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Crackdown 3
Xbox One

CRACKDOWN was released with much fanfare in 2007. It wasn’t merely that Microsoft Game Studios bundled launch copies with multiplayer beta access to hotly anticipated Halo 3. More importantly, it was because the involvement of developer David Jones (the force behind sandbox giant Grand Theft Auto) heightened interest in the open-world action title. And he wasn’t attached just because he so happened to be head of Realtime Worlds; he conceived it and helped shepherd it through a five-year turnaround process that included shifting programming focus from the Xbox to the next-generation Xbox 360.

The result was a critical and commercial success that, simply put, had legs. Despite being on store shelves early in the year, Crackdown became — and, more importantly, stayed — top of mind for reviewers and gamers alike, making “Best of 2007” lists and garnering industry awards for its capacity to push the envelope in terms of gameplay and presentation. It was, as Jones envisioned, Grand Theft Auto, but better. And, as he also envisioned, the positive response led to the green-lighting of a sequel. Unfortunately, Realtime Worlds by then had other commitments, compelling Microsoft, which held its intellectual property rights, to commission another developer for the project.

When Crackdown 2 hit store shelves in mid-2010, it was met with a more modest reception relative to that of its predecessor. Perhaps because of the participation of former Realtime Worlds staff in its progression, it retained many of the elements that made Crackdown a hit. And perhaps because of the absence of Jones from the Ruffian Games team behind it, it likewise presented design changes that not a few quarters viewed in a less favorable light. Still, it was deemed good enough — and, of course, profitable enough — to keep the franchise going. That said, Microsoft figured Jones needed to be overseeing the next release from the get-go.

As things turned out, he did get on board for Crackdown 3 via Cloudgine and Reagent Games, companies he formed following his departure from Realtime Worlds. Announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014, it was envisioned to harness the potential of cloud computing to generate in-game models and environments. At the time, Sumo Digital was likewise tasked with providing the game’s campaign mode. Following delay after delay, however, the latter took over principal development, and, after a year at the helm, finally managed to bring it to fruition.

For gamers, the good news is that Crackdown 3 continues the series narrative. Picking up a decade from where Crackdown 2 left off, it has the Agency — the organization previously tasked with keeping order in Pacific City through the deployment of artificially enhanced soldiers — stepping in to stop terroristic Terra Nova from establishing a new world order. To do so, agents are deployed to New Providence, the stronghold of the supposedly humanitarian outfit, carrying out with the aid of Echo, the established local rebel group, missions aimed at eradicating the threat.

Just as crucially, Crackdown 3 displays all the core elements that have enabled the franchise to claim a loyal following. Of particular note, back is the “Skills for Kills” Campaign mode mechanic that increases the motivation of gamers to complete missions with a horde of weapons at their disposal, traveling around extremely expansive New Providence using any and all means of transportation they find. The more deaths they cause, the more they are able to level up their attributes and, in turn, gain access to new equipment.

Parenthetically, freedom of choice is the biggest draw to Crackdown 3; how objectives are met, as well as in what order they are met, depend entirely on player predilections. In this regard, it builds, and delivers on, its premise and promise of an open-world setting where anything can — and everything does — happen. As an aside, it amps up the independence factor in its Wrecking Zone multiplayer options; whether in the Agent Hunt or in the Territories milieu, gamers in teams of five obliterate enemies and, in the process, destroy everything in sight. Mindless fun? Sure, with the operative word being “fun,” dialed up to a rip-roaring 11.

If there’s any demerit to Crackdown 3, it’s in an apparent inability of the series to improve in look. For all the time between releases and notwithstanding pledges of maximizing the cloud-computing facilities of the Xbox One, it feels, well, dated. No doubt, the long gestation period and the late transfer of reins to Sumo Digital didn’t help. In any case, the latest saga of the Agency features not inconsiderable softness and lack of visual detail, giving the impression — no doubt unfair in the face of its myriad pluses — that those behind it left a lot of the console’s graphical power untapped.

On the flipside, Crackdown 3 does keep the action moving with nary a slowdown in play; frame drops are nonexistent even when the screen exhibits instances of frenetic mayhem. Whether or not the tradeoff should exist is subject to discussion. That said, there can be no discounting its capacity to deliver an excellent gaming experience. To this end, it’s aided in no small measure by a properly modulated audio mix. Sound effects are bombastic and expectedly over the top, and the music evokes the appropriate ambience. And precisely because the voice acting is first rate, the dearth of cutscenes and somewhat brief appearances of Terry Crews as the main character represent missed opportunities.

At any rate, Crackdown 3 ultimately manages to pay homage to its source material. It makes no pretensions on its roots and does well to preserve the legacy of the franchise. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but, then again, it didn’t promise to. Even as it seems to want to attract the more mature set with its treatment of its content, its immersive gameplay figures to reel in a wide swath of the gaming demographics. Bottom line, it deserves a place in the library of longtime fans of the series and newcomers alike.

• Continues the series narrative

• Retains core gameplay mechanics of previous releases

• Excellent sound mix

• Ramped-up fun factor

• Visuals lacking sharpness and detail

• Story on the thin side, coming off as a missed opportunity

• Absence of innovation

RATING: 8/10

The Dragon’s Lair Trilogy made its way to the Switch early this year, and perhaps the only surprise is the length of time it took to be ported over to Nintendo’s latest latest-generation console. The titles included in the bundle are considered classics by retro and contemporary gamers alike, never mind that Space Ace boasts of a narrative totally unrelated to Dragon’s Lair and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp. In part, it’s because the three make use of interactive animation developed via then-cutting-edge laserdisc technology. In larger measure, it’s due to the timeless nature of their gameplay mechanics, which offer predetermined outcomes propelled by quick-time events.

Considering how the three offerings in Dragon’s Lair Trilogy are best appreciated as movies requiring occasional, if precise, gamer participation, it’s just as well that they weave immersive tales. Dragon’s Lair has knight-in-shining-armor Dirk the Daring, called to action to rescue damsel-in-distress Princess Daphne from the clutches of the demonic dragon Singe. The direct sequel finds him traveling through time and doing battle against returning wicked wizard Mordroc to bring her royal highness back home with their children. Meanwhile, Space Ace focuses on debonair daredevil Dexter’s aim to save sidekick Kimberly and the rest of the world against the machinations of Commander Borf.

Despite its heavy reliance on familiar tropes to frame its plots, Dragon’s Lair Trilogy succeeds in keeping gamers glued to the Switch. That the included titles can each be finished in about the same running time as a feature-length film is a decided advantage; after all, there can be only so many QTE button presses before gamers tire of their necessary interventions. They likewise benefit immensely from the stylized look reminiscent of silver-screen world of creator Don Bluth. All told, the compilation is well worth its $19.99 list price on the eShop. (8/10)