We were privileged enough to not just see it in action, but actually to take the multiplayer game out for a spin.
One of the headline features of Crackdown 3 is the use of the cloud to take on the physics computations which allows for the sheer scale of destruction possible. We'll touch on that in a minute, but it's important not to neglect the single player, story driven game. The important thing to put out there right at the start is that the cloud physics are not in the main game. The reason for this is simple: people want to play offline. Since you're already connected to play multiplayer, it makes total sense.
The single player game doesn't take anything away from what Crackdown has always set out to be. It's still a 3D platforming game; you can climb any building you can see, and you're still trying to take down the Crime Lords as a member of the Agency. It's skills for kills, so you'll get better the more bad guys you take out, but there's a new gameplay mechanic in action known as the Hate System.
The Crime Lords are more difficult than ever to beat in Crackdown 3. They're not putting themselves out there in harms way for you to just find and kill. Instead, you have to draw them out, and that's where the Hate System comes in. You'll need to target their businesses, their runners, essentially cause trouble for them and make them hate you. It's not a static measure, either, and hate will drop after a while if you don't keep plugging away. Once the hate bar reaches 100%, the boss comes out and you get your chance. The one we saw in the demo was protected by an exo-suit that bullets couldn't penetrate. So, you have to be more creative, using destructible elements in the world around you to help finish them off.
Something that adds to the futuristic look and feel of Crackdown 3 is what they're calling "Digital Fabric." It's cast over the whole city and allows for digital signs to be projected around you. But the Crime Lords can also hack into the Fabric and use it to track you as you move about the city. Digital Fabric is also present on vehicles, and fans will be pleased to know that transforming vehicles are back, redesigned for the new generation experience.
There'll be much more to it than that as we've only seen very, very early pre-alpha gameplay in action. But so far, so good.
Then we get to the multiplayer. Where things are going to get crazy.
The multiplayer game is a different map to the single player experience, and it's where the power of the cloud physics comes into play. None of the graphics rendering is affected, all of that is still done on the console. All that goes off to the cloud is numbers, calculations. By freeing up the computing power of the console to concentrate on the rendering, the effects are mind blowing. Truly mind blowing.
The game will dynamically switch and add more servers as it needs them. If you're not blowing anything up everything is being done on the console. But the more you destroy, the bigger the effects, the more servers are pulled in to do the calculations. You'll never see how many it's using at any one time, there's no choppiness, nothing player facing that would indicate that any of this is going on. The gameplay remains smooth, even if you've got several enormous buildings toppling at once. It's remarkable to see.
As you fire weapons on buildings, pieces of it begin to fall away. The bigger the weapon, the bigger the impact. But as the outer layers begin to fall off you expose what's inside. The superstructure is there for you to carry on hacking away at. If you fire on higher floors, you can watch huge pieces of debris fall to the ground. These pieces don't disappear, either. You can blow them up into smaller pieces, and so on, and so on.
You may also be wondering how much bandwidth you're going to need to be able to take advantage of this. The simple answer is; not much. The developers told us that the system is optimized to be used on a 2-4mbps connection, though that's based on 4-player multiplayer only at this time.
Besides being enormous fun and technically astonishing, there is also some method inside the madness. Imagine in a giant multiplayer arena, your opponent is standing on a bridge. Just blow up the bridge and take them out with it. They think they can hide from you at the top of a skyscraper? Bring it crashing down. The destructible elements are going to add a whole new direction of multiplayer gameplay. Unpredictable, if nothing else.
So, are we excited for Crackdown 3? Absolutely. It's still a long way off being finished (the multiplayer we went hands-on with is still pre-alpha), so we're going to have to tough it out. But based on the time left until launch to polish and perfect, and what we've already seen, this is one to beat for 2016.