Crack­down 3

Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft Stu­dios Devel­oper Reagent Games For­mat Xbox One Ori­gin UK Re­lease 2016

Ev­ery­thing starts with a sin­gle bullet. A hole ap­pears in the bar­ri­cade as the pro­jec­tile smashes through it, send­ing cracks out­ward from the point of im­pact. More bul­lets fol­low in quick suc­ces­sion and the wall crum­bles fur­ther, rub­ble piling up on the floor be­low un­til enough has been blown away that it’s pos­si­ble to see through the struc­ture to the other side. Another volley of am­mu­ni­tion sev­ers a now-dan­gling piece of ma­sonry, which joins the heap of de­bris. All of those shards are per­sis­tent, we’re told, just as all the dam­age in­flicted in Crack­down 3’ s online mul­ti­player ses­sions will be. A lit­tle later, we watch with barely con­tained awe as a neon-lit sky­scraper yields to a sus­tained bar­rage and top­ples into the build­ing next to it.

When the game’s ex­plo­sive re­veal trailer was shown at E3 2014, it might have been rea­son­able to con­clude that Mi­crosoft had some­what over­promised. The cloud tech be­hind the game was al­ready proven – it had been shown off dur­ing that year’s Build con­fer­ence as an un­named PC demo. But Mi­crosoft had so suc­cess­fully sti­fled any talk of its orig­i­nal al­ways-online vi­sion for Xbox One that the idea of ex­tra com­put­ing power waft­ing in over the In­ter­net seemed hard to rec­on­cile with a con­sole then strug­gling to match PS4’s fram­er­ates and res­o­lu­tion.

What Reagent Games – un­der the cre­ative di­rec­tion of Crack­down cre­ator Dave Jones – showed at Gamescom, how­ever, smashes in­credulity. By tap­ping into the cloud, the stu­dio can draw on ad­di­tional power and mem­ory within the gen­er­ous bounds of Mi­crosoft’s Azure ser­vice as needed, al­low­ing for the spec­tac­u­lar de­struc­tion we wit­ness.

“We’re throw­ing so much physics around that, as soon as you start, the game has to grab ex­tra com­put­ing power out­side of [your] Xbox,” Jones ex­plains. “So ef­fec­tively it goes to a cloud server and gets [a vir­tual Xbox One]. And once it fills up that, it flips over and grabs another cloud server and says, ‘I need more com­put­ing for what these play­ers are do­ing.’ And that dy­namic will go up and down in re­al­time. So, for ex­am­ple, to make a build­ing fall, we’ve got to do a lot of dam­age. That build­ing will even­tu­ally col­lapse, but I have no idea which di­rec­tion it’s go­ing to go in – it re­ally de­pends on which di­rec­tion the force is com­ing from. It’s fully phys­i­cal, and smashes and crushes any­thing be­neath it.”

The ver­sion of Crack­down 3 we play off­loads all of its physics pro­cess­ing to the cloud, but keeps ev­ery­thing else lo­cal, free­ing up more head­room to spend on draw dis­tance and de­tail. At this stage, the fo­cus is very much on the tech­nol­ogy un­der­pin­ning the game’s mul­ti­player modes, and while

Crack­down 3 cer­tainly looks at­trac­tive enough in its pre-al­pha form, Reagent is aim­ing to get as close to those glossy trail­ers as pos­si­ble.

A more press­ing prob­lem is es­tab­lish­ing how to carve out a se­lec­tion of sat­is­fy­ing mul­ti­player modes from this de­struc­tible sand­box. It’s all very well hav­ing the abil­ity to level a city, but it could quickly grow tire­some if ev­ery player had an un­end­ing sup­ply of pow­er­ful rock­ets. As such, Reagent is feel­ing its way to the right bal­ance of con­sid­ered lim­i­ta­tions and free rein. The guns we use have been hugely over­pow­ered for the sake of demon­stra­tion, for ex­am­ple; the max­i­mum num­ber of play­ers in any given ses­sion is yet to be de­cided; and while not in­cluded in our demo, you’ll also be able to take chunks out of the ground and tun­nel be­neath the city – Reagent just doesn’t know how far yet.

“It’s all about giv­ing play­ers free­dom again,” Jones tells us. “So if a [crime lord or player] is at the very top of a build­ing with heavy de­fences all the way down, as a

Crack­down player you can say, ‘Well, I can climb up there.’ But you could even climb up in­ter­nally by just mak­ing your own door­ways all the way up. And there’s a bunch of crazy play­ers who might say, ‘You know what? We just want to take the whole tower down.’”

Given the con­tro­versy over Xbox One’s now-de­funct al­ways-online pol­icy, Reagent and Mi­crosoft are un­der­stand­ably keen to avoid a re­peat of those crit­i­cisms, but the cost is an off­line cam­paign that aban­dons the spec­tac­u­lar de­struc­tion of the game’s online por­tion. What you get in­stead is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent, con­sid­er­ably more ro­bust, me­trop­o­lis. It’s telling that in our demo the cloud tech is saved un­til af­ter we’ve seen the cam­paign mode – it’s hard not to be a lit­tle de­flated by the ab­sence of such glass-ceil­ing-shat­ter­ing per­for­mance. When we press the topic, we’re told Reagent’s hope is that play­ers will be so en­am­oured with the po­ten­tial on show in the mul­ti­player game that they’ll come round to the idea of an al­ways-online cam­paign mode, too, and at that point the stu­dio can re­assess its po­si­tion.

What is there is hardly dis­ap­point­ing in iso­la­tion, though. The cam­paign, which sup­ports up to four­player co-op, blends fa­mil­iar el­e­ments – lev­el­ling up Agents, trans­form­ing ve­hi­cles and bound­ing agility – with new ideas. Chief among these is a fresh spin on tak­ing out crime lords. Whereas in the first two games you can have a pop at any boss you like, no mat­ter how in­ad­vis­able, right from the off, in Crack­down 3 you must draw them out of hid­ing. You do this by ha­rass­ing their hench­men and oper­a­tions to raise a Hate me­ter. In­ter­rupt your bait­ing cam­paign and the me­ter will slowly drop, but re­main a nui­sance for long enough and you’ll trig­ger a re­tal­i­a­tion – a boss fight that can take place any­where in the city.

Reagent is clearly build­ing two dif­fer­ent games un­der the ban­ner of Crack­down 3, and the fis­sure that di­vides those two halves might well have de­fined it were it not for the daz­zling leap for­ward that its cloud tech of­fers. There’s a risk, then, that the fi­nal pack­age could feel in some way frac­tured if cer­tain con­sumers con­tinue to re­sist the no­tion of con­sole games that rely ab­so­lutely on In­ter­net con­nec­tions. But if the stu­dio can de­liver on its vi­sion, Crack­down 3 also has the po­ten­tial to re­draw the bound­aries of what’s achiev­able in games.

You’ll also be able to take chunks out of the ground and tun­nel be­neath the city

Dave Jones, cre­ative di­rec­tor, Reagent

While build­ings’ ex­ter­nal fa­cades crum­ble un­der fire, they’re hung on more ro­bust steel frames. Reagent plans to add cut­ting weapons to help deal with this, but there are also gas mains to rup­ture if you need a help­ing hand

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