Crackdown 3 has been a long time coming, and Microsoft Studios knows it. The publisher has been noticeably deliberate with its approach to developing the game, leaving it in the capable hands of British-based studio Sumo Digital after some early turmoil threatened to sabotage the project. For those who have forgotten - and it has been a long time, so you'd be forgiven for doing so - Crackdown 3 was announced in 2014. Now, five years later, the game is in the final stages of its development and preparing for launch in a few weeks.
Delays aren't necessarily a bad thing, and Crackdown fans have had to be patient anyways. Crackdown 2 came out nine years ago, after all. When a game gets delayed as frequently as Crackdown 3 has, though, it begins to attract more in the way of expectation. Players will expect a polished, tight product that hits all the major beats that have been advertised over the course of its development (even though that itself should be a standard for all games). If it doesn't, there will be disappointment. Probably more than usual, given the circumstances.
After an extended hands-on session, we're confident that Crackdown 3 is more than capable of living up to the hype. In fact, it's the kind of game that could help salvage the last years of the Xbox One's life cycle. Exclusives like Crackdown 3 are exactly the type of properties that can sell people on owning a console, and although the delays were likely necessary to get it to where it is today, it's a shame it couldn't have arrived sooner for Microsoft. Additionally, Crackdown 3's multiplayer mode Wrecking Zone will help extend this game's lifespan by a significant measure. That's a victory for a game that can be completed in something like fifteen hours, according to creative director of Microsoft Global Publishing Joseph Staten. Although there's lots of extra content for completionists, there will be something left over for those satisfied with the main campaign's core story.
Still, the main campaign is something that needs to be talked about. Crackdown 3 is pitch perfect for the series. Playing through the main campaign gives players the sense that they are a superhero trapped within an Agent's clothing, much more Deadpool than Robocop. The game is even willing to tackle the kind of politics that good comic books are willing to address within their pages, as evil corporation Terra Nova preys on immigrant workers and their fears of the outside world to exploit them in what is supposed to be a safe haven. If that isn't a metaphor for the current situation in certain countries in the west, then Terry Crews isn't a great choice for Crackdown 3's protagonist. Spoiler alert: Terry Crews was definitely a great choice for the protagonist.
It's not a secret that Crackdown 3 is inspired by comics, either. The latest iteration of the franchise embraces that fully, offering up comic book animations of villain introductions and key storyline moments. It's over-the-top, sure, but nothing about Crackdown 3 is subtle. It also lends the villains a certain charm. They're memorable, even though there's a fair number of them, because they pop off the screen like a campy Spider-Man villain. They've even got the kind of niche powers that one would expect from standard superhero fare. Dude who loves poison a little too much? Check. Robot AI that's gone a little bit...evil? Check. They're all here, and they're a lot of fun to interact with, honestly.
The gameplay itself, though, is the true reward for diving into the world of Crackdown 3. It's still very much a Crackdown game. The environment is destructible. Your agent is overflowing with cool ways with which to dispatch an unfortunate enemy. Often times, those two elements intermingle and create the game at its most hectic and fun. Smashing something up to generate debris to then throw at a robot's head doesn't get old - at least not for the few hours we got to try it out. There's something rewarding about exploring the world of Crackdown 3. As you progress, the city begins to breathe, with refugees able to resist their suppression and begin to eke out livings for themselves along the way. Even during our brief time, liberating citizens from unfair, makeshift prisons or putting an end to propaganda felt like it was making a real difference.
Crackdown 3 is also designed to maximize fun. Weapons are readily available and dropped by the enemies they're most effective against. There's enough variety between all of the weapons that those who just want to point at something and shoot will have no trouble mixing things up, but there's also a lot more to be done. The game begs to be explored, and to do things however you like in the process. We ran through a few of the same style fights and tried a different approach to each. During the liberation of some similar locations, we used weapons in one, melee and throwing items in another, and a mixture of the two for the final one. All of them felt viable and interesting, and offered different tactical advantages. Throwing a robot at another robot is still the best way to go, though.
The Xbox One doesn't lack powerful, brooding titles. That's also not something that will set it apart. Exclusives need to set themselves apart, to offer something that other titles don't or can't. Crackdown 3 might not end up being one of the best games ever made, but that's okay. It's a great exclusive that presents a compelling reason to own an Xbox One, and that's exactly what Microsoft needs right now.