With over 690 million registered users, Crossfire is perhaps the world’s biggest multiplayer shooter. What makes its recent Xbox release special, however, is the inclusion of a two-part single-player campaign developed by Remedy Entertainment, the makers of Control, Max Payne, and Alan Wake, to name a few. It’s a pity then, that despite being masters of narrative, world-building, and high-minded ideas, and with such a huge property to work with, Remedy has delivered mediocrity this time around.
Crossfire was originally created by South Korean developer Smilegate Entertainment. It has a massive following in China and South Korea, and like Counter-Strike and other team based shooters, it puts players in the boots of two opposing but notionally similar teams: Black List and Global Risk. In terms of lore, these are both mercenary groups, where one is allegedly a terrorist organization (which claims to fight for freedom) and the other an anti-terrorist faction (which lays claim to law and order).
Well, fine. I suppose. Having two indistinguishable teams has worked for multiplayer shooter purposes since time immemorial. The problem is that this moralistic antagonism finds no purchase in the new story-based gameplay, as players do not spend any time interrogating these principles on the battlefield, but merely exchanging volleys of bullets.
The “Catalyst” campaign sees players in the boots of a Global Risk team flown into Every Wartorn Eastern European Town that’s ever appeared in military shooters to take down a Black List leader. The story is narrated by a character called Captain Hall, who’s so generic he might as well be called John Smith. He’s a plot vector designed to fit archetypal roles: father, husband, friend. What kind of father, husband, or friend is he? I have no idea. His personality is as shallow as the plot and his dialogue merely a kind of Metatron to the plot gods. He’s a sieve through which the story is pushed, before it becomes a cut-up mess on the other side.
The story follows Hall as he receives weird dream-like messages from his missing friends. It seems that Black List has discovered a super computer called the Catalyst that can predict the future if it finds the right host. Having finished both campaigns, I still have no idea what the Catalyst looked like, where it came from, or who may have made it.” It simply ... was there.
Players switch between three characters: Hall as assault, Randall the sniper, and Moralez the heavy gunner. The campaign is set in monotonous, poorly maintained outdoor areas and buildings, with tufts of grass, blown-out parks, and so forth, ad nauseum. In both Catalyst and the following campaign, Spectre, ordinary citizens don’t seem to exist — everyone is either carrying a gun or on their way to pick one up.
The opening sequence for “Spectre” drops players — literally, from a helicopter — onto a moving train, where they take on the role of a man by the name of Logan. This time, players are in the boots of Black List. In one of the few bits of interesting script maneuvering, players now need to eliminate a merc from the previous campaign, a man who the game clearly wants us to empathize with, however hard it may be.
Spectre’s bombastic intro sees players moving from the train to night-time urban environments, fighting up to the top of a corporate building, and destroying said structure. After a bit of breather, players once again shift perspective, and are suddenly in the shoes of a petty thief named Torres who, it turns out, is a wanted criminal for a crime he has yet to commit. This raises fascinating possibilities, and hints at gathering plot momentum — Philip K. Dick explored this concept in The Minority Report, after all, to stunning effect.”
But Remedy does not deliver on that potential. Despite being paragons in the realm of weird sci-fi stories, the usually excellent storytellers provide little backstory, pacing, or plotting to deliver on these lofty concepts. Torres is deemed a future criminal, and Global Risk attempts to thwart a future calamity, while you’re along for the ride — a bumpy, jittering, often disorienting ride. While this may not be a stellar Remedy game in terms of narrative or awareness, the guns feel solid and the death animations felt nauseatingly realistic. It is a Remedy game in its muscles and bones, but not in its spirit.
But as a package, Catalyst and Spectre might be the worst-paced video game stories I’ve encountered in recent years, populated by shallow characters and anchored only by whispers of intrigue, rather than actual compelling plot threads. In the end, it all showed a mere glimmer of that Remedy weirdness I’ve come to love over the years. Tales of “weird ancient super computers that can destroy the world” or “magic soldiers becoming harbingers of doom” are exactly in Remedy’s wheelhouse — yet, CrossfireX never considers or explores them in any intriguing ways. In Control, where players experienced the most bizarre concepts, the story was fleshed out by in-universe explanations, however far-fetched, that connected all of the pieces. Such tethering is completely absent in CrossfireX. It’s all just glorified window dressing.
It feels like Remedy is trying to emulate its usual greatness, but failing to understand what makes its other projects special. The studio has tapped into fears about self destruction, the fragility of reality, and fear of the unknown, and crafted all of them into its own unique brand of Strange. Control used a superhero origin story to show how the most mundane things in the world could kill us; Alan Wake took a campy horror plot to illustrate the world-changing power of storytelling; Max Payne took an average growly action cop game and made poetry out of his revenge, showing us the pointlessness of self-destruction.
I kept hoping and waiting for some similar Remedy subversion in this mediocre military shooter — waiting for some Remedy splinter that would pop out of the skin of this boring carcass of a game. Yet nothing emerged. Remedy’s brand is merely a thin film into which this limp mess was stuffed.
I have always been excited for Remedy’s worlds — the stories the studio tells, the concepts its creators play with. There are many studios who do action well but few who can deliver on well-written stories with a foundation in weird concepts. In CrossfireX, Remedy seems to have erased its identity and merely delivered what so many studios are already capable of.
I can tell you very little about the characters. Even the voice acting felt off, like a badly dubbed B-grade action film. Indeed, the story was often B-grade schlock. That doesn’t necessarily equate to “bad” — look how Remedy treated the campy horror of Stephen King in Alan Wake and elevated it to be a genuinely creepy and fascinating narrative — with memorable characters, settings and clever ideas. Genre doesn’t determine boundaries. But here, everything feels askew. If you decide to play this for the Remedy name alone, don’t expect the Remedy pedigree to come with it.
CrossfireX was released on Feb. 10 on Xbox One and Xbox Series X via Game Pass. The game was reviewed on Xbox using a pre-release download code provided by Smilegate Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.