Crackdown 3 is a very stupid videogame, belonging to a tradition of very stupid videogames that I hold close to my heart. Just Cause 4, Saints Row 4, even Agents of Mayhem, are all incredibly stupid videogames, and I like them all, because they’re things I can do while I’m doing other things.
Microsoft’s long-awaited Xbox exclusive always seemed destined to disappoint: it was promoted alongside some new, supposedly groundbreaking cloud destruction technology, and it also has the awkward distinction of being one of the very few non-Forza platform exclusives to release in recent years. If I had stakes in the console wars, then I’d probably be disappointed that Xbox has no equivalent to God of War or Bloodborne or Spider-Man; I might be disappointed that this is all I got. But if you divorce Crackdown 3 from its long history of delays, and if you ignore the huge amount of anticipation that’s always associated with blockbuster platform exclusives, and if—crucially—you accept it for what it is, then you’ll find a very good videogame.
The game in brief: you’re Terry Crews (apparently you can also be other people), and you’re navigating a vibrant neon-hued open world collecting green orbs and undertaking a series of small objectives. These usually involve shooting enemies and blowing things up, but there are also parkour challenges and, I assume, races (there are cars in Crackdown 3, but I simply do not want to drive them). I’m not sure why I’m shooting people and blowing things up—since this is a very stupid videogame I take pleasure in not having to remember plot beats and lore and motives. Collecting the orbs gradually increases Terry Crews’ powers: they help him jump higher, run faster and, I suppose, shoot better. But it’s the jumping higher and running faster that keeps me playing. This is a game about the pleasure of balletic movement, it’s a game about amusing superhero spectacle.
I have spent a good six or seven hours playing Crackdown 3 on silent while listening to podcasts. Sometimes I’ll even watch a television show. I don’t need to listen to anything this dumb videogame wants to tell me, I don’t even want to hear its stupid explosions. And I adore Crackdown 3 and its ilk for this very reason. To be utterly engrossed in an RPG or first-person shooter campaign is incredible, of course, and being fully immersed in a story and a world is definitely one of the reasons I enjoy games. But I equally enjoy any game I can play with only a fraction of my attention. After spending the last month playing through the gruelling Metro Exodus, and before that the unyieldingly tense and attention-demanding Apex Legends, Crackdown 3 just feels right. It’s less an action game and more something I can unthinkingly do with my hands—it’s videogame as Rubix Cube or stress ball.
I have the same relationship with Just Cause 4: it’s a matter of complete superfluity why I’m wingsuiting around a giant open world, blowing things up and grapple hooking zeppelins. The game tries to get me emotionally invested but it’s doing far more work than it needs to. And like Just Cause 4, I don’t really understand what I’m meant to be doing in Crackdown 3, I can’t figure out whether there are campaign missions (I don’t think there are?) and I can’t figure out what the map is telling me. These things annoyed me about both games at first, until I finally surrendered to the epic banality of them and enjoyed the aspects that mattered: the movement, the spectacle, the primal pleasure in just handling these games. Everything else be damned.
For my money, the best example of this type of game in recent years is Saints Row 4. I can’t remember whether I was required to do any missions or tasks to turn into a vehicle steamrolling deity who can scale skyscrapers with one button press. But I definitely remember playing the game for dozens of hours, with the sound off, while also watching The Larry Sanders Show. To be honest, I think Saints Row 4 is the Citizen Kane of utterly stupid videogames. It’s a modern classic, it’s one of my favourite games of all time. I play it with the sound off.
On the matter of Crackdown 3, I don’t think it’s quite as good as Saints Row 4, but it definitely looks good: Sumo Digital has really nailed the retrofuturistic neon-lit ambiance of 1980s cyberpunk. And while I’d hardly argue against most of the reviews it's been getting, I think we’d be a healthier bunch if we just accepted that not every game will reinvent the wheel, that not every game is designed to wow us. I reckon I’ll play Crackdown 3 more than any other game this year, because it demands absolutely nothing of me.