Crossfire is nothing short of an FPS phenomenon in SouthEast Asia. While the long-running competitive FPS hasn’t caught on in the West, Smilegate’s competitive team shooter has been a huge part of PC LAN parties for nearly 15 years, giving this Counter-Strike-styled FPS plenty of new life. Up until now, Crossfire hasn’t had much in terms of a campaign narrative save for two PMC factions constantly going up against each other in 8-person squads: Global Risk and Black List. In an effort to help grow the global audience and reintroduce the Crossfire franchise to the West, Smilegate has partnered up with Remedy Entertainment to put together a rather lengthy story campaign, of which we recently had the pleasure of trying out two of the early campaign missions in CrossfireX.
With there being two main factions going up against each other, it makes sense to have the campaign play out on both sides of the battlefield. CrossfireX’s first mission Operation Catalyst focuses on a failed assassination plot carried out by Global Risk while Operation Spectre takes place a couple of missions later, focused on a new recruit more or less forced into working alongside Black List. While Operation Spectre is the more interesting of the two campaigns, it of course makes sense to play through Operation Catalyst first to get a feel for both corporations as well as some major players that persist throughout the campaign. Each campaign is meaty on its own and I easily clocked in roughly two hours to each Operation, while some of that time was spent searching around for stuffed toys and cameras to shoot.
Operation Catalyst opens with a scene not atypical from the recent Call of Duty campaigns: Get in, take in a high-value target, and get out. When the target turns out to be a body double, things go from bad to worse almost instantly. Before you have a chance to call an immediate extraction, Black List’s seemingly endless army of militants descends on the player and his compatriots. Here, the game immediately goes to teach you the basics of CQC: point your gun at the enemy and pull the trigger before they do the same. Each character you play in the two Operations also has an innate ability to slow down time and place shots more effectively. In contrast to your usual bullet time effects, time speeds up momentarily each time a bullet finds its mark, leading to an impressive visual effect that highlights the impact of each round.
Unfortunately, the regular moment-to-moment gunplay feels lacking and in many regards dated. With CrossfireX built on the pedigree of a 15-year old shooter franchise that’s still aiming to have a modernized multiplayer component, I’m a bit worried about how the competitive scene will feel. Many assault rifles feel largely interchangeable from one another (save for the randomized attachments) and even picking up a light machine gun feels almost identical to an AK-47 in terms of damage and reloading speed but with the added bonus of having a triple-sized ammo capacity. At the same time, shotguns, something I absolutely love as a secondary weapon in FPS campaigns, feel largely ineffective at most distances and even up close, I found getting closer with a pistol to finish the job to be much more effective.
If CrossfireX were just your average PMC-vs-PMC shooter campaign, I might not have much to speak of in terms of praise but it's the narrative that Remedy Entertainment is putting together that keeps this campaign feeling compelling and worth seeing through until the end. Moments of Operation Catalyst’s campaign introduce key players to the story such as your fellow Global Risk agent Cavanaugh, all the while subjecting the main character to moments of PTSD and visions of what could either be the past or the future, sometimes seen through other players’ eyes. It isn’t until players start up Operation Spectre that the revelations teased in Operation Catalyst start to take form and Black List’s goal of discovering premonitions of future battles come to light. The main character of Operation Spectre is a young man from a military background who was foreseen as becoming The Ghost, a Grey Fox-esque cyborg ninja that could herald the end of conflict and the world for both corporations. There’s a sense of inevitability to everything both campaigns go for and that subversive storytelling that makes the campaign more compelling than the standard gunplay goes for.
CrossfireX on Xbox Series X is quite a solid piece of visual tech, not surprising given Remedy Entertainment’s use of the Northlight engine to power these campaigns. Environments and character models all look fantastic both in stills and motion and I could see that the five-year development time has certainly expanded to take advantage of the Xbox Series X’s power for rendering explosions and particle effects as bullets find their intended targets. It’s perhaps the teeth that steal the show for me, however. I just can’t get over how pristine those pearly whites are and how bright they shine whenever characters are talking at the player.
Much of the CrossFireX campaign I experienced has taken more than passing inspiration from Call of Duty’s campaigns of the early 2010s. Beyond the obvious gameplay features of wielding two weapons at once alongside a small assortment of grenades, AI teammates that wait for you to make the final push, and the stilted banner and one-liners from anyone on screen, CrossfireX feels like a 2010’s shooter made with 2020’s technology. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but Remedy’s storytelling might be the main reason that CrossfireX takes off in the West.
Remedy Entertainment and SmileGate’s CrossfireX will launch on both Xbox Series S|X and Xbox One on February 10th, 2022.