Panzer Dragoon fans have been waiting a long time to get their hands on another rail shooter. A spiritual successor, Crimson Dragon was first unveiled at 2011's Tokyo Game Show, sparking excitement, as many of the people who previously worked on Panzer Dragoon iterations, like director Yukio Futatsugi, were back in the mix. However, June's expected Xbox 360 release date was mysteriously delayed. This year at E3, it was confirmed it's still alive and kicking, but is instead making its debut exclusively on Xbox One. While at Tokyo Game Show, we saw the game in action for the Xbox One...be prepared to give your dragons a workout.
The 3D shooter has a liveliness that's hard to ignore. More effort went into the backdrops than anything I've seen in any other rail shooter. Levels completely changed scenery around midway through, and the frenzied pandemonium of controlling a dragon is comparable to the favorite games of yore. Lots of objects are coming at you to dodge and shooting your way through is about more than just button mashing - you need to pick the best skills and attacks at your disposal to earn top scores. Two types of attacks are at your disposal, a lock-on laser skill to blast chains of enemies and a direct-fire attack that's powerful, but difficult to aim.
A smart dragon knows what to fire and when, choosing the best decisions can be make-or-break. While watching a boss fight, it was evident the developers put in an easy system to give you a heads up if you're making a good choice or not; red or green will flash before your attack to alert you if you're choosing the right strategy.
The levels are split into several sub-missions featuring extra objectives. For instance, a level might be just about beating a boss, while another may require you to destroy a mechanism. While you're meeting basic conditions, extra objectives are there to earn extras to strengthen your dragon. This can be as simple as meeting a certain time limit or as difficult as not taking any damage during the entire level. This gives players a reason to keep coming back to levels to prove they're the top dog of dragon lasers.
Most impressive during the demo was the difference in levels. One was filled with stony structures to evade, while another was a vibrant sea world. And boss battles are hardly tame; in our last level, a huge sea-creature with octopus-like arms provided more than a few struggles. Avoiding his huge arms from knocking away the dragon was an obstacle in itself, but then we located a weak point and attacked like crazy, which only enraged him. We swooped back and secured a good distance from the enemy to launch a ranged skill that was the most appropriate course of action to finally down the beast.
Movement during the boss battles is a little different, too. Unlike Panzer Dragoons of yore, not every level in Crimson Dragon is on rails. Some even shift from being on-rails to open flight when certain objectives are met, like destroying a portion of a boss. It's a shift from what fans might expect, but it looks like it will be effective.
So far, Crimson Dragon doesn't look much different from what we've seen before, except with the improved visuals. This isn't a bad thing, as players who got an adrenaline rush from all the chaos are sure to find their Panzer Dragoon love for this spiritual successor. Time will tell if it's enough to entice more players to head on the rails and take the challenge of controlling a dragon.
For more information on Crimson Dragon, check out Jeff Cork's interview with director Yukio Futatsugi.