The third installment of the beloved Crackdown series is set to launch in just a matter of days. This should be an incredibly exciting moment, as the Xbox 360 original helped sell gamers on not just the future of open world gameplay, but also that entire generation of games. However, no matter where you look, it’s hard to find excitement surrounding Sumo Digital’s action game. Even Microsoft has been relatively muted in the lead up to its launch with Phil Spencer’s pre-release praise being as measured as, “If you love Crackdown I think you will like this.”
Maybe it’s a byproduct of the extended hype sessions and multi-million dollar marketing campaigns that surround the launches of most AAA games, but everything surrounding Crackdown 3 is just oddly quiet. It’s almost as if Microsoft is cutting its losses on the game, even if the publisher still sees promise in it and is just putting it out there to see how it will do. The quote above from Spencer is telling enough. He’s clearly choosing his words carefully and not even going as far as to say that one will enjoy the new one as much as the past titles. Saying that it’s for the fans is a step down in enjoyment levels, even if it should still be positive news to hear.
A lot of times in these situations, one can pin the blame somewhere for the lack of hype. Be it a publisher never truly getting behind its game and not doing its best effort from a marketing perspective or a developer not truly being able to deliver on its grand ambition. However, looking at Crackdown 3, it’s easy to see a very unfortunate series of events that have left everyone just short of shrugging their shoulders after doing the best they could with the resources available. The Xbox One’s lifespan has been troublesome and rocky, and it is eerily fitting that one of its biggest console exclusives is exemplifying that upon release.
Remembering Crackdown 3‘s troubled development
It has been a long ride for the game as Crackdown 3 was unveiled nearly five years ago at E3 2014 (although it was just called Crackdown at the time). The demo focused on the technology developed by Dave Jones and Cloudgine that allowed for a fully destructible city to a more impressive degree than what had been seen in games previously. It was a promising start and Microsoft had the game pegged for a 2016 release date.
However, its development was troubled. It was originally split between three different developers as Crackdown 2 studio Ruffian Games was handling the multiplayer, Jones and Reagent Games would work on the core gameplay and art, and Sumo Digital was focusing on the campaign. It was an unconventional structure with many moving parts, and so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the first delay pushed the action title from a 2016 release to being the Xbox One X’s biggest launch title on November 7, 2017. It made sense that Microsoft would want a major release to coincide with its new hardware, and Crackdown 3 was though to be a big enough title to move units at the time.
However, the game was once again pushed back in the middle of 2017 to 2018. Microsoft’s Shannon Loftis stated that the delay was so it could “deliver the right game, with the right quality, and at the right time.” However, that delay was also met with setbacks as Jones and Reagent left the project in early 2018 (with many of their employees leaving for Epic Games). These hurdles have led us to where we are today, with Crackdown 3 finally releasing in 2019 and multiple other studios (Red Kite Games, Elbow Rocket, and Certain Affinity) having been brought into the fold to help polish aspects of it.
A larger issue with Xbox exclusives
The biggest issue with all of the delays is that fans got tired. Not of waiting for the game to be released, but just tired of getting their hopes up for a release date to come only for it to be pushed back again. A lengthy development cycle is one thing, but years of advertising and anticipation amounting to nothing is something else entirely. Even less than two weeks out and having enjoyed the past titles, I’m having a hard time getting excited for Crackdown 3. I’ve grown cynical to the point where I wouldn’t be shocked if its launch was somehow delayed at the last second due to networking issues or some other technical snafu.
Furthermore, Microsoft has done a poor job of getting people to truly care about its first-party titles as of late. Unlike Sony or Nintendo, where they have prepped their fans to always pay attention to their releases, Microsoft has had a pretty rocky last few years in terms of exclusive quality (bar Forza always being a yearly highlight).
Even though some people enjoyed Sea of Thieves, many more were disappointed by the lack of content early on and failed to come back to it once it was improved months later. State of Decay 2, another big exclusive, came and went. There hasn’t been a Microsoft exclusive that truly made headlines since Gears of War 4 released in 2016. When paired with the frequent delays, this disappointing track record makes Crackdown 3 look like yet another entry in Microsoft’s current software slump even if it might wind up being truly great.
It would be great if this cynicism is misguided and Spencer’s words weren’t as carefully calculated as they seem. However, this wait and see approach to the quality of the title is fair given the console’s track record. Trust is something publishers earn, and Microsoft is still recovering from its several mistakes over the past hardware generation. Hopefully, Sumo Digital’s years of hard work will pay off and this can be the start of making Microsoft games matter again, but I’m not going to jump to that conclusion until I finally have the game in my hands. And through a ton of delays, that anticipation of actually getting to play the finished game for myself has almost entirely died.