On June 9th, 2014, almost four years to the day after Crackdown 2 was released, Microsoft revealed the third game in the Crackdown series was coming to the company’s brand-new console, the Xbox One.
It would be a cooperative, open-world game, touted as a new iteration of the action series, featuring a whole new campaign, and using Xbox Live to power a city. And that city… it wouldn’t just be an exciting place to play, but part of your destructive arsenal.
In this new Crackdown reveal trailer, explosions rocked the neon-soaked future city, setting off a chain of bombastic impacts as each inferno-engulfed building collapsed into the next. But the next several years of what would become Crackdown 3 were just the opposite…
…quiet, meandering, and dark. This is the bizarre story of Crackdown 3.
In February of 2007, Microsoft released Crackdown for the Xbox 360, developed by Scottish studio Realtime Worlds with founder and CEO David Jones at the helm. Jones had previously co-founded the studio DMA Design, creating games like Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings. By 2002, DMA Design had been acquired and would go on to become a little studio called Rockstar North, while Jones left to found a new development house, Realtime Worlds.
Crackdown was designed to push the gameplay boundaries laid down in Grand Theft Auto, where those do-anything moments would drive you. It centered on the exploits of a super-human-peacekeeping-force in a futuristic, gangland-city that would be your freewheelin’ sandbox-playground.
That recipe obviously worked. Crackdown launched to near-universal acclaim, and respectable sales, boosted by the wise decision to bundle the Halo 3 multiplayer trial – Microsoft’s flagship release of 2007 – with Crackdown to make it more appealing to potential consumers. Crackdown was an all-around success and a potentially powerful new franchise for the publisher going forward.
By late 2008 rumors of a Crackdown sequel had begun to spread. Though developer Realtime Worlds indicated it was in continued talks with Microsoft, the publisher hadn’t extended Realtime an offer as the studio drilled down on their next game, APB: All Points Bulletin.
In December of that year, Ruffian Games was formed. Founded by former members of Realtime Worlds, Ruffian remained tight-lipped on its project until E3 2009, where the newly minted studio revealed it was indeed developing Crackdown 2 with Microsoft.
On July 6th, 2010 Crackdown 2 was released. Though the sequel added new elements and customization options, it ultimately failed to meet the same critical praise and was faulted largely for being too similar to the original.
In the years that followed, the Crackdown franchise went dark.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Microsoft addressed the absence of the cult-classic series. During the reveal event of Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox One console, a familiar symbol — the Crackdown Agility orb — had a small part on the big screen. Speaking at E3 of that year, then-Microsoft Game Studios vice president Phil Spencer clarified Crackdown wasn’t dead and gave us our first hint that the future of the franchise could be an open world that lived in the cloud, a theme we’d come to hear more about in the future.
Another year of silence followed those hopeful comments, until E3 2014. On gaming’s biggest stage, Microsoft unveiled the next Crackdown, bringing us full circle to that bombastic CG trailer.
And though we now knew the next Crackdown officially existed, that was just the beginning…
As had become a tradition by this point, Microsoft, Ruffian, and Crackdown took another year off. But in the weeks before E3 2015, Phil Spencer, now Head of Xbox, said that Crackdown was making great progress. A few days later, the publisher stated Crackdown would be skipping E3 entirely, opting instead to reveal new information at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany that August, as part of an effort for the company to, quote, do better in Europe.
By Gamescom 2015, it had been nearly five years since Crackdown 2, and over a year since the next Crackdown’s reveal at E3, with nothing more than a CG trailer and a few scant interviews. But that would soon change.
As Microsoft pulled back the curtain on some of its biggest games, Crackdown was officially named: Crackdown 3. In a new trailer, Crackdown 3 was dubbed “the ultimate sandbox,” it would feature transforming vehicles, and fully destructible in online mode. To support that game world, Crackdown 3 would utilize Microsoft’s cloud computing feature, reportedly leveraging 20 times more processing power than the capacity of a single Xbox One console.
Microsoft positioned Crackdown 3 for a Summer 2016 release, with a multiplayer beta in the same window. And in an interview from Gamescom, Spencer said Crackdown could one day come to PC in addition to the Xbox One, heralding the beginnings of Microsoft’s future Play Anywhere initiative with its renewed in PC gaming after the launch of Windows 10.
With this trove of new information, punctuated by the reveal of gameplay, Crackdown 3 went back underground. Though developer ReAgent games released fresh concept art at the end of the year, it would be another six months before we heard anything from ReAgent or Microsoft.
By June of 2016, there was still silence around Crackdown 3 leading up to E3, which was concerning considering the Summer 2016 release window had arrived without a peep from Microsoft or ReAgent.
And then, as expected, the official word from Creative Director David Jones confirmed Crackdown 3 was being delayed into 2017, to, quote, give gamers an experience they have never seen before at a scale never thought possible. Though this news came with the silver lining that Crackdown 3 would be coming to PC via the newly announced Play Anywhere initiative.
E3 2016 came and went without Crackdown 3, as did the rest of the year. Crackdown 3 had gone silent again, that is, until December when two Crackdown 3 developers appeared on a charity livestream and casually revealed the game would be released by the festive period of next year. So we had a new window, but we also found out Crackdown 3 will run at 4K resolution on Microsoft’s Xbox One X – then-codenamed Xbox Scorpio.
And just like that, Crackdown 3 once again had gone to ground. But for the first time since it was revealed, Crackdown 3 played a meaningful part of Microsoft’s E3 presence in Los Angeles. June 2017 brought us a new release date had been set, November 7th, alongside hands-on gameplay. But moreso, Microsoft added star power to the game’s relatively low profile thus far by adding the infectiously energetic Terry Crews to not only the game’s marketing campaign, but as a playable character, Commander Jaxon.
But just one month later at Gamescom 2017, Crackdown 3 would be, once again, delayed. Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis confirmed it was to give developers Reagent Games, Sumo Digital, and Cloudgine more time to “deliver the right game, with the right quality,” and that Microsoft “probably announced Crackdown too early.” With that, we got a new Spring 2018 release window.
As 2018 arrived, we learned all Microsoft Studios Games would be included with Game Pass, Microsoft’s subscription game service that would launch March 20th of that year, which would fit it’s newly announced Spring 2018 release window. Everything was lining up.
In January, it was revealed that Epic Games would acquire Cloudgine, Dave Jones technology company, that was supplying the cloud-powered technology driving Crackdown 3’s world destruction, though the company was still working on the project.
But as Spring 2018 came and went without Crackdown, more bad news was seemingly in store. A week before E3 2018, it was reported, and then later confirmed that Crackdown 3 was going to be delayed, again, this time until February 2019. While Microsoft didn’t let anyone get hands-on with the game at E3, they did show off a new trailer starring Terry Crews.
Yet in another bizarre twist, it was revealed that series creator Dave Jones had left the project, along with Reagent Games, and Microsoft declined to clarify the involvement of Cloudgine. Jones later clarified that his departure didn’t mean much and that they were involved at the start to build the technology, but that Sumo Digital was always the lead developer. Jones called his leaving Crackdown 3 development a “tough” decision but added that it “was just the right thing to do at the right time.”
A month after those strange development roles came to light, an anonymous source revealed that Microsoft was unwilling to delay Crackdown 3 any further. In an interview, Phil Spencer revealed the final delay was to make Crackdown 3 a better game, and to give it a chance in a release window not so crowded with big-name games, like Red Dead Redemption 2.
But as was apparent, a lot of publishers had similar ideas, as a number of games landed on February 2019. But by this point, Crackdown 3 was pretty much done” as Sumo Digital managing director Paul Porter revealed in August 2018, with the studio focusing on polish ahead of the concrete release date.
As 2018 came to a close, we got new looks at Crackdown at Microsoft’s fan-focused gaming show XO18, where we learned Crackdown 3 would be released on February 15. After that, a few more Terry focused commercial spots.
With everything set in stone, February 2019 has finally arrived and with it, Crackdown 3. Unfortunately, Crackdown 3 failed to impress. We at IGN found it to be mediocre, with a repetitive campaign, and a bad multiplayer component. We’ll probably never know what happened behind the scenes, but it’s obvious that the finished product never quite achieved what was planned.
The history of Crackdown 3 is long and sordid. From multiple developers working on separate sections in different stages to the repeated delays that kept it under wraps for five years. One thing is for sure though, Crackdown 3 proves game development is anything but easy.