boss battles and various side activities (I actually liked the game’s propaganda tower jumping puzzles), but even then the game isn’t very long. Even if you take your time leveling up your skills and completing side activities the main campaign tops out at about 13-15 hours maximum. Playing with a friend in co-op can add a bit of replay value, but it also trivializes the game’s already mindless combat scenarios.

There is also a separate 5v5 competitive mode called Wrecking Crew but really you shouldn’t even waste your time with it. Granted it is kind of neat getting to face off against other players in highly-destructible environments, but that novelty doesn’t justify how rushed and slapped-together Wrecking Crew feels like as a whole. Matchmaking and loading times are agonizingly long, and there’s no progression elements to speak of at all. The already rough-looking graphics of the main campaign also look even worse in Wrecking Crew. It honestly looks and feels like a multiplayer shooter game that was made 15 years ago.

Completionists and existing Crackdown fans who feel an incessant need to complete the trilogy might get some mileage out of Crackdown 3, but the game’s flaws are so glaring that it’s hard to recommend even to them. I suppose it’s nice that Crackdown 3 did finally come out after such a long and tumultuous development process, defying the odds much like its superpowered protagonists. However, if this is the fruit of that process then I fear Crackdown fans did a whole lot of waiting for nothing.