Five Thoughts About Five XBOX ONE Launch Titles Part Two: CRIMSON DRAGON

Screenshot from Crimson Dragon
Credit: Microsoft / Grounding Inc

As the Xbox One gets closer to launch by the minute, we are playing the games, exploring the interface, and toying with the new media options (more on those as embargoes lift!). Throughout the day today, we’re taking quick looks at the five downloadable exclusive titles for the Xbox One’s launch with five things to focus on each. And yes, full reviews of the major disc-based releases Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome are all coming as well throughout the week.

But back to the downloads. We started the day with a look at Killer Instinct, and now we turn our critical eyes toward Crimson Dragon. A “spiritual successor” to the Dreamcast-born Panzer Dragoon series, this rail-shooter from the original director of that series and developer Grounding Inc comes on launch day, November 22, 2013, as a digital download exclusive. Here are five thoughts about Crimson Dragon.

1: Where is the Next-Gen to this Next-Gen Game?

There is virtually nothing about this game that says it’s a next generation experience, aside from the fact that it happens to be on the Xbox One. The environments are repetitive and blocky – they’re one of the things that reminded me (negatively) of Starfox 64while playing this, as in, they kind of look like they could have existed three console generations ago. The dragons themselves look better, but still aren’t awe-inspiring. As for the music, it’s not bad, and gives some nice soaring moments, but overall comes off as somewhat generic. The sound effects sound like something a teenager could make on his own computer in an afternoon. Even the controls are essentially four buttons and the two control sticks (though don’t forget, it’s a rails shooter – more on that later). This does not feel next-gen in any discernible way.

Screenshot from Crimson Dragon
Screenshot from Crimson Dragon
Credit: Microsoft / Grounding Inc

2: Story is Important in Games, Basically Missing Here

We talk a lot about the story in video games, whether it be a Batman origin or a deep-dive RPG. Companies like Ubisoft are in the process of proving that even downloadable titles can experiment with story (they’re telling an entire story in rhyming ballad form in Child of Light). Crimson Dragon, however, did not. Sure, there’s technically a story here about some humans colonizing the planet Draco, where there are dragons that don’t want us there. There’s nothing about why the humans don’t just leave the planet. There’s a super-casual female military officer who gives “life or death missions” as if she’s talking about the latest cover of People. And there are the just entirely nonsensical moments on top of all of that. For instance, you get a mission where in the briefing you’re told that “every creature, every living thing on this planet hates us and wants us gone.” Then, on the mission, you see a gigantic creature, and a briefing about it comes over the speaker saying, “Those are peaceful creatures who have never shown any aggression or harmed us in any way.” Then they make you shoot at it. Seriously, force you to shoot at this hulking peaceful creature – when one finally fights back, they incredulously say, “that was so strange, they’ve never been aggressive before!” Might have something to do with you making me murder the biggest one’s children in front of it, dude. There is nothing redeemable about this “story” in any discernible way.

3: On Rails is Code for Virtually No Control

By putting this “on rails,” the developers found an easy way to guide along the gameplay, making there not be so much “movement” and “choice” as there is “pointing” and “randomly shooting then hoping this time you actually hit what you aimed at.” The on-rails shooter has its place in games, and makes me long for the old arcade days, but it just doesn’t seem to work here. I want so badly for this game to have lush environments for me to fly around and explore. It has none of that, and half the time I played, I barely felt like I was playing.

Screenshot from Crimson Dragon
Screenshot from Crimson Dragon
Credit: Microsoft / Grounding Inc

4: Multiple Unlocks – Especially if you Pay to Play

If there’s something to this game, it’s that there are many dragons, including Wingmen with their own selections, that you can collect by unlocking them through experience points and trying out the ever-so-slightly varied attacks. You can unlock things much faster through the microtransactions present in most of the games we’ve played so far for the Xbox One. It gives some much-needed variety to the entirely formulaic main gameplay.

5: It’s Just Not Very Fun

If you’ve read this far, you’ve figured out this last point on your own, most likely. Crimson Dragon just isn’t a very fun game to play. There’s no thrill to flying because you’re soaring over such drab and repetitive environments. There’s no thrill to the “battles” because it’s more like a test of whether or not you can move a cursor over enemies before accidentally flying by them. There’s no fun to the presentation, and no fun to the laughable story – if you can even rightly call it that. Yes, there is the smallest amount of fun in unlocking and collecting more dragons can’t drown the rest of that out. This one’s a skip, at launch, a month after launch, for the life of the console.

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