OXM gets hands-on with Crack­down 3’ s ridicu­lous, awe-in­spir­ing mul­ti­player ex­pe­ri­ence, Wreck­ing Zone

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START / CONTENTS - Josh west

There are some games that you just re­ally look for­ward to. Af­ter spend­ing hours hav­ing ri­otous fun in Real­time Worlds’ orig­i­nal open-world ac­tion ad­ven­ture game on the Xbox 360 back in 2007, and then Ruf­fian Games’ 2010 se­quel, it feels as though we’ve been wait­ing ages for the third in­stal­ment.

It’s been promised for a while, of course. In fact, the game was first slated for re­lease in 2016… that’s three yearsago now. By 2018 we’d frankly al­most given up hope that one of Xbox’s best fran­chises would ever make a re­turn.

Then came the be­yond-ex­cit­ing news that, not only was the game al­most ready to be un­leashed on the world, but OXM was in­vited over to Wash­ing­ton State to get hands-on with the game. Need­less to say we jumped at the chance. What we saw was de­struc­tion on a grand scale, cour­tesy of Mi­crosoft’s Azure cloud tech, and a mul­ti­player mode called Wreck­ing Zone…

There’s a very real de­light to be had in pulling a build­ing down around a group of oth­er­wise ag­gres­sive en­e­mies. Perched atop a tow­er­ing sky­scraper, it’s dif­fi­cult not to get drawn into the sheer, in­cred­i­ble spec­ta­cle of it all; mouth agape, eyes blinded by the col­laps­ing neon fix­tures of the fu­tur­is­tic cityscape en­velop­ing you.

The Agents be­gin to des­per­ately scram­ble for cover through fall­ing de­bris, crash­ing through walls and win­dows as they tum­ble to the ground with weapons drawn high, all in an effort to out­ma­noeu­vre en­croach­ing play­ers be­fore the bul­lets start fly­ing.

The fire­fight ends al­most as quickly as it started, with twin­kling dog tags soon lit­ter­ing the ground where en­tire struc­tures once stood tall. There’s just sec­onds to col­lect them be­fore the next en­tan­gle­ment be­gins, be­fore the Agents re­turn to the sim­u­la­tion to seek re­venge. When it comes to Wreck­ing Zone,

Crack­down3’ s in­cred­i­ble take on high-octane mul­ti­player ac­tion, vic­tory is never guar­an­teed, nor is the shape of the city af­ter a few fran­tic min­utes of com­bat – the land­scape a smoul­der­ing wreck­age of bul­let-rid­den build­ings and frac­tured in­ten­tions. It’s pretty rad­i­cal, in ev­ery sense of the word.

When Mi­crosoft of­fers to fly you half way around the world to visit its sprawl­ing cam­pus in Red­mond, Wash­ing­ton, USA, you re­ally have to weigh up the po­ten­tial cost and re­ward – jet­lag is dead­lier than a ram­pag­ing Terry Crews across New Prov­i­dence, trust us on that one. Thank­fully, the com­pany made the de­ci­sion easy enough for us; when Mi­crosoft of­fers to put you in front of

Crack­down3, when it gives you the op­por­tu­nity to be among the first in the world to wrap your hands around a con­troller and ex­pe­ri­ence its wild vi­sion for the fu­ture of mul­ti­player gam­ing, there is sim­ply no two ways about it. We were on that flight faster than we could re­call Crack­down

3’ s very pub­lic crawl through devel­op­ment hell.

Cloudy con­di­tions

It is, how­ever, worth tak­ing a sec­ond to re­flect on that crawl, be­cause get­ting Crack­down3 into a po­si­tion where it can be primed and ready for re­lease on 15 Fe­bru­ary 2019 is an achieve­ment in and of it­self for Mi­crosoft Game Stu­dios. Af­ter four years of devel­op­ment, driven by no less than four dif­fer­ent stu­dios, and af­ter four de­lays have kept it per­pet­u­ally out of reach, the game is thank­fully fi­nally ready to take the world by storm.

It means that, in just a few short months, you’ll be able to see what Mi­crosoft’s Azure cloud net­work is truly ca­pa­ble of. You’ll be able to ex­pe­ri­ence how it will power the next gen­er­a­tion of game ex­pe­ri­ences; how it will work to set a new bench­mark for fidelity and emer­gent chaos in mul­ti­player ses­sions.

We won’t bore you with the specifics as it is all ex­tremely com­pli­cated, a tech­ni­cal ac­com­plish­ment that Mi­crosoft Game Stu­dios ad­mits it has only got­ten work­ing as in­tended in the last 12 months or so, but you should trust us when we tell you that it is pretty god­damned spec­tac­u­lar. By us­ing its es­tab­lished cloud in­fra­struc­ture – a bank of data-

cen­tres made up, ef­fec­tively, of in­ter­laced Xbox One units – Mi­crosoft’s en­gi­neer­ing team has been able to off­load all of the ad­vanced physics cal­cu­la­tions nec­es­sary to power some­thing as rev­o­lu­tion­ary as Crack­down3’ s awein­spir­ing de­struc­tion. And it can do it with­out tak­ing any­thing at all away from the game’s gor­geous graph­ics, silky smooth fram­er­ate or its heart­pound­ing mo­ment-to-mo­ment ac­tion – if any­thing it en­hances it en­tirely.

That’s be­cause Ruf­fian Games – the team re­spon­si­ble for both

Crack­down2 and the mul­ti­player side to Crack­down3 – ef­fec­tively has up to 12 times the pro­cess­ing power of the Xbox One X (or 30 times the orig­i­nal base Xbox One) to play with. The hard work is han­dled be­hind-the-scenes, up there in the cloud, so all you need to worry about is track­ing Agents through the chaos and keep­ing your mind fo­cused on the ob­jec­tive at hand as the world crum­bles down around you. Crack­down3 isn’t the first game to utilise this cloud-based tech­nol­ogy, but it is un­ques­tion­ably the most im­pres­sive ap­pli­ca­tion of it to date. Thus far, we’ve seen it used to power the ma­chine-learn­ing artificial in­tel­li­gence in Forza-Hori­zon and Forza Mo­tor­sport’s mul­ti­player, as well the AI mobs in Ti­tan­fall’s At­tri­tion and Halo5’ s War­zone mul­ti­player (not to men­tion these games’ ded­i­cated servers). This is, how­ever, the first time we’ve seen Azure used to cal­cu­late some­thing as com­plex as game physics across a shared-ex­pe­ri­ence in real-time. And be­lieve us, the re­sults re­ally are some­thing to be­hold.

Agent provo­ca­teur

What it means is that, re­gard­less of the strength of your in­ter­net con­nec­tion, you’ll be able to jump into Wreck­ing Zone and bask in the glory that is 100 per cent de­struc­tion with­out any no­tice­able im­pact to the core game ex­pe­ri­ence. You’ll be able to stand along­side nine other play­ers and lit­er­ally tear an en­tire city apart piece by piece, grap­pling with your foes as you shred through en­vi­ron­ments with wild aban­don. By util­is­ing the Azure net­work, Crack­down3 is able to ren­der hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of in­di­vid­ual pieces of de­bris in real­time, for ev­ery one of the play­ers in any given game.

In ef­fect it means that, were we to be run­ning away from a gag­gle of en­e­mies, we could use an as­sault ri­fle to hastily carve a makeshift door into the façade of an ap­proach­ing build­ing in an effort to break line-of-sight, and that will syn­chro­nise for ev­ery player in the game with­out any de­lay. Per­haps you may see an en­emy run­ning along a bridge over­head – rather than leap­ing up to their level in an effort to en­gage them, you could whip out a rocket launcher and rip the floor right out from un­der their feet, catch­ing them un­awares and open to an easy kill. As you may imag­ine, this makes for some fairly in­ter­est­ing, if not to­tally awe­some, game­play sce­nar­ios and op­por­tu­ni­ties that – to put it sim­ply – no other mul­ti­player game on the mar­ket can ac­cu­rately cap­ture or re­pro­duce.

“Soon you’ll be able to see what Mi­crosoft’s Azure cloud net­work is ca­pa­ble of”

While the sin­gle-player com­po­nent of Crack­down3 might be fo­cused whole­heart­edly around the ac­qui­si­tion of power, the mul­ti­player puts its fo­cus on ex­treme ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. Given that you could be un­der siege from any di­rec­tion, at any point in time, it should come as no sur­prise that this is a game mode based around aware­ness and move­ment.

The gun­play is a strictly lock-on af­fair, with a squeeze of the Left Trig­ger fo­cus­ing the at­ten­tion of your retic­ule onto an en­emy in di­rect line-of-sight. The skill in Wreck­ing Zone isn’t in mas­ter­ing the me­chan­ics of the weapons, but mas­ter­ing your tra­ver­sal of the en­vi­ron­ment – un­der­stand­ing how to quickly break line-of-sight and gain a height ad­van­tage on a would-be ag­gres­sor is ev­ery­thing.

Speed is king. Your Agent – one of 21 dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter mod­els you can cy­cle be­tween ahead of jump­ing into the fray – will need to utilise an ar­ray of dou­ble jumps and aerial dashes to prop­erly ma­noeu­vre across the cityscape, ma­nip­u­lat­ing the ter­rain and nav­i­gat­ing through fall­ing de­bris with jet-pro­pelled punches as you do. Wreck­ing Zone is in­her­ently ag­gres­sive in its de­sign; each of the weapons pro­vided in our play ses­sion were big and bulky, as ex­cel­lent at rip­ping through en­e­mies as they are rip­ping through steel.

Health re­gen­er­ates if you can avoid be­ing shot at for five sec­onds, while colour coded lines de­note whether you are be­ing ac­tively tar­geted or have been suc­cess­ful in break­ing line-of-sight. It’s a fairly sim­ple but mostly very ef­fec­tive sys­tem, one that’s de­signed to en­sure that you’re never over­whelmed in what should be a stress­ful sce­nario for a mul­ti­player match. The game’s me­chan­i­cally-light de­sign works to give you the free­dom of mind to fo­cus on the en­vi­ron­ment, to be drawn to­wards ex­plo­sions and al­ways on the hunt for your next spec­tac­u­lar kill..

Azure bet

Agent Hunter – Crack­down3’ s vari­a­tion on Kill Con­firmed – is be­ing pitched as the premiere game mode, pitch­ing five Agents ver­sus an­other five in a des­per­ate bat­tle to slay en­emy play­ers and grab their dog tags to score a point. Our favourite of the modes pre­sented dur­ing our hands-on ses­sion, how­ever, was Ter­ri­to­ries, which sees teams bat­tle it out for con­trol over ever-shift­ing ter­ri­tory spa­ces across a land­scape that is for­ever chang­ing as the bat­tle rages on. As sky­scrapers fall, as cover be­comes oblit­er­ated, and as the com­po­si­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment warps to the flow of com­bat, the ten­sion in play is only height­ened over time.

Of the two maps and two game modes that we ex­pe­ri­enced in our time with Wreck­ing Zone, it was un­de­ni­ably ex­hil­a­rat­ing – but it was

also un­ques­tion­ably con­tent-light. Mi­crosoft wasn’t quite ready to give us any in­sight into the pro­gres­sion sys­tems run­ning be­hind the ac­tion, but we do still have con­cerns over the longevity of it all. As im­pres­sive as the physics-based de­struc­tion is – the core un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy pow­er­ing it all – the me­chan­ics and sys­tems lay­ered on top of it are eas­ily mas­tered. It wasn’t long be­fore we were tak­ing the fight to the de­vel­op­ers and testers who were re­spon­si­ble for build­ing and stream­lin­ing the damned thing.

That said, so much of the fun to be had in the core ex­pe­ri­ence comes from the emer­gent mo­ments that come up naturally dur­ing play. Wreck­ing Zone is one of those modes that will truly spring to life as teams of play­ers be­gin to ex­per­i­ment, as they push against the lim­its of Crack­down3’ s de­sign and de­struc­tion. It’s a sand­box pur­pose-built to let play­ers run wild and ex­per­i­ment; it’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing to suc­cess­fully pull off a ma­noeu­vre that in­volves top­pling a build­ing leav­ing en­e­mies open, pulling scram­bling foes into choke­points as their cover is oblit­er­ated by heavy fo­cused fire. We get the feel­ing that the more time play­ers spend ex­per­i­ment­ing with Wreck­ing Zone, its maps and its de­struc­tion, the more in­tox­i­cat­ing it will be­come.

Crack­ing time

Mi­crosoft’s com­mit­ment to Crack­down has never once wa­vered. The game has out­lasted FableLe­gends,

Phan­tomDust and Scale­bound; it is still be­ing po­si­tioned as a fran­chise that can stand shoul­der-to-shoul­der with the likes of Halo, Forza and

GearsOfWar. The rea­son for that, we be­lieve, is be­cause of Wreck­ing Zone – it es­tab­lishes Crack­down as a se­ries that can show­case the true power of the Xbox plat­form.

Wreck­ing Zone is only pos­si­ble in its cur­rent form be­cause of Azure, be­cause of the cloud in­fra­struc­ture Mi­crosoft has es­tab­lished. It re­ally is in­cred­i­ble tech­nol­ogy and what’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve is that this is only the be­gin­ning. Crack­down3 is go­ing to be the best ex­am­ple of what this tech can do in the hands of am­bi­tious devel­op­ment teams.

Crack­down 3 will be re­leased on 15 Fe­bru­ary 2019. We prom­ise (hope).

“The Crack­down se­ries show­cases the true power of the Xbox plat­form”

above Crack­down3’ s cityscape is stun­ning – and pret­tier than, for ex­am­ple, Blade Run­ner’s.

below Terry Crews’s Com­man­der Jaxon is a playable char­ac­ter. Oh yes.

above In the Wreck­ing Zone you’ll be able to, yep, wreck things.

BEL OW With­out cover, the game be­comes even more tense.

AB OVE Speed and gain­ing height will see you at an ad­van­tage.

above Spec­tac­u­lar com­bat awaits those brave enough.

BEL OW Ex­plor­ing this world is ex­hil­a­rat­ing and sur­pris­ing.

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