The Control and Alan Wake developer said it plumbed PC shooter Crossfire's years of worldbuilding to find the game's essential story.
For more than a decade, Crossfire has been a powerhouse in PC first-person shooters outside the US, especially in Asia. The free-to-play title is primed to make the leap to Xbox One and Xbox Series X later this year as CrossfireX, and with it will come a new addition: a single-player campaign created by Remedy Entertainment, the studio behind Control, Alan Wake, and Max Payne.
During Microsoft's recent Xbox Games Showcase, we got a closer look at what Remedy has planned for CrossfireX, although the details were still pretty vague. After the show, Remedy gave a more thorough presentation to media that provided more insight on what CrossfireX's campaign will be like. The presentation also provided a sense of what Remedy is adding to the Crossfire formula and how the studio will boil down more than a decade of growth, adaptations, and alterations into a coherent story.
The hands-off gameplay demo we saw expanded on the CrossfireX trailer that appeared during the showcase, focusing on Luis Torres, a "skilled thief" and civilian in the game's world. The mission we saw started with Luis handcuffed on a prison bus, where a guard speaks with him in a brief character-building moment--before a drone flies beneath the bus and explodes, flipping it. It seems that Global Risk, one of the two factions at the heart of Crossfire, and its leader, General Maddox, are after Luis. Luckily, he escapes the crash and absconds into a hospital, where the player takes control of him to shoot their way through Global Risk goons and meets up with Black List operatives hoping to extract him.
As far as gameplay is concerned, CrossfireX currently looks pretty similar to other military shooters of the type. There's a lot of aiming down sights, a lot of checking corners and doorways, a lot of dropping enemies with a quick burst to the chest or a well-placed headshot before moving on to the next corridor. We didn't see much of the game in action, but the presentation did show off a mechanic that distinguishes CrossfireX from being another Call of Duty or Battlefield: Combat Breaker--an ability that slows down time to allow Luis an extra second or two to line up shots and take down enemies, not unlike the Bullet Time mechanic in Remedy's Max Payne series.
Apart from that, however, CrossfireX currently seems to play very similarly to the other big FPS titles on the market, at least in its single-player campaign. It'll be released in batches called "Operations," which Remedy says will last around three hours each. Two are confirmed at the moment, one played from Black List's point of view and the other from that of Global Risk.
A lot of Crossfire's world has been established in broad strokes--the two factions are private military corporations whose employees differing worldviews, both engaged in a "sprawling, global conflict," communications director Thomas Puha said in an email interview with GameSpot. "Black List is more of an emotional ragtag group of members, whereas Global Risk is organized and well stocked," he explained.
The factions, their viewpoints, the people who fight for them, and their conflict is the key to Crossfire's identity and the thing that Remedy is trying to get across in the campaign.
"At the same time (Smilegate) has been expanding multiplayer, they've actually been doing quite a bit of worldbuilding," explained executive producer Tuukka Taipalvesi. "So they've tried to connect the various game modes to one another with story bridges, and they've built, I don't know how deliberately, a timeline for their IP. So that's where we started. We took all that information and did some data archeology on it, and basically built a baseline layer of a Crossfire universe timeline from all of this that was available. And from that, we started to see a historic event within the timeline that's a good spot to set a game in, kind of like a historic junction point within the universe, so that it's interesting from both factions' perspectives."
Crossfire's years of multiplayer support have led to a huge number of modes. Some of them are straightforward deathmatch or objective-based games that don't stray far from the original formula: two groups of soldiers battling it out. But as modes got more diverse, they also got weird. For instance, there's a horror-tinged zombie and mutants mode in which characters become huge, hulking creatures.
Remedy was cagey about whether mutants and zombies might make their way into future content for CrossfireX's single-player, but for now, the focus is on establishing and developing gameplay that serves the story and also feels like Crossfire.
"It’s the first single-player campaign for the franchise, as well as being on console, so while there's a decade worth of multiplayer game modes and history out there, the campaign has to establish its own identity and it definitely took a while to achieve that," Taipalvesi said. "I think the connecting tissue and backbone really are the two factions: Global Risk and Black List."
Remedy worked closely with Smilegate to make sure that whatever it was creating for the story side of CrossfireX would feel true to the rest of the game. This extends to gameplay itself, since Remedy is using its Northlight engine, which we last saw in Control, while the multiplayer side uses Unreal 4 Tuning controls and guns to make them feel consistent across both modes is part of that process.
Not everything in the weirder realm is getting left behind, though. There's also a multiplayer mode in PC Crossfire and CrossfireX, Spectre Mode, in which some players use active camouflage to become invisible and terrorize other players--and we've seen hints that these camouflaged soldiers will be part of the campaign. In fact, the gameplay portion shown during the Xbox showcase and the hands-off demo is from a set of missions collectively known as Operation: Spectre. CrossfireX's campaign will come in sets known as "operations," which Remedy says will last about around three to four hours each. Two are currently confirmed: Operation: Spectre and another operation played from the point of view of Global Risk.
Much of the mission with Luis found him working with Black List operative, Nicholas, who was sent to help him escape his Global Risk enemies. The back-and-forth between the characters hints at some of what Remedy is bringing to the table from a storytelling standpoint. Taipalvesi said the characters in CrossfireX have "slightly more melodrama than perhaps you've grown accustomed to," which goes along with the campaign's more in-your-face tone than Remedy's other titles.
After shooting through some corridors, the demo amped up the action, with Luis fighting his way to two Black List operatives, Cora and Logan, who were waiting for him in an ambulance. A chase followed, with Cora cracking wise before she and Luis opened fire out the back of the ambulance while Global Risk vehicles pursued.
Things hit a climax when an armored truck rammed into the ambulance, its occupants unloading on the ambulance with a heavy machine gun. Instead of blasting away at it ineffectually, Cora threw an oxygen tank at the truck, which Luis shot with the help of his Combat Breaker. The tank exploded, taking the truck with it--but also starting a chain reaction of collapsing the overpass roof under which the ambulance was fleeing. The demo ended with Logan taking the ambulance through the barricade and over a cliff toward a waiting lake below.
It was an intense demo that carries all the frenetic action and over-the-top set pieces you're used to seeing in similar blockbuster shooter franchises, but so far, we've only seen an inkling of what CrossfireX will be like in the moment-to-moment. What we've seen of the gunplay looks fairly standard for the genre, and military shooters live and die by how good their gunplay feels, as well as how smartly their missions are designed--two elements that are still unknown for CrossfireX.
And although Remedy is known for its storytelling as much as its gameplay mechanics, we've seen only the barest hints of where CrossfireX is actually going. Banter between characters seems promising, but much of it also carried that action movie cadence of one-liners that gives little indication of how deep or well-rounded the story and characters might be. Right now, CrossfireX has a lot to live up to, both in a crowded shooter genre and with a years-long multiplayer legacy. What we've seen so far shows promise, but we're still waiting to find out how CrossfireX will distinguish itself on the single-player side.
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