Crackdown 3's campaign is good old-fashioned mayhem

Five years of development and five years of hype for massive multiplayer destruction (powered by the magic of the cloud) has led to this moment for Crackdown 3: I've played Wrecking Zone, and I'm sorry to tell you that it is very bad. It is a confusing mess of a game, where everyone controls a super soldier who runs like Mario on ice and and every building is drab digital sheetrock. You can punch through it as easy as tissue paper, and it feels about as satisfying as poking your finger through a kleenex and declaring yourself as strong as Goku. The occasional moment where you blast a rocket or a super-powered punch through a wall to kill someone is cool, but you'll spend most of your time in Crackdown 3's multiplayer trying not to get dizzy as its lock-on camera helps you target someone three stories directly above you.

Wrecking Zone is the baffling result of five years of hard work, and strong evidence that Crackdown's design just doesn't work as a competitive game. But there is is some good news, too, or at least better news: Crackdown 3's campaign looks and feels remarkably similar to the game I played a hell of a lot of on the Xbox 360 in 2007, with a smooth transition to the PC's mouse and keyboard and dialed-up graphics options. You can see more of Wrecking Zone in the video above, but I'm going to focus on the campaign, the part of Crackdown 3 worth your time.

I played about two hours of Crackdown 3 solo, set loose in the open world to hunt down its gang faction leaders and collect all sorts of glowing objects peppered around the map. Orbs, baby: They're back, in orb form. The fantasy of Crackdown is that you're a super cop who inexplicably gets stronger by doing the most videogame possible thing, jumping a lot and collecting stuff. It's a simple premise that remains fun in Crackdown 3, even at the very start when you can jump a mere 10 feet in the air or so.

You can be Terry Crews!

Crackdown 3's entire setup is also refreshingly straightforward: It's GTA by way of Mega Man, in that all the big boss bad guys are just out there in the open world, waiting for you to go find them and take them down in any order you please. Start wrecking shit in a gang leader's territory, and you'll eventually discover the means to lure them out. This structure was my favorite thing about the original Crackdown, because I loved having the option to pick off the guards of a way-stronger-than-me boss with a sniper rifle from afar, or attempting a suicide run by sprinting past them and lighting up the boss's HQ with a grenade launcher, with me inside it.

There's a breeziness to Crackdown 3's collectathons that feels different from the typical open world game today, where you're often getting a bunch of this to craft that or upgrade something or other. And there are no linear, scripted missions that yank you out of that open world freedom as GTA loves to do. If you want to throw yourself at the final boss's gauntlet, a massive tower at the center of the city, you can do that in the first five minutes. Just prepare to be blown out of your boots until you can run faster, jump higher, and bring a deadlier arsenal to bear.

This game has some cool damn guns, and I only got to try a handful of the more than two dozen guns. At one point I killed a dude dressed like Space Ghost's Moltar and took his nuke-green toxic sludge gun, which, it turns out, is very good at melting flesh. It squirts out a steady stream of sludge that takes down fleshy human enemies in a second or two. Unfortunately, it didn't work well on his toxic armored Moltar buddies, who were specifically equipped to resist that damage type.

They were not specifically equipped to resist my cryo shotgun, however, which fired a spread of ice pellets that could freeze enemies solid. In that moment, Crackdown reveals its deepest decision-making: Do you want to shoot the bad guy until he dies, blow him into pieces, or punch him so hard he explodes? Because narrative choice in videogames is an illusion, sometimes when you choose to shoot someone they'll blow up anyway. Most things in Crackdown end with explosions, and that is fine with me.

I forgot to mention picking enemies up and throwing them, which is also an option, and a pretty messed up way to knock down another bad guy. How would you feel if someone shot your coworker and then threw his body at you? Would you admire the sublime ragdoll physics, or think What the hell, man!? Crackdown 3 is a very unrealistic videogame that becomes extremely funny the second you think about what you're doing.

Most fights in Crackdown 3 focus on scale and mayhem, because the act of shooting is so simple: You lock on with a right-click and blast guys until they die with a left click, so it's hard to miss and easy to flick from target to target with lethal efficiency. You're meant to be the king of the playground, at least until you run into a kid from a grade above you who shrugs off your tiny fists, at which point you know it's time to get some more orbs (steroids?) and punch them harder. Either way, it's a good time: Less about mechanical skill, more about finding the most fun you can have with the craziest guns at your disposal. 

The open world feels oddly barren for a modern game, though the cartoony art style looks nice and clean running at high resolutions. But it's a fairly lifeless world. Cars putter around, a few nondescript NPCs mill about. There are some cool storefronts and neon signs. It's not devoid of personality, but the only stories you're going to find in Crackdown 3 are the ones you make by blowing shit up. 

Again, though, simplicity works in Crackdown's favor. Buildings are easy to climb and bound between, and there are some nice little parkour touches like mounting ledges and hopping up little bits and bobs that jut out from walls that make climbing easier than it was in the first Crackdown. Though movement is far less detailed than in a game like Assassin's Creed, there's a similar joy in scampering up the side of a building, if you can't jump over it entirely. 

Lotta guns in here

Crackdown 3 sometimes feels like a strange vestige of 2007, a game I'm surprised exists this untouched by the conventions of 2019. It plays like a bigger/better/more Crackdown redux, with support for two-player co-op, and a cool mix-and-match character-and-world save system that speaks to how it wants to be a replayable sandbox. Basically, you level up your agent save and world save separately, so you can then take an end-game agent into a brand new world and totally wreck it, or a brand new agent into a late-stage world. You can have a world just for playing with a co-op buddy. It's another simple but clever system.

All the qualities that make Crackdown 3's campaign fun are present in multiplayer, but they just don't work there. The verticality is disorienting; the speed of movement is disorienting; the destruction is disorienting. The lock-on mechanic robs the game of the skill involved in most shooters: Aiming. It admirably fulfills the promise Microsoft had five years ago when it set out to make Crackdown 3, but thankfully the campaign is there to make it worth playing. It's out on February 15, and still the best orb hunting simulation in the business.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).