Crackdown 3 could be the best superhero game on PC

I'm stood in the busiest area I can find in New Providence, Crackdown 3's neon-lit and towering city environment. The level of traffic suggests that it's rush hour, which is exactly what I'm looking for. My agent is wielding a singularity gun, a weapon that can fire multiple black holes at once, because why not? I shoot one into the middle of the street, and far too many civilian cars are pulled into the swirling morass, before everything explodes after a few seconds. It's a lot like the singularity gun in Saints Row IV, but the carnage is larger scale, plus it can drag in other objects like the monorails circling the city. Give me this weapon. I need it.

Crackdown 3 feels just like Crackdown but with more toys, and I mean that as a compliment. The open world superhero sub-genre, which has filtered onto PC a little with the likes of Saints Row 4 and the mostly bad Prototype games, probably peaked on Xbox with 2007's original Crackdown (the Arkham games aside, which are great, but a slightly different proposition). For those who missed it, this comic book-y looking game cast you as a superpowered police officer, tasked with wiping out gang leaders dotted across the city in the fashion you saw fit. It was much more loosely structured than something like GTA, and after an overly safe sequel that nonetheless had a few neat additions, Crackdown's been on hiatus for seven years. 

The third one, made by new developers Sumo Digital in collaboration with creator Dave Jones, is coming to Windows 10. It captures the thing that I loved most about the first game, which was its power curve, and the gradual growth you experience as a superpowered cop. At first, climbing a skyscraper is a slow process. You can leap a storey or two, but getting to the top is a compelling little puzzle. Collect enough of the agility orbs dotted around the taller buildings, though, and you can leap higher. By the end of the game, you're bounding over rooftops, lobbing cars and booting guys to their death.

But the power curve seems to be stronger this time, and the city is two-and-a-half times bigger, with towering skyscrapers.

This demo of Crackdown 3 captures that power curve in a truncated way. I upgrade my agility twice by collecting just a few orbs, and I instantly feel the difference. You see the city in a different way when you're catapulting yourself between buildings, rather than carefully ascending from the ground. I shoot more black holes at enemies patrolling rooftops, and watch them get pulled in before exploding. It really is a terrific gun. 

You can also upgrade your driving, explosives, firearms and melee attacks in Crackdown 3. The more you use an ability, the more you're rewarded for using it. To Crackdown fans, this is exactly what you'll remember. But the power curve seems to be stronger this time, and the city is two-and-a-half times bigger, with skyscrapers in the distance. They've created a new location with a pronounced near-future aesthetic: there are holographic projections and neon lights across the city. To my eye, it doesn't look loads more detailed than the Xbox 360 games did, but the draw distance across New Providence is extraordinary, and effects like the singularity gun are way more impressive than anything the older games offered. 

"This is a brand new city, completely reimagined, completely rebuilt," executive producer Peter Connelly tells me. "It's almost three times of the size of the original, twice the play volume of the original, twice the height. The agents are back. There's no game like it for feeling like an overpowered, superpowered badass. We give that to you really quickly. Our power curve is extremely satisfying. We've worked a lot on the locomotion of the character so it feels really good. We've added the ability to do an air dash, to give you the feeling of being a superpowered flea as you jump over buildings. There's a whole new narrative, a brand new criminal empire to take down. The premise is still really simple: there are bad people doing bad things, and you're a good person who saves the city."

The city is packed with enemy-occupied areas, a few of which I clear out in this demo. Rather than hunting down crime bosses one-by-one like in previous Crackdown games, this time they're lured out by losing territory. Connelly gives the example of the city's metro system, which is owned by one specific criminal. Empty all the metro stations, and the network belongs to you—your characters can use it as a mode of transport. It soon triggers a retaliation, though. "You draw the captains out of their hideouts, and they'll come after you. So it's more organic." Connelly says.

You might remember that when it was revealed, a big draw of Crackdown 3 was the cloud-powered destruction physics, which was like a city-scale version of the collapsing buildings seen in the underrated Red Faction: Guerrilla and its rubbish sequel, Armageddon. This is still in the game, but not in the campaign I sampled at E3. We'll see a lot more of it later this year, I'm told. "Crackdown comes in three flavours: the campaign that's single-player or offline," explains Connelly. "The second is that same campaign game flavour with four-player co-op. And then we have a competitive multiplayer, and this is where we have our cloud-based destruction physics."

I get the sense with Microsoft's first-party line-up that they're recycling their glory days on 360 rather than banking on new stuff, hence more Halo Wars, more Gears of War, and more Crackdown. I always thought this series was Microsoft's crown jewel, though, and I can't wait to play this in co-op on PC. It might feel too familiar if you played hundreds of hours of the first game a decade ago, but Crackdown 3 could still be the best superhero game in town.

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.