On my last post, I explored the decision of releasing awful garbage in a subscription-based platform referencing Netflix’s Original Movies. To continue the trend, and to explore the same decision but regarding mediocre content, let’s look at Microsoft’s decision to release Crackdown 3; the long awaited continuation of the Crackdown franchise.
Despite a lot of negative reviews and “hot takes”, Crackdown 3 is not a bad game; it is somewhat buggy, very repetitive, and very bad at certain things like driving or satisfying combat. However, it is very fun to play, growing your character in easily identifiable ways along the way, and exploring a very familiar open-world archetype without too much fuzz surrounding it; in its best and worst moments, Crackdown 3 is mediocre. As a full-priced game, that’s not the best return for your money, but it’s certainly not the worst, and with a good sale on it, can be a very fun solo or co-op experience.
But, what if I said you could get this game right now for 10 euros? Since Crackdown 3 is a first-party release of Microsoft, the game is available right now through Xbox Game Pass and with the completion time for the single-player campaign being around 10 hours, you’ll only need a month to complete the game and have enough of its fairly uninteresting multiplayer offerings. That’s a pretty good deal, right? Not only in terms of money invested, but also for the expectations you’ll have for the game; it’s very different to fire up a 70 euro purchase and the result being a mediocre game, than installing a game that came with your subscription and spend a few hours with it before either pushing through and ending it, or stopping when you’ve had enough.
The question is not whether Xbox Game Pass helps the experience for Crackdown 3, though; any game (good or bad) will be a different experience through a subscription where you don’t really pay money for any one game. The question is: Does Crackdown 3 benefit Xbox Game Pass? On the one hand, it absolutely does: it features Terry Crews, an unusual art style and loud tone that will gain attention, and all the bombastic features that marketing teams love; it may not be a great game, but it can serve as a great reason to jump into a service and explore its offerings (especially considering how relatively short the campaign is), probably causing you to stay (that’s how they suckered me in with ReCore!). Furthermore, it adds titles that are not part of a business deal and will stay in the service for a lot longer, providing consistency to the program and value to the package.
However, it is also a painful reminder of Microsoft’s lackluster lineup; most games that Microsoft released over the past years (that are not Halo, Forza, or Gears) have been mediocre at best (with the outliers of Sunset Overdrive and Ori, being just that: Outliers). So, subscribing to a program whose primary appeal is the same-day release of first-party exclusives, where the exclusives are mostly skipable, does not bode well for the program. It also forces a re-examination of the offerings provided by the service; I’ve been a subscriber to the Game Pass for a few months now and have not regretted the decision, but I must admit that most games on the program are games I would never play (and will never play) even if I have the option to do so with no extra charge. Furthermore, this creates a longer term problem for Microsoft; as with Netflix, your reputation for being able to deliver great experiences takes a hit when most are duds, but also it creates an over-population of mediocre games that could eventually create a sea of mediocrity in which genuinely good games may drown in.
Crackdown 3 is an end to an era; an era of Microsoft making poor decisions with regards to Xbox as a platform and as a home to some genre-defining and generation-inspiring experiences. It’s no wonder that the already-announced branding change of Microsoft Game Studios to Xbox Game Studios is not seen in Crackdown 3; it’s not a game to associate a new name to. It’s not a bad game, but it’s also not a game that brings a much-needed win to a platform and a program that sorely need it; hopefully, the new studios (and the old working within a better structure) will deliver better experiences and make Xbox a contender with Playstation and Nintendo in regards to first party games. To answer the question posed in the beginning though, Crackdown 3 is the last mediocre game Microsoft can get away with and that has a neutral outcome for Xbox and Game Pass; it will probably bring people in that will take a look at Crackdown and then move on to something better, keeping their auto-renew option on in the process. But it is another reminder of the troubles Microsoft has found itself in and is still trying to sort out, and how far behind it has fallen from its competitors; it is another reminder that Game Pass is a great service, in theory, because in practice it is a few good games mixed in with a bunch of mediocre and uninteresting ones.