When perusing the vast and forlorn graveyard that encapsulates the disavowed and forgotten franchises that once proudly marched across the evergreen fields of videogames, you wouldn’t think twice about overlooking the weathered and decaying tombstone that marks the fleeting Crimson Skies franchise. With only two games to its name, the alternate history arcade/simulation fusion aerial dogfighting series is one unknown to many, languishing in a pit of obscurity since its last release back in 2003 on the original Xbox. However, recent rumblings within the gaming landscape might mean that this derelict and decaying carcass of a franchise has a chance of returning to the forefront in a big way.
But first, a little context on why Crimson Skies deserves a second chance (at least in my eyes anyways.) The premise of the series revolves around the idea that, in an alternate version of the 1930s, the United States, wracked by failed policies and rampant influenza outbreaks, has buckled and fractured into a series of nation states, all squabbling with one another like rambunctious siblings over the family fortune. Within this tumultuous and highly unstable political landscape, the safest and easiest way to travel is by air. Former interstate highways and rail networks are now too dangerous to navigate, given the toxic relationships between the newly formed countries, and thus air travel is the only solution, for both commercial and private enterprises. Yet, with all that wealth now cruising high above the heartlands of North America, swashbuckling privateers (or as those pencil pushers would label them, pirates) have taken up shop to plunder and pillage the cargo-ships of the skies, all in the pursuit of a quick buck.
It’s a brilliant premise, one that is steeped in both storytelling and gameplay opportunities galore. Yet sadly, as I have already mentioned, the series has lied dormant since 2003. This is indeed a strange circumstance, as both the original PC release and the Xbox “sequel” witnessed near universal critical acclaim; particularly the latter which holds a Metacritic rating of 88 out of 100. Not too shabby at all is must be said. Unfortunately, the sky-high reviews didn’t translate into commercial success, and thus the series was doomed to be considered a “cult classic” until the end of time. However, thanks to Battlefield 1, Crimson Skies might just have a chance to soar through the skies once more.
Despite being but a few days old, the highly anticipated WW1 FPS has already garnered widespread critical commendation, with the PC version currently standing at an 89 rating on Metacritic at the time of writing. Given the hype surrounding the game since it’s reveal way back when in May, expect sales to be astronomically outrageous, possibly even breaking the 15 million marker. The game, by anyone’s reasonable expectations, is going to be, and is, huge. Such rampant success will not only result in short-term financial benefits for EA however. In fact, we could be about to witness a monumental shift within the entire foundations of the industry. Why? We’ll, let’s take a look at a little old game called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Back in 2007, Infinity Ward and Activision changed the very landscape of videogame development. The shift that they brought about was so monumental that its effects are still influencing developers, publishers and players almost ten years later, and will undoubtedly continue unabated for many more to come. Before the release of Call of Duty 4, the industry was utterly dominated by World War II shooters to the point where the genre was completely inundating the entire industry. It had reached the point of over-saturation. Gamers, suffocating under the sheer relentless volume of Nazi-blasting extravaganzas, were crying out for some rest bite, for something new to come along and alleviate them from the overwhelming tide. Call of Duty 4 broke the trend, providing gamers a refreshing breath of originality and ushering in a new age for the FPS genre.
Yet, with the success of Call of Duty 4 there came the inevitable and near-uncontrollable torrent of copycat titles, each one trying to leech off Infinity Ward’s defining masterpiece. After several years, just like a generation before with WW2 shooters, the market became a dire quagmire of stale imitation. Once again, gamers grew restless, eagerly awaiting another messiah moment similar to Call of Duty 4. Battlefield 1, as already mentioned, has the possibility to be that ground-breaking experience, the one that ends the totalitarian grip of the modern military shooter in favour of embracing the Great War.
This bring us back full-circle to Crimson Skies. The seeds have been sown; thanks to Battlefield 1 the series now possesses the possibility to make a comeback worthy Lazarus, something that can only be a positive for both gamers and the industry as a whole. Many more franchises will, hopefully, follow suit, jumping on the band wagon and capitalising on the triumph of EA’s gargantuan WW1 shooter. Yes, over time the genre will once again become saturated, but right now the Great War setting carries with it the potential for a multitude of as-yet untapped gameplay experiences desperately crying out for a chance to shine.