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CrossfireX beta review – the world’s favourite shooter

The world’s most popular video game, that you’ve never heard of, brings Counter-Strike style action to consoles in a new free open beta.

There’s less than half a year to go until the next generation of consoles are released and still there are many question to be answered about both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Microsoft has already said that Halo Infinite will be the only first party launch title but it’s assumed that they will at least announce a number of other titles this year, to give an indication of what sort of games the console will be playing host to and if it can finally break away from the label of ‘shooter box’.

Given that Halo and Gears Of War are still the Xbox’s best known exclusives that remains a serious question, and while CrossfireX isn’t published by Microsoft they do seem to have gone to a peculiar amount of effort to promote it and claim it as a console exclusive. Or perhaps not peculiar because, technically, Crossfire is the world’s most popular video game.

Having first launched in South Korea in 2007, and now a firmly established mainstay in China, Crossfire has a lifetime total of 1 billion players and is the highest-grossing video games of all time. Its popularity is almost entirely limited to Asia though and playing it today, on the Xbox One, it’s incredibly hard to understand how such an old-fashioned and unremarkable shooter could become so successful. But then it is free to download…

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2007 was a long time ago now, but even then Counter-Strike was seven years old and well established as a grandee of the nascent multiplayer scene. CrossfireX has various modes and variations but the basics involve two mercenary groups called Black List and Global Risk. Although apparently a movie is on the way, developer Smilegate has recognised that the game’s lack of compelling single-player content would be a problem in the West and so has made the very sensible decision to get Alan Wake and Control developer Remedy on board to make a new campaign mode just for CrossfireX. Unfortunately though, that’s not part of the beta.

One obvious problem with CrossfireX, before it even starts, is that Counter-Strike itself has never been able to find any success on consoles, despite the best efforts of Microsoft since the very early days of the original Xbox. Its style of short-range, highly skilled, team-based action has never caught on, in part because of the limitations of joypad controllers but also the lack of mods and integration into the pre-existing PC community.

Not that CrossfireX is a clone exactly, even if the main goal of one of Classic mode’s two maps – to defuse or defend a bomb – is a brazenly obvious copy of Valve’s game. But we can imagine some people being drawn in by its extreme simplicity. There’s no aiming down sights in Classic mode and you can’t run or respawn, which, depending on how you want to take it, creates an unusually focused and fast-paced experience or one with absolutely no depth or nuance, where you’re constantly being killed by people you never saw and had almost no chance of countering.

Unlike Counter-Strike, you don’t have to worry about earning money between rounds, you just pick a new loadout whenever you want and get on with it. That does allow for an unusual amount of flexibility, with the ability to adjust quickly to whatever the other team is doing, but also tends to see both sides constantly trying to one-up each other, reacting to what they did last time and rarely just picking a plan and running with it.

The other map for Classic mode has a different set of rules (which are never properly explained) that revolve around the attackers having invisibility cloaks that are more effective the less you move. Since attackers are only armed with knives that does make things potentially interesting, although the experience at the moment is mostly of people wandering around with no clue as to what’s going on – while the few that do understand slaughter the rest with little opposition.

The alternative Modern mode is closer to a modern online shooter, as you fight over two control points and earn points to unlock perks and extra loadouts. You can aim down sights and run too, and while the gunplay takes a bit of adjustment (literally in terms of changing the sensitivity options) it’s all fairly competent. There’s even a neat idea where getting to a certain number of points blows up the skyscraper you’re in and everyone has to rush to escape. Although we’re not clear on whether the fact that there’s only one map is because of the beta or not.

What is obvious though is that Smilegate is not used to dealing with the problem of spawn camping, as it’s incredibly easy to take advantage of people respawning into a match – something that most other shooters learned to counter a decade or more ago. Modern mode is definitely the best way to play CrossfireX but compared to something like Rainbow Six Siege or Call Of Duty it still feels incredibly basic and old-fashioned.

CrossfireX is a game streamlined to within an inch of its life and not having played it in its early days we’re not sure whether that’s supposed to be a relief from other more complicated games or a nostalgic charm lost on anyone who is only starting to play now. But whatever the reason, your desire to carry on shrinks with every match, giving the game a perilously short half-life.

This is only a beta, where almost everyone is as unfamiliar with the game and its legacy as each other, so perhaps the game’s virtues will become more obvious once players have had time to get more practice in and formulate appropriate strategies.

But at the moment it’s an exhaustingly dull experience that quickly has you wondering why you don’t just switch it off and play one of the dozens of superior alternatives available. Admittedly, they won’t be free but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Formats: Xbox One
Price: Free
Publisher: Smilegate West
Developer: Smilegate Entertainment
Release Date: 25th June 2020
Age Rating: 16

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