One of the perks of being a superhero is having larger-than-life powers like being able to throw cars and shrug off small arms fire.
Of course, outside a movie or TV show, video games are one of the best places to do this, with the Crackdown series of open-world games — first released in 2007 — letting players step into the futuristic spandex of a team of super-agents, fight crime and generally have a good time in the process.
The third game in the series is Crackdown 3, developed by Sumo Digital and published by Microsoft for the Xbox One and PC. It is set for release on February 15 after a protracted development including some delays.
Ahead of its release I was able to experience a hands-on preview at Microsoft’s Sydney campus recently, with a couple of hours in multiplayer and another hour or so in the single-player campaign.
While most of my attention was drawn by the multiplayer aspect of the game, fans of actor Terry Crews will be delighted to know he is one of the playable agents in the single-player mode too, so there will doubtless be a lot of people looking forward to stepping into his character’s shoes on launch day.
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What I was impressed by was the multiplayer “Wrecking Zone” mode, in which the combat takes place throughout a destructible environment. Hiding behind cover is an effective tactic in most shooting games, but it doesn’t work well here because your enemies can just destroy the cover — which really keeps you on your toes.
The levels are really high too, with multiple storeys enabling attack from a range of angles, including above and below. It sounds simple, but many multiplayer games tend to be more or less on a horizontal plane, so the idea that someone can literally drop in from above guns blazing isn’t one that gets used as much nowadays as it did back in the era of Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament.
What I also liked was victory wasn’t dependent solely on how many times you could kill other players. When killed, a player drops a shield that must be collected within a few seconds — this is the “point” the opposing team scores. Killing a player and not collecting the dropped shield does not generate any points, which is a shift.
The destruction in the demo level I played was quite impressive, but there’s some interesting technical innovations behind it as well.
Normally, environment destruction is handled by the processor on the computer or console, and performance can be limited by what the unit is capable of doing — and the more stuff that’s breaking or blowing up, the slower the game may run.
However, Crackdown 3’s wrecking zone mode uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based processing system, meaning the computing power to calculate and process the way the levels are being changed and destroyed is handled by a Microsoft server in the same region as the players.
Creative director Joseph Staten said the scale of destruction available in Wrecking Zone was such that it needed the innovative approach using the Azure servers to process it.
“Cloud-based (computing) is the only way to process destruction on this scale,” he said.
Mr Staten said another advantage the Azure-based processing offered was the destruction experience would be the same across all devices in a match, helping to ensure players had similar gameplay experiences regardless of what platform they were using.
“If you have an Xbox One X, the destruction experience is the same as an Xbox One,” he said.
The single-player mode does not feature massively destructible environments, however, as the developers explained, the game’s story is about you being a hero and saving a city, rather than wrecking it.
With the game available on Xbox Game Pass at launch, it’s bound to generate quite a bit of interest — and there will a full review will be forthcoming as well.
Crackdown 3 is being released on Xbox One and PC on February 15.