Hands-on with Crackdown 3 for Xbox One: Explosions, black holes, and beach balls

Sea of Thieves

I'd never experienced the joy of agility orbs, the ridiculous fun of throwing trucks into orbit, or punching random dudes across the map, so I had no idea what I was in for with Crackdown 3. I felt like the E3 2017 trailer with Terry Crews was designed specifically for fans of the franchise. As flashy and exciting (and funny) as it was, I had no idea what was going on, frankly. But that's okay because Crackdown 3 is all about delivering the experience franchise fans want and then some.

I went hands-on with Crackdown 3 at E3 2017, and I had a chat with Sumo Digital, thte team that's building the game's campaign experience. And I'm now ready to join the Agency.

Sandbox skills for sandbox kills

Details are a little scant, but in Crackdown 3 there has been a global attack of some kind disrupting major cities all across the globe. As a member of the mysterious "Agency," it's your job as a Crackdown superhuman cop to infiltrate the island of New Providence and discover, and ultimately eliminate, the source of all the attacks.

Sumo Digital isn't giving away too much about the game's story, but I generally get the impression that it's secondary to Crackdown 3's ridiculous, over-the-top, and quite honestly, awesome gameplay.

Sumo Digital described New Providence as "huge," and it's reportedly two and a half times bigger than the first Crackdown's world. It's an entirely open-world sandbox, and it allows players to tackle bosses in any order as they see fit.

Crackdown 3 is a game that constantly rewards the player.

New Providence is controlled by a shadowy organization known as "Terranova." On the surface, Terranova appears to be a typical conglomerate, but in reality, it's responsible for all sorts of shady business. It's on you to dismantle Terranova, taking out the various kingpins and bosses that keep the head honcho in power.

Unlike similar games with an open-world format, Crackdown 3 doesn't gate the player behind quest requirements, boss unlocks, or anything like that. In theory, you could speedrun to the last boss, and Sumo has stated that some of its most "inhuman" QA testers have bested the game in two to three hours. In practice, though, achieving that would be far more difficult owing to Crackdown 3's progression system, called "Skills for Kills."

As seen in previous games, Crackdown 3's stat system rewards players for participation. Agility orbs found at the tops of skyscrapers reward the player with extra jump height, strength orbs spawn for throwing cars or punching enemies, and you can also rank up skills with firearms too. The more you collect, the more your power grows, until you're eventually able to throw busses into space, or punch enemies across the map — hilarious and over-the-top physics in tow. Crackdown 3 is a game that constantly rewards the player.

You're eventually able to throw busses into space or punch enemies across the map.

As your strength and skills grow, bosses begin to react to the mayhem you cause throughout the game. Whether you're killing their captains, liberating city blocks from Terranova rule, or destroying Terranova property, eventually you're going to start pissing people off. This is where Crackdown 3's new "Gangs Bite Back" system comes into play, which adds an element of dynamic mayhem to the campaign.

Attacking enemies and property under the control of specific overlords will cause them to "Bite Back," sending in random attacks from anywhere on the map. Crackdown 3's A.I. works across the entire game world pervasively, which means these attacks could occur at any time, should you annoy a certain crime boss enough.

One example Sumo showed us behind closed doors was the capturing of a monorail station owned by one of the crime bosses. Capturing it grants the agency access to new turrets which will spawn on the monorail and randomly provide support as you play. Additionally, capturing the monorail really upsets the enforcer in charge of the system.

The more mayhem you cause, the more likely you are to draw an overlord out of hiding, creating epic and dynamic boss battles anywhere in New Providence.

Sumo is keen to ensure control is never taken from the player. All cutscenes take place in real time, displayed on the various hologrammatic billboards and terminals seen throughout the city. Crackdown 3 has a narrative, but Sumo Digital doesn't want it to get in the way of the real reason you're here: crazy explosions, insane physics, and ridiculous weapons.

Black holes, revelations, and beach balls

Having never played a Crackdown game before, my best frame of reference is Insomniac's similarly ludicrous Sunset Overdrive, which also revolves around sandbox chaos in a vaguely comic-book style. My brief hands-on session totally sold me on Crackdown 3's formula, even without the additional insanity of four-player co-op, which is expected to ship with the full game.

Retracing the steps of Sumo Digital's walkthrough, I headed to the monorail in an attempt to capture it and draw out the local overlord. I was instantly enamored with the sheer amount of options given to me for how to tackle these objectives. I could run the guards over with a car, I could pick up the car and throw it like a projectile. I could rip street lamps out of the ground and use them as giant baseball bats. I had an arsenal of standard weapons, like shotguns and machine guns, and I even had access to a Halo 5-like ground-pound area attack. There are jetpacks, aerial leaps, grenades, and even super weapons.

Sumo informed me that my progression had been accelerated for the demo to give players a taste of how powerful they can become in the full game. I grew in power to the point where I was able to throw trucks and buses, and doing so sent enemies rolling around like rubbery ragdolls, slamming into walls like toys. It's super satisfying and infectiously addictive.

Crackdown 3's gunplay felt like pretty standard "lock on and fire," that is, until I got my hands on the verifiably insane black hole gun. Beyond standard weapons, Crackdown 3 also features all sorts of insane weaponry, including a micro-missile launcher, Sumo describes it thusly: "think of it as a chaingun, with missiles." I also found some kind of close range force-push shotgun, which blasted enemies back in a forceful cone.

The black hole gun operated as you might expect, launching a gigantic singularity which sucked in all nearby enemies, objects, cars, and even civilians, before blasting them out in a storm of ragdoll glory. The ensuing chaos also caused passing cargo train to explode, spreading a shower of giant beach balls spreading out across the street alongside the explosions and bodies. This is the kind of spectacle you can expect from Crackdown 3: pure, mad fun.

Wrapping up

There are still a few unanswered questions about Crackdown 3, many revolving around its enigmatic multiplayer mode, which features insane cloud-powered destruction physics. Overall, though, it certainly seems like the game is shaping up nicely.

On Xbox One X, Crackdown 3 will run at a 4K resolution, complete with enhanced visuals and improved texture density. It looks stunning at 4K and should serve as part of a solid lineup of first party games hitting the Xbox One S and Xbox One X this fall.

Stay tuned for more information about Crackdown 3 as we get it, and if you have questions, let me know in the comments.

Crackdown 3 is expected to launch as an Xbox Play Anywhere exclusive on November 7, 2017, for Xbox One and Windows 10, and it should cost $59.99.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!