Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Crackdown 3 is Fine. You Should Play It

After several years in development hell Microsoft finally released Crackdown 3 for Xbox One on February 15, 2019. Rather than marking the successful (more on that later) return of a fan favorite, however, it was met with near universal disdain from reviewers. Honestly, I don't really understand why. I genuinely don't understand most of the complaints. It's driving me crazy. Unfortunately, it is also driving home the feeling I've had for a while now that I have never been more distant and disconnected from the industry that I have spent my entire adult life covering as a games journalist than I am these days. If the industry really is moving in a direction where a game like Crackdown 3 is something that critics and gamers don't want anymore, yeesh, that worries me. Keep reading for more on why everyone else is dumb and wrong about Crackdown 3. 

To start off, I want to clarify that I don't think Crackdown 3 is super great or anything. It has plenty of flaws and is a solid 6-7 out of 10, which makes it above average on the proper scale smart people use where a 5/10 is mediocre (and not the dumb person scale where anything below a 7 is terrible). It's janky and unpolished and fairly short and isn't as good as it should be. It also really doesn't look like a current-gen game (though it does look surprisingly good in places) and the separate Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode actually IS bad. All of this means that, even though I like it, I would still struggle to give it higher than a 6 or 7 if I was feeling especially generous. To repeat - I'm not saying the game is perfect or above criticism, I'm saying that most of the complaints don't really make sense and calling it a bad game, rather than merely a mediocre one, is flat out incorrect.

Play Crackdown 3 with
Game Pass like
a smart dude
Some of the other genuine complaints you can have with the game are overblown. The driving controls are definitely bad, but if you're spending much time driving you're doing it wrong and totally missing the point of the game, which is running and jumping across rooftops 30-stories above the ground. Likewise, the city feeling "dead' with relatively few people walking around or few cars on the roads is definitely an issue, particularly when directly compared to Crackdown 1, but, again, you shouldn't be down at ground level all that often so who gives a rat's ass about traffic density? These are complaints for the sake of complaining that have no actual impact on the gameplay itself. There is one criticism I agree with, though - there is way too much profanity for some reason.

However, even in this unpolished janky state, it is still really fun to play. The controls feel really good once you get used to them and you can run and jump around rooftops with ease. The progression system of collecting agility orbs so you can jump higher and further or leveling up your weapons and driving skills by actually using those abilities is brilliant. The game, admittedly, doesn't feel great when you first start, but once you level up your abilities - which unlock new skills - Crackdown 3 is a totally different beast. Crackdown 3 is addictive and satisfying in ways most games aren't anymore. It is dumb base-level Summer popcorn movie mindless fun. Remember fun? Videogames used to be fun. Crackdown 3 is fun.

One criticism that pops up frequently is that the game "feels old" like a last-gen game that didn't get the memo on all the new stuff games are apparently supposed to have these days. This is the one that really makes my brain hurt. Why is it a bad thing that a game feels old? Indie games get lavished in praise for re-capturing older gameplay styles, so why is it a crime that Crackdown 3 feels like a product of the past? Not every game needs to be a slow moving gray and brown cinematic serious game. Not every game needs to be stuffed full of story. Not every game needs to have a maze of upgrade menus. Why is it wrong for a game to be straightforward and just drop you into a world and let you have fun? This feels like a criticism that makes for an easy bullet point but no one actually knows what the heck it actually means.

Another recent game that also "feels old" is Marvel's Spider-Man, but that game got near unanimous praise despite doing very little fresh and new compared to the half-dozen Spider-Man games that came before it. It certainly felt better to play than past games, which Crackdown 3 does also, but the combat and mission design was all ripped straight out of 2004. It definitely looks really great and the web swinging is outstanding, but everything else is "old". So why did it get a free pass? That's why I'm so confused by this specific criticism. I don't want to out and out say it is because it was a PS4 exclusive, but I do think that if Activision published Marvel's Spider-Man on multiple platforms it probably would have received lower scores.

There is also the notion that Crackdown 1, from 2007, is still better than Crackdown 3 and I can't agree with that one either. Again, it is an easy soundbite but doesn't really hold up under analysis - in this case, actually playing the games one after another. Crackdown 3 is a much smoother and faster feeling game. The jumping and platforming feels better in Crackdown 3. Some people have lamented about the removal of transforming agency vehicles in Crackdown 3 (though your agency car DOES transform ...) but I have to go back to my point above where if you're driving cars around, even cool ones that transform, you're doing it wrong. Crackdown 3 also, while not looking super impressive compared to other current-gen games, absolutely looks miles and miles better than Crackdown 1. Reviewers saying you should play Crackdown 1 instead of Crackdown 3 are wildly out of line.

I've also seen the line of thought that people are criticizing Crackdown 3 as a full $60 MSRP game and not as a $10 a month (or less) Xbox Game Pass title and that it deserves the scathing reviews compared to other $60 games. I'd probably agree with that, but at the same time you can't dismiss the fact that Crackdown 3 is indeed on Game Pass and you don't have to pay $60 to play it. Back in my early reviewer days I used to look at licensed games and say "Well, if it didn't have this movie / TV license attached to it, would it still be a good game?" and usually lower the score because, no, it wouldn't have been as fun / interesting without the license. That's the wrong way to think about things, though, because those games DID have the license and you have to cover things based on what they are rather than searching for things that they aren't. Crackdown 3 IS on Game Pass and trying to convince people not to play it at all is doing everyone a great disservice. It is absolutely without a doubt worth playing via Game Pass. Don't skip it based on the reviews.

One last thing I want to touch on is how everything isn't quite as negative and dire as it seems around Crackdown 3. Just look at ResetERA where the official topic for Crackdown 3 has 35-pages of people actually playing it and mostly enjoying it compared to the 90-pages of the review thread which almost entirely consists of Sony fanboys - who are literally never going to ever play the game - doing victory laps and concern trolling about how this is somehow a bad sign for the future of Xbox next-gen. Or how about the "dire" review from a certain cynical Brit on YouTube who has a Patreon where people pay him to play a wildly negative character who hates everything (especially anything Xbox). What I'm saying is that there is a lot of noise and a lot of discussion out there about Crackdown 3 but most of it can be ignored because a huge chunk of the people participating shouldn't be taken seriously anyway. I know that sounds like I'm just plugging my ears and ignoring the problem, but when most of these people are so obvious and transparent (just look at post histories on Reset or folks' Twitter bios) ignoring it really is for the best. 

There are actually posters on ResetERA arguing that people enjoying the game and having fun despite its flaws are going to somehow devalue the industry and usher in an era where mediocre games are the new norm and the only way to prevent that is by stamping out all fun before that happens. If that isn't an indicator that a lot of the discussion around Crackdown 3 is in bad faith, I don't know what else you need.

All I know is that I've had a lot of fun with Crackdown 3 and I hope other people give it a chance. It isn't a masterpiece or anything, but as a fun and satisfying videogame-ass videogame that is absolutely 100% worth the $10 or less you'll have to pay for Game Pass. 

I suppose I should also clarify that I don't have a horse in this race anymore. I used to work at an Xbox site and it was in my best interest for Microsoft to do well, but that hasn't been the case for 3 years now. I don't care who "wins" the console warz. I have a PS4 and Xbox One and love them both. What I don't like obvious hypocrisy and fanboyism and crappy journalism and poorly done reviews.