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Crackdown 3 - Agent Roll

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Destruction, demos and decisions: our time with Crackdown 3

We can’t have nice things

The developers won’t say it, but I will: Crackdown 3’s campaign doesn’t have full-blown destructible environments because we’re not allowed to have nice things.

In this case, we’re not allowed to have nice things because of a nebulous, non-specific you. “You” are why we can’t have nice things like a fully destructible Crackdown 3 campaign.

Sure, there’s a fictional rationale for Crackdown 3’s campaign not having the carnage previously shown off in demos for the game years ago. As representatives from Reagent Games and Sumo Digital keep telling me, in Crackdown 3’s campaign, you’re the good guys, and good guys don’t blow up buildings.

It’s an idealized world, clearly.

That’s a nicer sounding reason than the one I think is probably the bigger obstacle — that Microsoft, Reagent and Sumo Digital weren’t prepared to deal with the potential blowback of a game that required an always-online connection for single-player.

Conveniently for them, the developers have a more palatable version of this explanation, that they just want players to be able to enjoy Crackdown 3 offline. But it’s hard not to think about how the vehement reaction to Microsoft’s initial Xbox One always-online plans affected the decisions made regarding Crackdown 3 in the ensuing years. And it’s hard not to look at what Crackdown 3 is right now and think of what might have been.

What it is might be enough, though.

Monday morning I had the opportunity to play through a 10-minute demo in a portion of Crackdown 3’s city that emphasized the game’s “skills for kills” ethos. Like the original Crackdown — and we’re just not going to talk about Crackdown 2 — your agent has a host of abilities that become more powerful as you use them. In the demo, that progression is sped up by orders of magnitude, and my obvious goal was to max out my agility as quickly as possible. My favorite thing in Crackdown was the traversal. I loved bounding from building to building, hurling myself up the sides of structures and outrunning traffic on the freeway, and all of this is present and even improved in Crackdown 3.

It’s not just about basic mechanical refinement that comes from a decade of game development evolution at play here. There are also very smart quality of life improvements that make the game feel less punishing and less frustrating. The addition of a double jump allows for longer, taller leaps, but it also allows for just a tiny bit of adjustment and recovery from imperfect trajectories. Agents now also have the ability to sink their fingers into the sides of structures as they fall downward, which slows their descent and allows them to gain enough purchase to make a recovery jump upward instead of losing all that progress.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that missing a jump and having to start a long climb upward was one of the biggest annoyances in Crackdown and a huge roadblock for basic exploration and discovery. For that to be even 50 percent better — an arbitrary number I just picked out of thin air — would make Crackdown 3 a better game.

It certainly appears that Sumo Digital is working on addressing the rough edges of the previous games holistically. The same basic freedom of the original game is present. Crackdown 3 isn’t broken down into levels. Rather, the city is divided into territory controlled by different gang leaders who report to Crackdown 3’s main villain, and those gang leaders in turn have lieutenants. You could theoretically go after and find the gang leaders — and possibly even the main villain — right from the word go, though this would be extremely difficult. Instead, Sumo and Reagent expect that you’ll want to take each gang apart from the ground up, thus weakening the overall criminal enterprise.

But there’s also more distinction in who you’re fighting based on their tactics, weapons, and appearance, along with a more tangible sense of escalation that propagates organically through the world as things get hairy. Basically, if you start too much shit with a gang, they’re going to come after you wherever you are and regardless of what you’re doing, whether you’re on a freeway in a totally different part of the city or on top of a building (all of which are climbable — I asked). The potential for chaos in Crackdown 3 seems considerably higher than the last-gen games in the franchise, and I was into it.

Other aspects of Crackdown that felt inventive and ahead of their time are still present, including the novel lock-on targeting system and emergent, physics-based weirdness. The devs wouldn’t confirm if the harpoon gun from the original is returning, but they did confirm that any sharp object functions like a harpoon, pinning enemies to vehicles or walls or other people or ... basically whatever. Vehicles are also receiving new attention, and praise be to your preferred higher power, transforming Agency vehicles are back in the game.

Also, executive producer Steve Pritchard pointedly refused to comment on whether or not there are flying vehicles in the game — while design director Gareth Wilson smiled broadly — in a way that leads me to believe that Microsoft Will Have More To Say at Gamescom. There are still plenty of things Microsoft isn’t talking about: how the game reconciles its agents as “good guys” given the ... let’s call it grim ending of the first game.

And then there’s the little matter of Crackdown’s legacy and origins. Crackdown originally gained notoriety thanks to its association with the Halo 3 multiplayer beta. Executive producer Peter Connelly, who has now worked on all three Crackdown titles for Microsoft, talked about his favorite memory of working on the original game, when he received a picture back in 2007 of art for the Halo 3 beta with a badge icon that said “comes with a free game.” So, logically, I asked if there would be a beta for Halo 6 attached to Crackdown 3 when it launches this fall.

The team laughed, but apparently I’m not the only person to bring it up.

“Yesterday, Phil Spencer was playing the demo out on the floor and said ‘You know what would be funny, if we put a demo for Halo 6 on top of this,’” Wilson said. “So you’re not alone in thinking of this.”

But almost as important to the original Crackdown’s success was a downloadable demo that allowed for an unfettered 10 minutes of gameplay in the city. Interestingly, the demo on the E3 show floor bears a remarkable resemblance to the 2007 snippet in structure and time-limit, and I asked about the possibility of a demo for the public. Again, Connelly was non-committal, but the tenor in the room suggested it was a distinct possibility. And for me, that’s what I needed to relieve some of my misgivings about the game.

We’ll have to wait and see if Microsoft gives players the opportunity to give the game a chance for themselves the same way. Crackdown 3 will be released for Windows 10, Xbox One and Xbox One X on Nov. 7.

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