(Pocket-lint) - One of the Xbox One exclusives that graced Microsoft's E3 2014 press conference was Crackdown 3, in the shape of a reveal trailer, but it was conspicuous by its absence at this year's show in Los Angeles.
Thankfully, Gamescom proved a different story, with Microsoft not only showing some of the single-player/co-op campaign on a rolling demo behind closed doors, but also giving us hands-on time with a pre-alpha tech demo that will be used as the bedrock for the multiplayer experience.
The campaign reverts to familiar territory, albeit in a different, larger futuristic city than even before. Agents are still required to dispatch crime lords to make zones safer as before, and can similarly team-up with other players to do so, but this time the plotline and structure has been improved.
One of the biggest complaints about the first two games in the series, we were told, was that the overarching narrative was sketchy. It was hard to keep the open-world game from being free-flowing and allow players to tackle missions in any order they liked while keeping a story that made sense at the forefront.
This time, everything in the city, including vehicles, advertising hoardings and anything designed to deliver information, is covered in digital holographic paint. That means there is always a translucent overlay on objects and buildings that can provide anything from specifications and details about certain aspects of a car - like damage, for example - to giant floating video screens (Blade Runner style) tempting you to buy a new doo-hickey.
The digital paint can also be hacked by local crime lords in order to communicate directly with your agent, thereby moving along the plot and providing the narrative lacking previously.
In addition, unlike previous titles, major crime bosses aren't easily found. Instead, they will throw minions, henchmen and all manner of other underlings at you first until you mess up his businesses so bad that you fill a new hate meter. It is only then when he (or she) is so angry at you will he appear in the flesh - generally in massive boss battle style. And developer Reagent Games has ensured that such encounters much more difficult than in the past.
The most impressive part of our time with the very early build of the game (it is not due until 2016, and more likely the latter half) came with hands-on play of the multiplayer tech demo.
Multiplayer will be a different kettle of fish to the main campaign and will feature something that will no doubt draw the main focus on release. Everything in the city is destructible and obeys the laws of physics. From the highest skyscrapers to small walls, everything can be blasted into gravel.
One example of this was shown to us using a normal assault rifle. The third-person character drew a rectangle in bullets on a wall, creating what can only be described as tiny pebbles of concrete and as soon as the middle section wasn't secured enough, it fell out to land at the player's feet. It looked natural and normal. It could even be used as a strategy to both maintain cover in a shoot out, yet have a small hole to fire through.
Players can blast holes in the floors and ceilings inside buildings too - yep, every building in multiplayer will be open to enter. And thanks to the platforming style gameplay, you could leap up inside structures that way.
Alternatively, if enemies are sniping at you from the very top of an apartment block, why not blast the whole thing down using a rocket launcher? It'll take a while if there's only one of you as you have to take out the concrete first, then the steel girders holding the whole thing up, but when it does fall it does so spectacularly. Everything in multiplayer obeys the laws of physics so moves and falls the way it would in real life and that makes for some incredible effects.
It also makes for an incredible demonstration of how the Xbox One is capable of doing things the PS4 cannot. Crackdown 3 will use Microsoft's cloud servers to help crunch enough figures to make the physics engine work, something that the console is not capable of doing on its own.
The only obvious example of the cloud servers being utilised in the past was with Forza Motorsport 5's drivatar AI system - player profiles stored in the cloud to be pulled down by individual Xbox Ones. However, Crackdown 3 will use them to crunch the numbers in order to ensure the physics of different buildings and objects remain lifelike. As more and more destruction is enforced, with more pieces of debris generated, new servers will spark into action to cope with the mathematical strain.
During our session, we managed - along with three other players - to destroy a tower and surrounding buildings and could see as servers were required through an on-screen graphic. We managed to get around 10 servers all working at once, but the record is apparently 20. And being able to keep that many objects flying about, colliding with each other and landing as they should makes for one hell of a satisfying blast-a-thon.
Remember how good it felt to smash cars off the road in Burnout? Times that by a million (you might need a cloud server to help with the number though).
If this all comes off for the final release in 2016 some time, Reagent Games might well have produced a current generation title that actually lives up to the billing.