Crimson Dragon Review
Riding fire-breathing dragons on Microsoft's new console
One would think that there’s no better way to celebrate the release of the Xbox One than to let gamers ride dragons. It’s a novel gameplay setting that hasn’t been at the core of a game since the original Panzer Dragoon series, and though the rail shooter isn’t exactly a thriving genre, maybe the setting alone would at least entice some gamers. Enter Crimson Dragon, a downloadable launch title for the new Xbox One. You do get to ride dragons, but the overall experience is decidedly underwhelming.
The plot here is thin. Humans have apparently settled on the planet of Draco many years ago, but trouble started with the local populace – dragons. Eventually, a deadly virus named Crimsonscale was unleashed, and wiped out a huge population of humans on the planet. Those that managed to survive became stronger, and learned to communicate with the dragons. You are one of such survivors, and thus it’s your mission to take to the skies in battle and protect the remaining humans while searching for a cure to the disease.
All story is seen though narrated cutscenes with minimal background imagery, so you shouldn’t be expecting any in-engine cutscenes for these important events. The presentation is minimal on the whole. Sound effects are basic, and the music loops a collection of generic action/adventure tunes with an Asian style. And perhaps most notably, this is an average looking game that does not showcase any technical strengths of Xbox One. Geometry is simple, textures lack quality, and animations are basic. The title could have easily released on Xbox 360 with the same visual quality.
As mentioned, Crimson Dragon is a rail shooter. This means you’ll fly around one of a few different environments on the planet, without having control over your speed or direction. All you can do is move your dragon around within the space of the screen, while also moving your reticule separately. Your dragon can perform two different attacks, and switch between them at any time. You can also do barrel rolls to avoid incoming fire.
The game runs into some problems with controls, as your dragon doesn’t feel very responsive so you’re quite likely to take damage. Camera behaves on its own free will, and it can be very awkward to see incoming attacks and try to dodge them when the camera chooses to look in another direction. Some players may find this very frustrating when attempting to perfect their runs, and a few sections where free flight is allowed only serve to highlight the awkwardness of the controls and camera.
To help with the blind spots, Crimson Dragon has a Wingman system where an AI dragon rider can join you, thus providing additional firepower. You can command them to fly in front or behind you, and they will attack the corresponding targets. The AI dragons must be purchased with credits and are only available for a limited number of missions. The cool part is that they are dragons owned by other players. It seems a missed opportunity, then, that the game lacks multiplayer. It would have been cool to roam around with a friend, but instead we’re treated to leaderboards.
The campaign is about 6 hours long, but geared for replay as you get scored on how well you did. So you can complete optional objectives, and of course experiment with different dragons and powers. The environments where you float around don’t really vary mission to mission except for their aesthetic. But having said all that, oddly enough the game never grows repetitive. A vast number of enemies with different attacks and their overwhelming numbers keep you engaged in the 5 to 10 minutes that each mission lasts. There are a few different stages in each mission, such as taking out all enemies, avoiding damage, or collecting items. These objectives repeat in most missions.
Outside of story missions most time will be spent at the main base with a few menu options. Here you can customize your dragon or shop for items. The shop lets you purchase: new dragons (there are 7 of them), revival gems (essential to your continuation of the level in case of death), vials that provide one-time boosts, and other items. During missions, you’ll pick up lots of gold and item drops just by participating in combat. Items in the shop can be purchased via currency, or with crystals – which are acquired by completing optional mission objectives or with real cash. But don’t be alarmed, there is never a need to use cash as the progression is well balanced.
Your dragon will level up independently of your profile based on XP earned during missions. Your dragon gains XP from combat as well as special XP boosts that you can feed to it, and can grow to level 10. After that, you have an option to evolve him with special items and start the levelling process from the beginning. It can also learn a ton of different attacking skills, which are again acquired as drops during missions. The game can be completed with the starter dragon, but collectors have plenty of options and reasons to keep replaying levels long after the campaign is over.
Not everything in Crimson Dragon is clearly explained. Some missions require you to collect antibodies from specific enemies, but there’s little information on what that process looks like. These antibodies actually provide a grinding element to the game, as they are random drops from specific enemies; so if you’re missing one, you must replay missions until it drops. All of the dragons fall under a specific element, such as electricity or fire, but the game doesn’t explain how to take advantage of these elements. Some of this information is found, as we later discovered, under the game’s news/blog section in the main menus. Not exactly the most intuitive location to place it. But having completed the game without much trouble on Classic difficulty, while not knowing this information, it’s clearly not a hugely impacting gameplay element.
The game is fully controller-based, but there are uses for Kinect. You can use voice commands to navigate the menu and issue the forward/back command to your Wingman. Both feel tacky and require you to bring a hand up to your head , letting go of the controller. Given the limited functionality, there’s little reason to talk to your TV when you can use the controller much quicker. For motion sensing, you can lean to the left or right to make your dragon perform a barrel roll. But this is more work than using the shoulder buttons on the controller, the latter being infinitely more responsive and quicker to perform – something crucial in a game based on dodging.
Crimson Dragon is a decent downloadable title to help launch the Xbox One. It has moments of fun, and fans of Panzer Dragoon will feel particularly more at home here than the rest of us. Replay value is high for players that aim to get onto the leaderboards or complete their dragon and skill collection. This is certainly not a title you want to show to your friends or family as a promotional item for the Xbox One, as the presentation is decidedly unimpressive and Kinect functionality is tacky at best. This is an above average action title with an acceptable price tag, but don’t expect it to justify your new console purchase.