At what point does a game become retro?
That’s a question I found myself asking while playing a demo for CrossfireX, a new first-person shooter from Smilegate Entertainment coming exclusively to Xbox consoles on February 10. Crossfire is either an unknown IP or a legendary franchise, depending on which part of the world you’re in. The original mobile game launched in South Korea in 2007 and slowly gained massive popularity in Asian markets. It would eventually spawn a film, TV series, and now a full-scale console game.
CrossfireX is a brand new game, but the slice of its campaign I played still feels distinctly 2007. As I played, I was brought back to the mid-2000s era where games were still figuring out how to break the rules of digital storytelling. That makes it feel like a “retro” experience, depending on what era of games you grew up in.
CrossfireX is a fairly traditional first-person shooter. Players shoot guns, toss grenades, and sneak up on enemies to get a quick melee knife kill. The main thing that sets it apart from other shooters is its concentration system. When pressing the right bumper, time slows down, allowing players to take out waves of enemies with ease. Despite slowing time, it actually keeps the game’s pace up. I never felt like I had to duck behind cover to wait out gunfire. Instead, I could always shoot first and ask questions later.
Other than that little trick, gunplay feels classical. As I wiped out waves of vague bad guys by shooting explosive barrels, I thought about how timeless the experience felt. I’ve done this thousands of times at this point, but I still get satisfaction from popping headshots, just like I’ll always have fun playing a new 2D Mario game (though one is a little more violent, admittedly).
The story is split up into two separate campaigns, both of which were developed by Control studio Remedy Entertainment. In my demo, I was able to play Chapter 1 of Operation Catalyst and up to Chapter 3 of Operation Spectre. That’s where the word “retro” really began to worm its way into my head.
The campaign feels pulled out of the mid-2000s, before games like The Last of Us set the template for modern game storytelling. There’s a vague global conflict, a squad of indistinguishable tough guys, and some stilted voice-over that provides exposition and internal monologue in equal measure. Operation Catalyst is more standard 2000s military game fare, with a soldier shooting his way through dilapidated buildings, while Spectre leans more into modern warfare, complete with pesky drones to shoot down.
“Modern Warfare” is a fitting term, because the snippets I played remind me of shooters like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Like that game, there’s a series of seemingly interconnected storylines happening between the two campaigns. CrossfireX even has players swapping between characters in sequences. At the end of Chapter 1 in Operation Catalyst, my character was captured and tied to a chair. Suddenly, I switched over to a sniper on top of a building across from him. I sniped my own captor and shot the cuffs off my character. Then I was swapping between both perspectives, with the first character running down the building to escape and the sniper shooting off incoming enemies. It was a thrilling sequence that reminded me of Call of Duty’s best missions.
It all feels like a bit of a throwback for those who grew up with a PS3 instead of an NES. Downgrade the visuals and you might mistake it for a long-lost 2007 shooter. So once again, I find myself asking: At what point does a game become retro?
Is this Modern Warfare style of set piece-driven linear action games “old school” at this point? To me, it still feels modern (my sense of time is absolutely busted at this point and 2007 still feels like it was five years ago). But someone who played mid-2000s Call of Duty games as a teen might find CrossfireX to be a welcome blast from the past, in the same way that indie games like Shovel Knight successfully play on my 2D nostalgia. “Retro” is a fluid concept in gaming that’s not owned by one generation.
For those who miss the days where shooters had lots of firefights and little to say, CrossfireX should satiate that hunger, even if it lacks some personality thus far. It’s a fast-paced game with snappy gunplay, promising action sequences, and an intriguing, intersecting story. As soon as I finished the demo, I found myself browsing Game Pass for some Xbox 360-era shooters to play. I was eager to keep living in a simple past that didn’t require much brainpower beyond quick reaction time.
CrossfireX launches on February 10 for Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. It’ll feature two single-player campaigns and a multiplayer mode at launch.
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