The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No surprises in ‘Crackdown 3,’ a by-the-numbers disappointment

Crackdown 3. (Microsoft Studios)

Crackdown 3

Developed by: Sumo Digital, Elbow Rocket

Published by: Microsoft Studios

Available on: Xbox One

“I love the smell of toxic fumes in the morning.” The narrator in “Crackdown 3” had a habit of saying this whenever my superagent scrapped with the polluters affiliated with the TerraNova corporation. His lame take on Robert Duvall's much abused line fromApocalypse Now” is of a kind with “Crackdown 3’s” tired story and no-more-than-decent gameplay. I played through the campaign over the weekend with a friend and we were moderately entertained by its action while remaining aware of the banal quality of the overall experience. Bouncing around a city in gigantic arcs, jumping up buildings to collect power ups and shooting hostiles all seemed a lot less vapid with a friend to interact with. We agreed that the by-the-numbers campaign is best experienced with added distraction.

“Crackdown 3” feels like a remnant from another console-era, a time in which open-world games were still a novelty. Arranged about the neon city of New Providence, where the game is set, are communication towers to scale, many enemy operations to assault, an unmemorable pack of bosses to kill and some side activities to participate in. None of these activities are particularly different than those found in any number of games. The shooting, driving, and traversal mechanics are fine and the firefights are generally well-balanced, but these aspects don’t add up to anything particularly rousing. As my friend Milton said, “It’s the most okay game that I’ve played in a long time.”

At the core of “Crackdown 3” is a gameplay loop that revolves around gun battles against evil corporate doers and combing the map for power ups to increase your law-bringer’s abilities. Power ups are usually found in high places. The game’s emphasis on verticality means that upping one’s agility or jumping skill is particularly useful. Another line the narrator says a few times is “skills for kills;” thus, the more you perform an action, such as a melee attack, the more proficient your agent will grow in that skill. I took silly pleasure in shattering robots with charged punches. I wish I could say the same about the game’s feeble attempts at humor. The only time my friend and I chuckled was when we were making fun of “Crackdown 3’s” timid invocations of class warfare. Listening to a character talk about “flipping the script” on the rich while we were hopping around like kangaroos in pursuit of power up orbs made us vow to dump that old idiom on the scrap heap of history. It would have been nice if this one-dimensional game had pinned its trivial plot on something other than economic inequality.

It is annoyingly ironic that such a conventional game features an anti-corporation story line. The rebellious spirit that “Crackdown 3” tries to drum up with its punky supercops on a quest to take down a corporate city-state feels like it was wholly summoned by corporate consensus. This is one of those games where really all you need to do is read the back of its box or watch a trailer to know if it’s for you.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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