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Crackdown 3 Multiplayer Preview: Lots and Lots of Explosions

Crackdown 3 will likely live or die on its single-player campaign. Fans have expectations, and when it comes to Crackdown, it's over-the-top comic book-style action at a brisk clip. If the player's Agent can't bring down a criminal by throwing a car at their head and then shooting a laser through them, there will be some concerns.

Luckily, Crackdown 3 does an excellent job maintaining everything that set it apart so many years ago. Although the game has been in development for a long time - multiple delays will do that to a title - it has, at the very least, used that time wisely. Yet approaching Crackdown 3 as a primarily single-player experience would be a mistake. The game will launch with a multiplayer mode called Wrecking Zone, and it will probably be a little understated. Terry Crews is one of the protagonists of the story campaign, and the writing is fun. It's going to shine, and that's alright. But skipping Wrecking Zone all together will be a mistake. It's one of the most fun multiplayer modes we've experienced in some time, and it could end up being what players remember about Crackdown 3 years from now.

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Wrecking Zone will pit teams of players against each other. In the mode we played, the skirmishes revolved around Agent Tags. Tags drop when an opponent goes down, and players need to collect them before their timer runs out and they disappear. The first team to 25 wins a round, and anytime a player dies they have the option to customize their character some more. None of that is particularly groundbreaking, of course - modern FPS games have had rebuys, weapon loadout changes, and capture the tag gameplay before.

The thing is, it might not have ever been this fun. There's something about the frenetic pacing of Crackdown 3's multiplayer that's addictive. From the very first game, we were thrown into the game's subtleties without any explanation. Figure out how the buttons work. Puzzle out which guns suit you best. How much attention do you want to pay to your environment? Can the target get away before you die from their teammate's suppressing fire? You can track that last one, by the way. Crackdown 3 illustrates exactly who is aiming at you with visible sightlines. Once they're locked onto you, a player can see where the gunfire is coming from.

Even with all of these considerations, the multiplayer is clearly intuitive. Pulling off complicated attacks using the environment and all the skills at a player's disposable still takes time, of course. No game with good PvP will let you master it within fifteen minutes. What Crackdown 3 allows, though, is for the player to breathe, to discover the elements it has to offer. Nothing threatens to overwhelm. The pieces of the multiplayer are there for you to prod at whenever you want, but at its core, the game is an enjoyable FPS with an auto-lock on system.

That might seem antithetical to the idea of a "good" FPS, but its yet another part of the brilliance of Crackdown 3's multiplayer design. To make sure the game can remain fast, the developers decided to have guns automatically lock on to enemies within a player's line-of-sight if they choose to aim at them. Obviously, that makes accuracy something of a non-issue. That's why the sightlines were implemented - if aiming is going to be easy, then it should also be evident, so that players have a chance to react. Players being able to react makes movement crucial, and the game's quick movement mechanics allow for this to work. When it's laid out, it's almost a cyclical design configuration, like the game had to end up where it did.

That would take credit away from a team that obviously cares about Crackdown 3's multiplayer, though. Everything about Wrecking Zone feels accessible but challenging. It feels like someone who has just picked up the game can still enjoy a match with a veteran. Even if they're getting outclassed, there's the other major selling point of Wrecking Zone left to explore - destructible environments. Everything can blow up. Or, rather, most things, as there are elements of the map that are out-of-bounds. Not in the sense that players can't reach them, but in the sense that they will damage players who linger there. So, out-of-bounds, at least for those who enjoy winning.

Everything else, though, is fair game, and there's a lot to mess with. In the map we went hands on with, Hall of Heroes, we were able to push through the environment with ease. Agents can dash through concrete and shatter it in the process, opening up avenues that weren't there seconds ago. It works both ways, too, which adds a strategic depth to the wanton destruction. Sure, you can get to the person in your sights faster by punching through a few walls - but what if there's someone else there? You've just given them a direct line of fire and one of the most obvious, flashy entrances possible. Not good.

The environmental debris can help, too. Using falling pieces of rubble as a split-second line-of-sight interrupt as you dash away from an enemy is something that becomes natural as a player's familiarity with Crackdown 3 grows. Likewise, those familiar with a given map can bust up parts of it that they think they'll need a few seconds later, creating escape routes or points of entry that reward advanced planning.

We could talk about things like weapon balance (it's pretty good, although the explosives seem rather weak compared to primary firearms) or the obvious analogs to Overwatch (an Agent version of Ultimates), but those aren't nearly as important as the overall feel of a game that's been a long-time coming. Crackdown 3's multiplayer is by no means perfect - but it is perfect for Crackdown 3, and it won't be surprising to see it feature heavily on streams and amongst friend groups for months after the game launches.

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