Developer / Publisher – Smilegate Entertainment
Price – US $29.99 / CAN 39.99 / EU €29.99 / UK £24.99
Release Date – August 29th, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing
Store Links – PlayStation, Steam
Reviewed on – PSVR 2
In Crossfire: Sierra Squad you play as the leader of said squad who must undertake special operations only the best of the best can complete. After stumbling across some baddies in the middle east, a larger plot begins to unfold that pits you against hidden foes out to cause all manor of trouble. Truth be told, the story is, for the most part, typical when it comes to these sorts of military shooters, to a point where I honestly tuned out much of the story as it was fairly uninspired until a late game reveal caught my attention as I really did not see it coming. Regardless, it’s not a bad story, it’s just not a good one either and ultimately boils down to placing you in a new stage to take out all the armed gang members in your way.
There is a 13-stage single player campaign which takes you through a variety of scenarios that can be beaten in as little as 7 minutes while the latter ones push 20 minutes or so with a bulk of them falling somewhere in the 10 to 12 range. Each of these stages has a preset loadout that cannot be altered though new weapons will show up during each mission should you want to mix things up a bit with many often indicating the kind of encounters you can look forward to next be it sniping missions or battles against a large number of foes or vehicles.
An opening tutorial teaches you the basics of combat and movement and those looking for a military sim here should temper those expectations as this is very much an arcade shooter that includes infinite ammo along replenishable grenades and health packs which respawn on your forearms once a timer bar fills back up after use. Almost every single weapon behaves the same whether it’s a pistol, rocket launcher or machine gun with reloads requiring you to press ‘X’ to eject a magazine while grabbing at your hip will spawn the ammo needed and placing it in the right spot on the gun will trigger a quick animation of your dude reloading it. People might gripe that it’s not true manual reloading but given the fast-paced and arcadey nature of the game, it didn’t really bother me too much. What did bother me though was the scale and position of the weapons and hands which just seemed too large and too far away from my real-world hands creating an immersion breaking disconnect. Another poor choice was that scoped weapons, when brought close to your face, automatically go into a zoom mode where your entire vision is now the scope and while not awful, I much prefer viewing my targets through the scoped lens and not becoming one.
As for the campaign, you can choose from multiple difficulty options though this only affects how bullet spongey enemies can be as well how much damage they can do which is unfortunate as they are simple NPC’s with very little in the way of intelligence. Oftentimes they’ll run in from nearby cover or appear on a far away tower ready to snipe or launch a rocket your way with the game telling you where to walk via laser on the ground which tells you where you need to go. Heck, sometimes if I ran too far forward in a level, I could see enemy soldiers appear before my eyes and run right through me as they went to their per-determined spot which made for easy kills as I shot them in the back. Stages are very linear and should you even try to venture off the beaten path, you’ll be met with a grey screen that says “You are not in an operational zone” which can be odd as invisible walls will show up in some bizarre places. It’s not all running and gunning as a few missions do mix up the action by being sniper focused or even having you in a dense fog where the only way to see enemies is through infra red scopes which gets quite intense. You’ll have an NPC with you who will help your efforts though in truth he tends to not be that much help at all barely firing a shot and constantly being downed by enemy fire or getting caught on geometry until respawning at the next checkpoint. It might sound like I didn’t have fun with this, I did, and we’ll get to that right away, but it is a game that does have some issues that I wanted to address as they do take away from some of that fun.
Now, as far as my enjoyment goes, the first few stages were underwhelming as the missions felt barely bite-sized but thankfully they did increase in scale, length and challenge with the final few stages unleashing seemingly endless waves of bad guys my way. That campaign was satisfying but it’s the co-op mission where Sierra Squad truly comes into its own as after you beat the campaign, you unlock realism mode which dramatically ups the challenge, removes the unnecessary health bars above enemies, gets rid of your ammo counter and drastically reduced the amount of damage you can take. There are 50 squad missions that remix areas from the campaign and those can be played on any difficulty setting with successful missions rewarding you with coin that can be spent in the store on new guns, upgrades and attachments which can also be used in the Horde mode. That mode currently only has 1 map with 2 more “coming soon” and while the squad missions only support 2 players, horde mode supports 4 allowing even more friends into the fray. The fun factor increases a lot with friends, especially on realistic difficulty and it is easily the #1 reason to play this save for one large issue. Even a few days after the games launch, matchmaking appears to be hit and miss as I have only been able to hook up with randoms only a handful of times in the last 3 days with even private matches erroring out and returning the joining player to the main menu/target range. Sure, you can play these missions solo with a useless AI companion but given that a majority of Crossfire is designed with 2 players in mind, it’s incredibly disheartening to not be able to play the game the way it’s meant too. I had a ton of fun teaming up with another person and coordinating strategies against seemingly overwhelming odds was a blast, it’s just seems like matchmaking still has some issues to iron out.
As far as the presentation goes, Sierra squad looks alright with some decent character models and locales though by no means is it anywhere near the levels of flat efforts like COD or Battlefield. As I said, the stages for the most part are relatively small and contained with some environments having boxes or vases strewn about that can be destroyed by gunfire though outside of that and red exploding fuel containers, the stages aren’t very interactive. Enemies animate well enough, and explosions look just fine but the lack of any dynamic lighting does make the world appear a little lifeless at times but overall I was impressed by the quality of the visuals and the various environments I walked through from middle eastern cities, a desert plane crash, underground bunker and a host more areas that do keep the game feeling fresh despite the sameyness of the combat. In fact, it’s arguably that combat that makes up for the visual shortcomings as enemy militia can come in such large numbers that I was oftentimes too focused on killing and reloading to notice much else beyond the stream of bad guys in front of me. That said, I did see some infrequent pop-in and a few other minor janky moments, but outside of those rare occurrences is a game that looks good enough considering its budget price.
Audio design is up next and I’m happy to report that it accentuates the action quite nicely thanks to loud guns and explosions with the spatial audio adding to what can at times be a cacophony of bullet fire coming from all directions. As for the voice work, it’s nothing short of cheesy and over the top as every character turns in a respectable B movie performance and while the acting does make it hard to take the story serious, it doesn’t exactly hurt it either as it’s not the best narrative to begin with. Lastly would be the soundtrack which matches the story and acting so if you love generic voiceless 90’s era action inspired rock tracks, well crossfire has you covered with a completely forgettable soundtrack that could have been ripped from a royalty free YouTube channel and while it may fit the tone of the game, whenever it kicked in and I noticed it, I laughed at how generic it all was.
For those looking for next level haptics on PSVR 2, Crossfire doesn’t seem to utilize the sense controllers to their fullest as the vibration and trigger resistance didn’t seem to change between weapons. The headset did rumble when I was shot or near an explosion which was a nice to feel, especially when in the chaos of realism mode during the harder missions.
Despite all my misgivings I had a decent amount of fun with Sierra Squad as it did remind me of light-gun shooters of old, but with a full locomotion twist that I appreciated. The single player campaign has a few highlight moments but for the most part is quite forgettable outside of that late game plot twist which leaves it to live or die on the co-op content, which at the time of this review, 3 days after release, is still hit and miss. The developers appear to be listening to player feedback so hopefully they fix these matchup issues quickly. For $30 US I’d say the overall package here is a solid one provided the developers fix matchmaking and hopefully add cross play support for the steam version sooner than later.