Crackdown 3 preview: Early impressions of Microsoft's next Xbox exclusive

Microsoft is kicking off 2019 with a new Xbox exclusive, reviving the Crackdown series after a nine-year absence. Despite its troubled development, the refreshed open-world shooter is just around the corner, and it should define the promise of cloud-backed destruction.

But will Crackdown 3 live up to the hype? Or does it further highlight Microsoft's struggling first-party lineup? We've wrapped up our early impressions after three hours playing it on Xbox One X.

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How Crackdown 3 tames the power of the cloud

Crackdown 3 has experienced a turbulent development, following repeated delays since its 2014 unveiling. Now headed to store shelves half a decade later, heavy work appears to have been underway, giving the game "the time it needs" to prosper. And now likely to hit its February 15 planned release, we spent time across Crackdown 3's single-player and multiplayer modes.

Crackdown 3's underlying use of Microsoft cloud technology shows formidable promise, backing an interconnected sandbox of city-leveling multiplayer destruction. And with stars like Terry Crews on its roster, the game presents a persona that never takes itself too seriously.

Cloud physics are still Crackdown 3's key differentiator, harnessed to create destructible environments unbound by local processing capabilities. Beyond a few grounded elements to maintain map flow, maps pack dozens of sky-high structures to climb and destroy. And while it was a closed environment for the press, the technology achieves this with a steady framerate, which hopefully transfers to the average home.

In its current state, the Wrecking Zone multiplayer lets players customize loadouts comprised of two weapons, paired with accompanying player abilities. One dedicated firearm deals high player damage, while your holstered launcher is best assigned for environmental destruction. This puts Crackdown 3's destructive component at the heart of the gameplay, encouraging players to approach combat differently than your average shooter. And this also births new challenges, where map destruction and overall verticality increase the value of high ground.

Microsoft's game-changing cloud tech thrives in Crackdown.

My main concern with Crackdown 3's current multiplayer is related to content, with Microsoft only pledging to two modes and a handful of maps at launch. Paired with the team "not committing" to Crackdown 3 post-launch plans, it's unclear how (or if) it plans to support those engaged in its multiplayer action.

Where Crackdown 3 rises and falls

Crackdown 3 also plans to deliver a traditional single-player campaign, more reminiscent of previous series entries. Playable both offline or cooperatively with one friend, the open world of New Providence hosts a more curated and narrative-driven experience. It encapsulates Crackdown's most iconic traits, from the neon-lined streets to glowing orbs scattered throughout the towering rooftops.

Crackdown 3 is struggling with its identity.

We spent around 90 minutes in Crackdown 3's campaign, infiltrating plants, garages, and prison cells locked down by urban gangs. With key targets securing a stranglehold on the city, completing missions topples their influence, with the promise of larger boss battles later down the line. Snappy combat with a varied arsenal of weapons and powers keep encounters fresh against a range of class-based enemy types. However, it failed to create dense, memorable environments during these early missions, faltering into a forgettable urban sprawl instead.

However, beyond its much-anticipated cloud destruction, Crackdown 3 is seemingly wrangling an identity crisis. The series has previously failed to garner a following like Microsoft's flagship franchises, and there is a risk of that extending into its newest revision. While the studio has continued building on its core cloud technology, it runs the risk of relying too heavily on this differentiator, potentially compromising the depth of the campaign and overall package contents.

Crackdown 3 is shaping to be a faithful follow-up to its predecessors, retaining much of the franchise's prior successes. Returning fans should find enjoyment, though it's not poised to solve Microsoft's ongoing first-party woes.

Crackdown 3 ultimately feels like an ideal addition to the Xbox Game Pass library. For subscribers to Microsoft's Netflix-style subscription service, its day-one inclusion should make it worth the try. There's some game-changing cloud technology on show – but Microsoft has yet to justify the full $60 price tag, at least based on what we've seen.

Crackdown 3 is scheduled to launch on February 15, 2019, on Xbox One and Windows 10. While available for $60 (opens in new tab), Xbox Game Pass subscribers can play for $10 per month (opens in new tab).

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Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

  • The hype will die fast in my prediction. The differentiator only exists in multiplayer and if I understand this preview correctly, the team isn't committing to it...
  • Doesn't sound very promising.... Sounds like a 7/10.
    Maybe in this case they should have went the path of Sony exclusives and just focused on single player only.
  • They definitely should have mostly focused on the single player portion, Crackdown was never known for it's PvP modes. Though I really am interested in how Crackdown 3 Campaign is compared to 1 and 2, but Windows Central seems to not have any knowledge about them, which is very bad. Most games are compared to their predecessors to see what is improved.
  • Since the beginning, this has been a glorified tech demo and despite a ton of time and effort, it appears they still haven't created a compelling game, which is par for the course with this franchise. I played a good amount of Crackdown and it became repetitive very quickly and nothing about the story made me care about the world or what I was doing. Seems like this is more of the same.
  • Agreed, I finished the first game but I just kinda stopped playing number 2 because it got incredibly monotonous after a while.
  • People are not getting it. If u played Crackdown before, you know exactly what u are getting, so don't expect anything more on the single player part. Newcomers to the game might feel different about it obviously. In the 90 minutes I played it felt as i was playing the first Crackdown game but in a flashier jacket, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.. Again if u know what Crackdown is and u played the games before. Now Multiplayer is whole different story. Microsoft 100% delivered on the cloud destruction promise, never before done in a game ever in such a scale.. this is where Microsoft should put their biggest bet on. The only honest concern I have is.. How dedicated Microsoft is or will be for the game, content and at what rate we can expect new things for it since they are so quiet about the game, but they have good reasons why. I don't expect reviews to be spectacular and I hope the game gets reviewed by those who played the games before. Single player is single player, Multiplayer is where its at.
  • I still think it sounds disappointing. I mean all the delays for what exactly? The only positive is the cloud destruction which will hopefully lead to some really cool multiplayer down the road for other games.
  • All the delay is for a polished experience in their first dive into their cloud architecture. Their next generation system(s) is going to heavily utilize this and all the data gathered from this game will go to fleshing out the system for 3rd parties and all games going forward next gen. The great thing about this the barrier of entry is low. Just pay $10 or less (depending on deals) for a month of Gamepass and try it out. If you don't like it great. If you do buy it, you'll get a 20% discount which pays back your month of game pass. No loss.
  • It's not an exclusive if it's on the PC as well, so have games on the Xbox, for Xbox only, is still a problem. At this point it's dump Xbox, keep your PC, and get a PS4 or Switch.
  • It's a Microsoft exclusive. On the Xbox it's the only place where you can play games like RDR2 in Native 4k. Sony has less than a handful of exclusives that you could say are 'worth' playing. Thing is not everyone wants to pay $1000 for a PC hooked up to a small monitor. Not to mention all the maintenance required on a PC including OS updates, driver updates, crashes, bsod, modding, hacking, cheating etc. It's also hard for developers as there are upwards of 1000 different PC configurations. That's something PC gamers never mention. You won't find a PC for sub $400 that can play blu-ray discs, support dolby atmos, hdr and 4K gaming. A lot of people like myself just want to play to their games on a sofa hooked up to their flat panel tv and not worry about any of that.
  • for this logic, why get a PS4 if I can subscribe to PS Now and play sony exclusives like Uncharted and The last of Us on PC.
    The fact a game is on PC dont get its console exclusivity. You still can't play Crackdown 3 on PS4 or Switch.
  • Gaming market share current in US is console (digital > package) > mobile > PC.
    And in EU, is console (d>p) > PC > mobile.
    For various reasons of course. Game on PC or Xbox, you still need to join MS's ecosystem and it's not on PS4 anyway.
  • The issue here is you still look at gaming like the 90s or early 00s. Gaming is no longer about how many consoles you sell. It's about who's in your ecosystem. Something if Sony isn't careful will get left behind.
  • Like Phil Spencer stated in an interview. If your a Crackdown fan, then you will like Crackdown 3, if your not a fan, then you will not care for it. The formula to Crackdown is the same, so its was not going to be a game changer to blow anything out of the water, its a game made to be fun. Game play and fun factor is what Crackdown is, its not God or War or Spiderman. Now, lets think back at Sea of thieves, people criticize the game lack of content, now its the most steamed game on Mixer and Twitch, why? because Rare continue to tweak the game and offer free content. That same level will properly be passed on to Crackdown. So its premature to say, well I don't think the game is promising and my lack content. the game will out on Feb 15th, I think its best to play the game than taking to the word of some Critics. I find my self enjoying games they seem to spin negative info. Gaming is suggestive. If you have Game pass, then your in luck, download it, play. If you don't have game pass, then watch other playing it on Twitch or Mixer to make up your mind if this is a game that you will enjoy. Don't take the word from media. Self experience is the best experience.
  • I'm going to play this just for Terry 🤣
  • It's a faithful sequel yet it has an identity crisis? That doesn't make much sense.
  • I missed crackdown and I only wish that sunburst had continued, I liked the whole playing in real maps game BRING THAT BACK! 😅
  • Sounds like another fiscal based decision, if it was anything else you would at least expect a pathway post launch. Any fiscal based decision that pushes a game out before it's ready always creates uncertainty. As the game transitions from development to quick return on investment. Great games have alot of polish and intricate attention to detail. This little elements are what shape memorable experiences. To create such moments, it takes time, many people and many, many coding hours. Also poor campaign engagement could be another classic case stick a campaign for the sake of it and get it out the door pronto, which is another fiscal based decision.
  • Anyone claiming this game was hyped is grasping at some straws. This game was announced from the get go it was being made for fans of the first game. They weren't trying to make something new. Fans of the first game hated the 2nd game. And very specifically asked for a game more like the first. PubG hit 40 million players with 1 game mode and 2 maps. I'm sure those Crackdown fans will be very happy with their real. Sequel to Crackdown 1. I personally wasn't really a fan. It was fun for a bit. But this game wasn't made with me in mind.
  • the first crackdown was just boring. is this any much different gameplay-wise?