Archive for April, 2012

The Last Crusade?

Crusader: No Remorse - Missing in ActionMissing in Action doesn’t always bring the action to the forefront. That isn’t the case with Crusader: No Remorse. The brainchild of Tony Zurovec and Origin Systems (the esteemed creators of the Wing Commander and Ultima series), Crusader took the engine of the much-maligned Ultima VIII and made something damned good out of it.

Crusader: No Remorse put you in the combat boots of the Silencer, a one-man army in shiny red armor who finds himself unceremoniously discharged from the World Economic Consortium’s special forces after refusing to fire on civilians; you suddenly find yourself out of a job and hunted by the ruling powers. So what’s a trained killing machine to do? Join up with the ragtag band of rebels, naturally. While they don’t trust you, they’re still more than willing to send you on suicide missions on a daily basis. And from here, the fun begins.

And that fun is a third-person shooter before third-person shooters were really a thing. The game controls with mouse and keyboard (or pad if you’re on the PS1 or Saturn versions) and runs from an isometric perspective. You can roll out from behind cover or shoot through it to put enemies down (just so you don’t go thinking Gears of War or Killswitch invented cover-based shooting). In addition, you’re given a pretty sweet arsenal that lets you spread the kind of mayhem ’90s computer games excelled at. You’re capable of de-facing (literally) enemies with a shotgun, vaporizing them, searing the flesh from their bones with the UV-9. Or, you can get all tactical-like with the spider bombs, which crawl toward a target and explode on impact. Finding the right computers, switches and keycards will also allow you to do things like hack robots to do your dirty work for you. Many of these are features that other games would later reuse (not too surprising, as Deus Ex creator Warren Spector was a producer on Crusader).

Crusader took place in a darkly humorous, corporate-run cyberpunk world much like that of Robocop. It featured an excellent techno/rock score by Andrew Sega. And it had the most gloriously badly acted and produced full motion video sequences the 1990s had to offer. These elements came together to provide a game that was completely awesome, yet never too serious.

Crusader: No Remorse - Missing in Action

The finest actors Austin's community theatre scene had to offer.

While No Remorse received a sort-of sequel in the form of Crusader: No Regret (it reused many of the same assets, the same engine, etc), there was never a full sequel that totally improved on the formula. Tony Zurovec left Origin, and the projected title of Crusader: No Mercy (of which the only surviving information seems to indicate a multiplayer mode) never saw the light of day. I know losing the creator was a major blow, but it’s hard to believe that Origin, as a subsidiary of Electronic Arts (and one of the first victims of the assimilate-and-destroy policies that would come to define EA in the eyes of many) outright scrapped it. For many years, until No Remorse and No Regret released on GOG.com, this was the last peep heard of the series.

It seems to me that EA is missing out on a big opportunity. Third-person shooters are never going to be hotter than they are right now. Gears of War, Mass Effect, and Uncharted have all (presumably) wrapped as trilogies. There is now a notable lack of any major action titles on the market that aren’t either Assassin’s Creed or first-person shooters. So, Electronic Arts…why not create a new Crusader? Since reboots of expired franchises seem to be the hip new trend in gamesĀ  (Syndicate, X-COM, Command & Conquer: Generals of all things), why not break out the shiny red armor again? Naturally, there’s a lot to live up to here (Crusader is one of the best straight-up action games of all time, and my personal favorite in the genre). The questions to be asked, though, are who would develop it, and could they get Andrew Sega to come back and provide the game’s signature sound? All of these are important. A new Crusader has to be more than a stop-and-pop shooter. It has to include all the quirky gadgets, the destructible scenery, and the over-the-top, vaporizing weapons.

And that’s really where the problem lies. Could EA turn out a fresh Crusader that redefines the standards of the action genre? Or would it just be standard, lowest common denominator cannon fodder?