Monday, May 23, 2022

Crossfire: Legion is the future of RTS as it was in 1999

Can I do a ‘woop woop’ or at least a ‘Wololo‘, for the spin-off strategy game? Ensemble Studios’ swan song was Halo Wars, an RTS so streamlined it was aerodynamic. Gears Tactics ballistic ballet, which stacked extra biceps on XCOM’s shoulders. Even when money has moved through the membrane in the opposite direction, it has led to projects that — let’s not overdo it — were endearingly experimental. Can I get an understanding nod for Command & Conquer: Renegade?

The strangeness of Crossfire: LegionThe situation of is such that you might not recognize it as a spin-off at all. Because the series is a big old blind spot for the western world. Crossfire is a hugely successful Korean FPS that bears more than a passing resemblance to Counter-Strike – all right angles, assault weapons, and de_dust2 – but eclipses even Steam’s most popular game for player counts. With 690 million participants in 80 countries, it is the largest online FPS in the world. In China, where the game is a major cultural force, a coming-of-age television drama about two young Crossfire gamers has been viewed 1.8 billion times. Bridger-what? Geralt from where? The result of all this success is that Crossfire is radiating money and part of it is now funding new games from reputable Western developers. Remedy is working on a classic COD style FPS campaign. And Blackbird Interactive is building an RTS called Legion.

“[Crossfire developer] Smilegate always had the idea of ​​making a proper real-time strategy game,” says Robert Wozinski, Global Brand Manager at Koch publishing label Prime Matter. “This beautiful dream had only one problem: They weren’t experts in a very demanding RTS world. They met Blackbird Interactive and it all went super fast from there.”

Blackbird is the Canadian team Gearbox has entrusted Homeworld 3 to, and with good reason. In addition to his own impressive strategy resume, beginning with Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, and a sideline in the deconstruction of starships and capitalism through Hardspace: Shipbreaker, Blackbird also has his roots in Relic Entertainment – ​​and shares founding members with this venerable strategy studio.

However, don’t expect the grace and poise of Homeworld from Legion. This “classically inspired” real-time strategy game has much more in common with StarCraft – units that are spawned quickly, clustered and hurled at each other in frenetic and chaotic combat. “What sets it apart is the magical touch of macro strategy,” says Wozinski, “with an army map system, adrenaline-pumping gameplay, and an incredibly fast pace.”


A collection of bases to build in Crossfire: Legion

This card system promises a high-quality metagame for customizing your forces. The idea is that you select your units, as well as a commander with special abilities, before all the crunchy enemy bludgeoning begins. But most of this was off-limits during my demo, where I could choose between just a few commanders from a large list.


Enemy fire rains down with a cardinal ability in Crossfire: Legion
Cardinal can summon a volley of missiles to devastate the battlefield.

One is called the Cardinal, a no-nonsense “fixer” for corrupt peacekeepers Global Risk – capable of calling in artillery fire or temporarily boosting soldiers’ healing and rate of fire. But I chose Phoenix, a representative of the Black List terrorist group, whose guerrilla tactics were more popular. Its Ghost Core is an outpost that you can place anywhere in your units’ line of sight that acts as an exit portal for teleported troops. Even better, they’re cloaked when they appear, making them unassailable.

It’s an ephemeral force that, like most Legion tactics, relies on solid planning and impeccable timing. During an hour-long session, I saw a Blackbird developer swarm from behind a base by setting up her core just right – while I, as an ally of the aggrieved party, tried to pull down her whirlwinds with buggies equipped with grappling hooks.

These high points took place amidst a variety of deeply familiar sights – gathering resources, consolidating bases, and erupting in combat between clustered units in bottlenecks. Legion strikes me as a trusty Sugar Rush – a front-footed RTS with a simplified base-building phase that sits somewhere between Halo Wars and Command & Conquer, ensuring combat is never far away.


A shielded helicopter attacks a military base in Crossfire: Legion

But there isn’t much to hold on to. For all Prime Matter’s talk about the “unique Crossfire world,” it must be said that there is little originality in this universe – at least at first glance. Wozinski calls it a “near future where two factions will fight fiercely for their own beliefs,” which seems about the size – a blurb that could just as easily be applied to a thousand other PvP games.

Legion also isn’t as visually inventive as Homeworld usually was. Its landscape of flat bases, beige tents, empty grounds, and forklifts is benevolently described as functional. In that regard, Crossfire applies – a shooter that wasn’t competitively beautiful even when it launched in 2007.

But that lack of identity clearly hasn’t hurt Crossfire in the past. In fact, it may have enabled its mass adoption – allowing Smilegate to bypass creative choices that could prove divisive and siphon off gamers on low-end PCs. I suspect Legion has planned a similar way to do this.


Crossfire: Legion A helicopter is damaged by anti-aircraft missiles

So far, Prime Matter has laid out a roadmap beginning with a closed beta this month and ending with an Early Access release in April. This includes 1v1 and 3v3 modes across two maps played as either Global Risk or Black List. A third faction, raised with a rather scruffy silhouette suggesting a less disciplined force, will be revealed in late February when it will be playable in a public demo. Ultimately, Legion will feature a single player campaign, co-op scenarios, and a map editor.

Community involvement will “help ensure the ease of use of modern strategy mechanics doesn’t overpower what made us fall in love with RTS games from the start,” says Blackbird. Though its intent isn’t purely nostalgic: the developer is designing “new game modes that could expand the notion of what strategy games can do or how they should be played.” That vague promise holds the greatest potential – a chance for a seasoned studio to surprise us and stretch creative muscles that Crossfire: Legion, based on the traditional RTS shown so far, hasn’t exhausted yet.

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