Origin’s Crusader: No Remorse hit CD-ROM only shelves in 1995 for PCs and was, in many ways, a bold experiment in pushing the envelope. As Tony Zurovec notes in an interview done for Good Old Games where you can get the game today, the decision not to make it an FPS, make it CD-ROM only, and render it in the fairly new SVGA standard of the day at 640×480 made it seem as if he wanted it to fail commercially. But it was also one of the most storied and action-packed adventures that I had ever played on my PC at the time.
Destructible environments are found almost everywhere nowadays especially thanks to DICE’s Frostbite engine, but a game like Crusader: No Remorse brought the debris-strewn party pad of smashed glass block walls, blown up office furniture, exploding barrels, blasted computer panels, shattered flatscreens, and screaming soldiers lit up like roman candles home years earlier. And there was even an epic story attached to all of that with live-action cuts that wasn’t half bad.
Fast forward to the late 22nd century where you work as a red armored Silencer for the WEC – the World Economic Consortium – who rules the Earth with an iron fist. Silencers are their troubleshooters. Whenever someone makes trouble, you’re sent to shoot them. That is until you discover that your latest targets were innocent civilians forcing you to refuse carrying your orders to wipe them out. Returning to base, you and two other Silencers are then ambushed by the WEC. Your partners are killed and you barely survive. Now that your eyes are opened to the nature of the company you bled for, it’s time to put your deadly skills to a much better use.
This was a game that grabbed me the instant the intro video began playing out and the action began. In many ways, Crusader was ahead of the usual action curve. The environments were not only destructible, but you could interact with many things from switches to activate platforms to computers in order to learn access codes. As Zurovec notes in his interview above, the decision to make it third-person over first-person weighed itself between how important having juicy details were in rendering each scene, and making it third-person would give him the luscious visuals that the game would create its many missions with. For an FPS game to have that same degree of environmental detail just wasn’t possible, or efficient, given the technology at the time unlike today where it’s literally the stuff that AAA titles try to pull in audiences with every year.
You could even loot bodies and collect gear and healing items, RPG-style, from vaults and chests that are scattered around. Later, you can use the credits collected to buy new toys to augment your arsenal of doom. This wasn’t just go and shoot. This was go, shoot stuff, fiddle with computers, remote control robots to destroy bad guys, or just go in guns blazing. This was all before Blizzard’s Diablo would hit shelves the next year in 1996. The only thing missing from Crusader were stats and skills.
But action was where it was at and it did it really well. You could dodge-roll bullets and under laser barriers, jump, lock onto targets, or blind fire and hope that you didn’t hit the civilian holding up his hands praying to the surrender gods that he makes it home that night.
That’s one thing I didn’t expect to see in a game like this – actual civilians that were mixed in with the industrial/office/sci-fi laboratory aesthetics of WEC’s massive base. In most other straight-up action games at the time, it was just you, an arsenal of weapons, and the bad guys. Here, in addition to the story and FMV bits, little details like that challenged the notion that it was all an action game could be. Though killing a civilian didn’t impact anything game-wise, I tried my best to avoid drumming up too much collateral damage.
Weapons were about as crazy as the action. Everything from simple machine pistols and lasers to rocket launchers and the UV-9. The game wasn’t shy about the violence. Bodies fall over and blood pools beneath them, chunks go flying, and people run around on fire if they catch a little too much heat. The UV-9, in particular, blasts an enemy with a megadose of ultraviolet death broiling off the flesh and leaving only a skeleton that falls over. It was probably only until Monolith’s F.E.A.R. 2 that we got to see a similar weapon back in action after the Crusader series was over.
The levels also had a few innovative tweaks. Players could tackle certain areas with different solutions, whether it was going in guns blazing or using something to give them a little advantage like a remote robot. Or using teleporters to beam from place to place. Gun battles could begin anywhere as soon as a door opened or a panel slid open revealing a gaggle of WEC soldiers on the other side. Enemies also came in all shapes and sizes from wimpy patrol guys, enforcers like you, or war machines with endless ammo. Fortunately, you could save anywhere you wanted.
Crusader: No Remorse would get a port over to the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn in 1996 and it would pop up again more recently on Good Old Games for fans and a new generation of gamers who don’t mind a little retro action. Fun and challenging action, unabashedly violent, but as focused on telling a story as Wing Commander III was with FMV making it something of an Origin trademark. And the techno-rock soundtrack was also awesome stuff, especially when fighting for your life across a posh office doubling as a battlefield for freedom.