Saturday, July 2, 2022

Crossfire: Legion aims to fill the void left by Starcraft and Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Age of Empires IV. WarCraft III: Reforged. Company of Heroes 3. The team at Blackbird Interactive has been following the recent return of classic RTS games with interest – legitimate interest, actually. Commissioned by Korean developer Smilegate to bring its Counter-Strike-style shooter Crossfire into the strategy genre, Blackbird believes it has identified a gap that still needs to be filled. A nostalgic need needs to be met.

“I contend that in the recent revival, we haven’t come across an RTS game that offers players an experience that compares to StarCraft or Red Alert,” says game designer Maurice Grela. “We hope to be able to close this gap.”

What does this mean for Crossfire: Legion? Units that burn rubber. Simple build queues and harvesters that can largely be left to their own devices. “We believe that streamlining the building experience will allow players more cognitive capacity to focus on the combat loop,” says Grela. The designer has a background in the FPS genre, reflecting the fast-paced pace of Legion – a game of feints and quick retaliations between different factions.

“Global Risk offers a familiar, comparatively simple strategy for building an army,” Grela continues. “Combined arms, with an emphasis on quickly reinforcing fallen units. Black List features a number of mechanics that allow them to ambush, outflank, and drain their opponents.”

Blackbird knows what they’re talking about. Founded by key Relic employees, the developer is the current custodian of the Homeworld series and brings “nearly two decades of tested knowledge and lessons” to Legion. “A lot of the designers and leaders of Crossfire: Legion are avid wargamers,” says Grela. “Not only does the studio have a strong RTS knowledge base, but they also have a deep understanding of analog strategy.”

For some team members, Legion is a chance to recreate and then refine a nostalgia formula. For others, it’s an opportunity to innovate in a genre that has been neglected by the industry at large. Grela promises modernizations to Legion’s UI, mechanics and game systems.

You may remember Blackbird as the creator of Hardspace: Shipbreaker, a game that channels the uncanny beauty of Homeworld to sell a very specific fantasy – a worker salvage job in space. Grela says we can expect similarly dense and atmospheric worldbuilding from Legion’s single-player campaign and level design – although he notes that Blackbird’s story won’t tie into the shooter that Remedy is also building with CrossfireX in the Crossfire universe.

Whatever World Legion is eventually built, it will be very different in tone to Shipbreaker’s Glacial Terror and Economic Commentaries. Grela describes the Crossfire universe as “shlocky” – a setting that plays up its anti-terrorist premise for dramatic effect. Based on what little I’ve played, speed and accessibility seem to have been prioritized over spectacle and aesthetic novelty. Multiplayer is a clear focus, with Blackbird aiming for hardware specs that should suit most internet cafe PCs.

“Having examined several games trying to branch out into esports, we will begin to cultivate a competitive scene for the game before committing to something bigger,” says Grela. It’s an approach that suggests less a lack of commitment than an intention to gradually build strong roots in the community. With Crossfire already attracting hundreds of millions of players, you can bet that Blackbird and Smilegate’s ambitions are big indeed.

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