Crackdown 3 (XO) – the right choice for the Xbox One X launch?
The first console game to use cloud computing is finally nearing release, but is this the sequel Crackdown fans have been waiting for?
Crackdown 3 is a game with an unusual amount of weight on its shoulders. For starters, it’s a sequel to one of the most beloved Xbox 360 exclusives, that has to make up for the disappointment of Crackdown 2. But British studio Sumo Digital also has to contend with the fact that it’s the first Xbox One game to make use of cloud computing. And it’s a launch title for the Xbox One X. But from what we can see they seem to be handling the pressure very well.
It’s the game’s status as Xbox One X launch title that is perhaps the most difficult, as it only seems to be that because it coincidently happened to be ready at the same time. (It will, like all Xbox One games, still run on the original versions of the console.) The most obvious type of game to show off the new console with would be something with photorealistic graphics – something that looked as good as EA’s Anthem, for example – but Crackdown 3’s cel-shaded visuals don’t have quite the same impact.
Crackdown 3 does run at 4K though, and at a blistering speed, with graphics that are perfectly in keeping with the comic book tone of the game. But the other issue is that Crackdown 3’s only been shown off once in public before, almost two years ago now, and at that time it was all about demonstrating the incredible destruction effects that are made possible by using Microsoft Cloud.
Crackdown 3 (XO) – despite the perpetual darkness this is not a grimdark game
By the time we got to play the E3 demo we’d forgotten, and we think most other people had too, that those effects were only ever intended to be available in multiplayer mode. Which led to some confusion when the E3 trailer ended up looking nothing like what we’d seen before. Especially given the multiplayer wasn’t shown at all.
But if the unveiling has been a little confused the game itself seems far less problematic, and certainly much better than Crackdown 2. At times it does seem more like a remake than a sequel, but since there’s never been anything else quite like Crackdown that’s not such a problem.
The game’s premise is ultra generic (you’re a superhero-like government agent trying to fight bad guys that are… doing something) and the open world city setting has often been compared to Sony’s infamous, but Crackdown has always been a much more irreverent, fun-loving kind of game. One that throws realism out the window with the same relish with which your super strong agent throws around armoured cars.
Crackdown 3 (XO) – collecting orbs is like eating Pringles
As well as super strength you’re also extremely agile, being able to jump tall buildings in a single bound and now zip forward with an air dash. Beating up bad guys is obviously the main thrust of the gameplay, but as in the original game collecting orbs to upgrade your abilities is just as addictive. These are scattered around the rooftops of the city and collecting them all in the demo allowed us to move at a dizzyingly fast speed.
As design director Gareth Wilson explained to us in the interview below, the level progression had been drastically speed up to give an idea of what it’s like to play the game at your most powerful. And what it’s like seems to be a lot of fun, as you make mincemeat of all but the largest enemies and leap about like the Hulk with a machinegun (or, in one case, a gun that shoots mini-black holes).
The game’s disinterest in simulation (apart from the highly convincing physics) is hugely refreshing and we were relieved to find that there is still a lot of destruction to be had in the campaign mode, even without any cloud computing. We know this because we purposefully caused as big a traffic jam as possible and then lit it on fire, to explosive results.
Which, as agents of justice, is probably not what we were supposed to be doing. But since the game’s attitude is to allow anything as long as it’s fun, we couldn’t help but join in.
Formats: Xbox One and PC
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Sumo Digital and Reagent Games
Release Date: 7th November 2017
GC: I’m a bit confused here because that playable demo didn’t look anything like the one I played at Gamescom a couple of years ago.
GW: So, on the cloud-based destruction stuff. That is part of a separate multiplayer mode. You’ve got a large arena where you play in a competitive multiplayer way, where you’re trying to take down your opponent’s tower before they take yours down. That all works great in multiplayer and we’ll be showing more of that later on. Not at E3, but later on this year.
But when it comes to the campaign there was a couple of reasons why we didn’t want to put that technology into it. Firstly, I didn’t want it to be a completely online game. If you’re using cloud power it needs to have a constant, decent, connection to the Internet. And I wanted the campaign to be playable offline.
GC: Oh, yes. I’d completely forgotten that was how it worked. Sorry, but it’s been so long since we’ve seen the game.
GW: There is still destruction in the campaign, but it’s more of a traditional destruction you’d see in a normal game. And the second reason was just narratively, in a competitive multiplayer decimating the entire city kind of makes sense. But in a campaign where you’re there to save the world it doesn’t make that much sense. [laughs] But both modes will be out and available at the same time.
GC: I can guess the answer, but I’ll ask this anyway: why not offer the destruction as an option in the campaign mode?
GW: Well, it would’ve meant rearchitecting the whole game, basically. Almost building the city twice. Once to work with destruction and once to work without destruction, so it wasn’t an option. Maybe it will be in future games but it just made development sense, ’cause we were already making something which was completely brand new. So we just wanted to make sure it was as simple as it could possibly be.
GC: So how long have Sumo been working on this? Were you working on the Gamescom demo two years ago?
GW: Yes! We’ve been working on it since the beginning. The way it kind of worked out was Microsoft were really keen on bringing back Crackdown. And on top of that there was some interesting technology being worked on by a company called Cloudgine in Scotland. And it just became a great combination of things that came together, where we could add this cool destruction technology to Crackdown.
And then the stars really aligned when they started talking about bringing out Scorpio – the Xbox One X – because we were like, ‘Well, this would be a great launch game for Xbox One X as well. So that was part of the reason why there was a bit of a delay, because Microsoft wanted to make sure that they came out at the same time.
Crackdown 3 (XO) – there’s a range of different agents to play as
GC: At the time the game was originally announced cloud computing was a big buzzword for gaming, but I’ve barely heard it mentioned again since.
GW: I don’t know where other companies are, but I think there’ll be more announcements in the future. But like anything it’s tricky working with new technology. The difficulty was getting the latency right. So, because you’ve got to communicate with the cloud computer, get the results and send it back, there was a delay there. And you know what people are like for latency when you’re playing a game.
So we had to spend a lot of time trying to get that latency down to a level where you could run that game on the cloud or run it locally and people wouldn’t know the difference. So that was challenging. New stuff’s tough! It really is. But that’s why I’m in video games, I like doing stuff like that. I’m a bit of a masochist for it.
GC: In terms of the campaign, the game almost seems like a remaster. In that it looks like how I remember the original – even though I’m sure there’s a vast difference if I compared them side by side.
GW: It’s one of those things, yeah. Sumo are kind of past masters of taking beloved IPs and revamping them and making them fit for purpose for the modern age. So with Sonic Transformed we had all of those old IPs in it. And when we were building a level from Burning Rangers from the Sega Saturn we got fan mail going, ‘Oh my god! That level looks just like it did on the Sega Saturn.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, you have no idea. Seriously, type in Burning Rangers Sega Saturn on YouTube and look at it.’
GC: It is a shock when you see how bad some old 3D games look.
GW: [laughs] And it’s the same thing with Crackdown, because it’s such a beloved IP. It’s a bit of a cult classic really. So a lot of the time in development has been, ‘How can we keep the game feeling like the original but adding modern stuff so that it keeps up with the next gen titles?’
So we added in things like double jumps and air dashes and all the special moves and things like that. Which just make the game feel more fluid. But we didn’t want to go so far that suddenly it started feeling like Assassin’s Creed. Where you just hold down a button and climbed up a building. So it was trying to get that balance of… it needs to be skilled but then if you go back and play the original game you’re like, ‘Wow, this is tough!’
The amount of work going into making it feel fluid but still feel like Crackdown has probably been, from a design perspective, the most challenging thing on the project.
GC: The action runs really fast too, almost overwhelmingly so.
GW: Well, what you did on the show floor there, was you started at level 3 and it was accelerated level progression and by the end you were probably level 5. In the final game it will take you a good 10 or 12 hours to get to the absolutely frenetic pace that you just experienced.
What we wanted to do, is we knew we’d only have 10 minutes with you. So I basically condensed it all into 10 minutes, so people can feel where you get to and feel the power of it.
Crackdown 3 (XO) – better than Crackdown 2
GC: Did you take anything from Crackdown 2, for this new game?
GW: I feel for them a bit, to be honest, because it was a really rushed development cycle. I think they had nine months to make a game. But we took some stuff from them, particularly the rocket boots and the three hit combos, they weren’t in the original game but they were in Crackdown 2.
GC: Weren’t there zombies as well?
GW: Yeah, yeah… didn’t take those. [laughs] There’s enough bloody zombies in video games at the moment!
GC: Amen to that!
GW: So yeah, the zombies stayed on the cutting room floor. And I think that’s probably best for everybody.
GC: So just to confirm, there’s four player co-op for the whole of the story campaign?
GW: Yep, four player co-op through the whole of the campaign. You can play from start to finish in four player co-op. You can drop into my game, I can drop into your game…
GC: That must be tricky to design for, with four people running around at top speed.
GW: Yeah, it’s crackers. That’s been one challenge for us: how do you deal with four level 5 agents at the same time? And in the original game it was basically just dudes with guns for enemies. So in the final game we’ve got big mechs, tanks, we got dropships and stuff… because you need to keep pace with the power of the agents.
GC: Boss battles, or any complex set piece, must also be difficult to design when you can move at that speed?
GW: It is, it is. It’s been a real challenge…
Crackdown 3 (XO) – more giant robots is fine by us
GC: So to paraphrase: how did you make your game?
GW: [laughs] With a lot of trial and error, actually. We found a lot of stuff, which… I’ve made quite a few shooters over the years and we ended up with this mantra which is, ‘subtlety is not our friend’. So you cannot do little, subtle things in this game. So one of the bosses, which has worked out brilliantly, is that we’ve got this Aliens style loading Goliath and this thing just chucks huge rocks at you. And it’s frickin’ awesome, because you get rocks the size of cars being thrown at you, but when you’re facing a level 5 agent you need to be doing stuff on that scale.
You want the player to feel like an absolute god against the grunts, but when you come across the more powerful enemies in the game that’s when you have to start changing your play style. Because they might be immune to standard firearms, or they might have super evasive abilities like teleporting, and stuff like that. So we tended to make certain bosses resistant to certain combat styles, so you have to modify your usual play style. But what we’re really clear on, and this is where we made a bit of a misstep to begin with, was you can’t have a boss where there’s only one way to kill them. There should be multiple ways to kill a boss.
GC: What was the decision process in terms of keeping the cel-shading? I imagine there must’ve been a thought at some point to ditch it?
GW: We always wanted to make the game an over-the-top comic book, graphical novel style. It works for the franchise, it works for the style of the game, and it was just a natural evolution of the original game. I think if we made it very realistic, I think it would’ve come across as a little bit farcical. It needs that kind of comic book edge to it.
It’s been a tricky one, for sure. But we’re open world and we’ve got these big draw distances. We would never be able to go toe-to-toe with The Last Of Us or something like that. So we always wanted to update the comic book style that was in the original, but make it 4K.
GC: What has changed for the game since you realised you were releasing alongside the Xbox One X?
GW: We were really fortunate really, because the game was always PC and Xbox One, and we were always gonna do cross-play between PC and Xbox. So when Scorpio, or One X as it’s known now, started to become a reality we were like, ‘Well, this is just another platform really’.
And to be honest the dev tools we got were great. They pretty much allowed us to get it up and running at 4K straight away. It’s a beast, actually, that machine. It’s so much faster than the PS4 Pro. Comfortably faster, especially in terms of running things in 4K. There’s no question it’s more powerful, the question will be whether third parties make use of that full power or not.
GC: That’s very true. Well look, thanks very much for your time.
GW: No problem at all, good to talk to you.
Source: xbox one – Google News