Crackdown 3: Accessibility Review


Elements of this review are based on a pre-release copy of the game. Details may change over time and I will endeavour to keep this review as up-to-date as possible if anything changes post-launch.


Crackdown is a series that, whilst it might not have reached the heights of Gears Of War or Halo, does have a sort of cult status. I myself hadn't played a Crackdown game in any kind of great detail, but I had heard of the 2 games in the franchise before.

I had a chance to play Crackdown 3 at E3 2017 and talk with one of the audio designers who acknowledged what was missing in that particular demo build. However, I certainly liked what I played and was interested to see the game at launch.

Now, let's see if Crackdown 3 is the game that fans have been waiting for.

First-time setup

A Note On Regions

Crackdown 3 is the first game from Microsoft to use the Microsoft Speech Synthesis API (MSSA) to allow for spoken menus and UI elements. This is a great leap forward in accessibility and, whilst it doesn't necessarily mean the game will be accessible in and of itself, it certainly makes setting up said game less frustrating without sighted assistance.

Unfortunately, however, on the console version of the title at least (more on that later), you have to change a couple of settings to get this to work.

After launching Campaign from my games and apps, the game presents you with a prompt to press any button to start. Doing so will present you with a profile prompt and selecting your profile of choice will allow you to then select brightness. Once that's done (I just left it at default), you should be in the main menu. Pre-launch the brightness dialogue didn't read, but there's a possibility that it might do post-launch.

Now you're up and running, it's time to praise Microsoft for getting a fully narrated menu system into this first-party title. Before launch, there were issues with this menu system (such as option states not being read possibly resulting in the aforementioned non-reading brightness dialogue at setup), but these menu issues were thankfully resolved in a patch. As previously stated, I have not been able to determine whether the first-time setup sequence has changed as a result of this.

The PC version

The PC version of the game, you'd think, wouldn't support the game transcription features highlighted above. However, whilst going through elements of this review, I stumbled across a very interesting workaround. Here's what you can do to have readable menus on PC if you have a console version of the game as well and are willing to do this (at your own risk, though there have been no issues so far during my tests):

What reads in the menus

As highlighted above, the main menu and submenus do read all the notable options. The only issue I had was that information like when a world or agent was last played is absent, making it difficult to track progress. Hopefully this stat tracking information could be included in a future patch.

The majority of the options menus and all the states read, including the PC-centric options like mouse sensitivity. Unfortunately, things like key bindings and controller mappings don't read so you can't tell what everything's assigned to before going into the game. That being said, again, this could likely be patched in at a later date.

Even the custom Co-Op interface built into the game does actually read, which surprised me at first but is certainly impressive in its potential for elements like cross-platform play in other titles in future.

Single Player Gameplay

Unfortunately, here we come to our first roadblock, in that there are no cues for navigation in the open world other than ambient sounds and the sound cues for the various types of orbs and powerups. This means that, whilst you might be able to see an orb, it doesn't mean you're going to be able to jump for it and get it as easily as you might the BFG ammo in Doom 2016 when it's in close proximity.

Whilst this is technically an issue, it's not unexpected and who knows, maybe the line that indicates where to go could be modified to match an audio cue to allow for easier location of in-game objectives. Improvements such as this should be relatively straightforward to add as toggles, but whether they will be added is yet to be seen.

A second, though not unexpected issue is reliance on the map for setting waypoints and fast travel, though some pre-launch elements of this interface did read indicating that potentially the ease of use of this functionality could be improved.

Co-Op Gameplay

I had the good fortune to team up with a friend for co-op and, after an Xbox One X shutdown and re-loading into the game, the experience was extremely smooth. Aside from the fact that I couldn't get into a vehicle with my co-op partner and the lack of audio cues for navigation to avoid Chimera (a highly lethal substance that caused issues with relocating my co-op partner from the resupply point you spawn back at after death), it was an experience devoid of lag and where I was even able to follow my partner through vertical sections through communication and the other agent's audio.

The fact that I was able to help with combat through the lock-on system certainly was a relief, making me wonder, yet again, why most games don't have lock-on aiming as an accessibility option in singleplayer at least. The surround sound audio was crucial in terms of understanding where my co-op partner was, though I was surprised to find that the orbs, still, were hard to locate in the surround field. However, even when my co-op partner had collected the orbs, at least I could hear the cues myself to locate them.

Even though the server then timed out later on in the same session, I was able to rejoin the game and had a real blast taking down the enemies that came at us where I could and exploding a few objects in the process. Were there a greater range of navigational audio cues and an ability to actually understand the map via in-game TTS prompts similar to the menus, the experience would be much improved.

This point was demonstrated in several instances in longer sessions where fast travel, an option that is relatively easy to access with sight, was virtually locked off from me other than via pure luck when moving around the map which is, again, inaccessible as it is free-cursor and doesn't have MSSA prompts reading the elements present as you move over them. I can't help but feel that if the game teleported me to my co-op partner's location during objectives, as well as using a menu for respawn locations, that much of the hours of frustration experienced would've been alleviated.

Part of that frustration came from other aspects of the map design though, such as small narrow platforms near the aforementioned Chimera or large bodies of water (not as lethal by any stretch but just as tedious), meaning that I couldn't easily follow my co-op partner whether on foot or leaping around the city.

Even taking down Roxy, one of the game's bosses, was hampered by a lack of audio cues for a timing-based jump that you have to make to progress. Having made the jump once by way of a fluke, I tried to make the next jump and fell straight down to before the previous point, thus nullifying my efforts. In the end, after at least 10 minutes of trying to figure out an easy way up to the boss, my co-op partner was forced to go it alone and kill the boss themselves, at which point, oddly, the game decided that now would be an opportune moment to teleport me to them.

Even with all that frustration though, co-op gameplay of Crackdown feels relatively smooth and will likely improve as time goes on. If you have a sightedco-op partner, definitely give this mode a shot.

Multiplayer/Wrecking Zone

The wrecking zone menu system works slightly differently to that of campaign, even using a different voice. The options menus and customise agent screens didn't read pre-launch, but I have hope that they might read after a future patch. Additionally, though the "firearms", "explosives", and "equipment" areas read the main heading during multiplayer lobbies, the items contained within those sections don't read at present.

One of the interesting things that I didn't expect was that the matchmaking prompts for finding a match, as well as success or failure in finding a match all read, so at least, even with the lengthy times experienced pre-launch you are aware of what's going on during what can be a frustratingly uncertain point in most multiplayer experiences.

When rapidly moving through the menus, unlike campaign, the Wrecking Zone equivalent doesn't actually interupt itself correctly, though fortunately, if you are scrolling quickly, the game will recognise the final option you end up landing on and read it, meaning that even if you might feel the menus are a little sluggish they certainly get the job done to a basic level.

The audio

The game's audio is solid, providing a cinematic feel to this comicbook-esque metropolis, punctuated by dialogue from a cast of characters who are certainly well brought to life. On a surround sound system, the mixing also works well, with even the smallest of shell casings audibly dropping from the guns you're firing. The techno soundtrack suits the futuristic setting, with particularly dramatic moments sometimes bringing in an orchestra as backup. Even in the introductary sequence following the opening cinematic, the agent you play as appears to have specific voice lines recorded to make everything as seamless as possible, certainly a welcome addition.

In Wrecking Zone, the multiplayer distruction is rendered relatively well, with not as much in the way of fine detail as you might expect, but enough explosions and shattering materials to make the experience worth while even with its relative inaccessibility. Having lock-on aiming with relatively clear indications of when you're being locked onto and fired on, the multiplayer portion of Crackdown 3 is definitely enjoyable even if only for a short time.





Whilst Crackdown 3 might not be the most accessible game without sighted assistance, it's certainly a great step forward to see Microsoft leveraging the tech at their disposal to make narrated menus part of their games so soon after the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) deadline for videogames expired at the beginning of this year. Given the promise of "post-launch content" I hope that Crackdown 3 can maybe even improve on accessibility of in-game navigation as well given the opportunity.

For now, I'd say certainly pick the game up if you have it on gamepass and have a friend who is willing to play alongside you and assist you in the game, but even if you don't, keep your eyes on Microsoft's efforts as they are certainly moving in the right direction, creating games that are accessible to a wider range of individuals out of the box #SoEveryoneCanGame. After all, as the Adaptive Controller Super bowl add says, "when everybody plays, we all win".

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