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In the first minutes of “Crackdown 3,” players drop onto an island with a superhero-like private cop in their command, tasked with taking out a corporate boss who builds walls to keep refugees out of the city. This is not the old “Crackdown.”

The old “Crackdown” dealt a super satire of police states, where gang violence reached an extreme, and only shoot-outs in broad daylight – for justice – could stymie inner-city uprisings. Things changed.

There’s still the burly, privatized police force, The Agency. The Agency marches onto the island of New Providence, adorned with HDR-sizzling night skies, pushing “”Crackdown” toward a confusing, centrist podium. “Crackdown 3” is proud to hire killers as heroes (“Skills for kills!” they shout), now taking on maniacal corporate goons post-power blackout instead of gangs.

That corporation (TerraNova) spills a toxic, narcotic chemical into New Providence’s waters. It placates citizens, along with the projected propaganda. It’s a profit-above-all attitude. The resulting income equality is not only mentioned in dialog but shown. Massive TerraNova luxury suites stand above low-income favelas. TerraNova built their high-dollar superstructures on elevated platforms above the poor. No need to touch let alone mingle with the impoverished.

“Crackdown 3” makes The Agency a righteous hero. Before, they took on an anti-hero performance, a conventional spin on “Judge Dredd.” It’s an interesting transformation for “Crackdown,” dealt with a heavy-handed, anti-corporate mindset. That’s derivative in contemporary media. It seems implausible anyone chose to live in New Providence, poisoned water and blatant propaganda blaring over loudspeakers (which can be hacked to push Agency propaganda so no one wins). Then again, someone in real-world power does indeed want a wall to keep out refugees and people show support, so who knows.

Strangely, while the thematic landscape lurches toward a more ambiguous tone, “Crackdown 3” remains otherwise unchanged. “Crackdown 3” exists in a place where open world design never moved past the 2007 original, short of some gentler checkpoints and better mapping. In certain facets, it’s archaic, brutish and inelegant, with the run-and-gun mindset of vintage arcade games first, tactical methods second. As a power fantasy, “Crackdown 3” is absolute. Rewards explode from defeated enemies, represented as a swarm of colorful, attractive orbs. More orbs, more power, more kills. That cycle never changes.

By 2019, the open-world genre has expanded. Too fat, bloated. “Crackdown 3’s” ultimate simplicity then is its hallmark. New Providence lacks grandiosity (although visual design gives sections of the city identity). Missions lack quantity. Scale never impresses. So be it, since navigation is pure bliss. Ruining that with endless, disruptive side missions would be too great a sin.

Instead, “Crackdown 3” has pep, an enthusiasm for exploration and blunt candor when amid violence. It’s too small to grow mundane and too fast to lose its wonder. The city serves as a jungle gym, where puzzles involve jumping, leaping for a chance at glowing orbs – to increase jumping skills to reach ever further orbs.

Consider “Crackdown 3” an excitable eccentric, oblivious to the pressures around it, jolly when doing its own thing with an undeniable identity. This truly is raw “Crackdown” in play, growing in satisfaction as leaps become more dramatic, or punches turn unstoppable.

There’s nothing here designed to surprise, assuming familiarity with “Crackdown” of old. At times, it feels fractured, missing the promised destruction from many marketing cycles ago (other than pressurized containers, nothing tumbles in a post-explosion orgy as seen in early trailers). An apparent attempt to mimic systems from EA’s “Shadow of Mordor” series go nowhere too. “Crackdown 3” feels patched together, saved at the last minute after an overlong development cycle.

By happy accident, sheer luck, or exaggerated expectations of open worlds, “Crackdown 3” works by doing the minimum.  And these days, the minimum feels like a reprieve.

Video Game Review: ‘Crackdown 3’

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  • Cast: Terry Crews as Commander Jaxon
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