Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (lost E3 2002 beta build of Xbox flight-based combat game; 2003)

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Crinsom skies box art.jpeg

The game's box art.

Status: Lost

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (also known as Crimson Skies 2 or Crimson Skies 2: High Road to Revenge during development) is a video game developed by FASA Studio (part of Microsoft Game Studios) for the Xbox. The game, like its PC predecessor, is an arcade flight game.

A year before the game's release, the first showing of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge was at E3 2002 between May 22nd and May 24th, which also happened to be the first time the game could be played by the public. The game was intended to be released sometime on Fall 2002.[1][2][3][4] Following a lukewarm response from participants from E3 2002 and the playtesters criticizing that they feel that the game's levels are too short and linear, and that producers found that it was difficult on translating the "playable movie" concept from concept art to gameplay. This caused the game to be reconceptualized to 'where cinematics and dialog took a supporting role'[5], whilst having the inspired elements of Indiana Jones downplayed to focus more on elements from other adventure fictional media (such as King Solomon's Mines).

Differences

The game's original direction followed the vein of Indiana Jones with an "interactive movie" concept that gives the players control on being 'in certain places at certain times to catch the big cinematic moments'. One of the noticeable differences between this version and the final version is that the gameplay and level design was more linear. The levels were split into one or two segments represented as separate maps on each level (most notably in an early version of the tutorial level set in Catalina) to give the player the illusion that they are travelling in geographic landmarks of a specific region, though the final version scrapped this feature to now have the player travel in one map shared on certain levels of a specific area.

Another difference is that the game would had incorporated a select mission mechanic that would allow the player to choose the level they want to play, before being scrapped completely in the final version to now restrict the player to complete the levels in a more linear approach (with the exception of remnants of the menu's title). In addition, it would display the details of what's happening in the level after a mission is loaded instead having it display before you select your mission.

The game would had featured destructible environments, bonus weapons and "danger zones" (incorporated from the game's PC predecessor). The "danger zones" gimmick would have been overhauled to act as a special "Ace" system that rewards the player for pulling off aerial maneuvers.

The game's storyline was planned to be elaborate and slightly different than the final version of the game, whilst having 22 pre-rendered cutscenes instead of 10. It was also going to feature a larger set of onscreen characters and a different main antagonist (going under the name Luftwaffe General), with a liberal amount of character development.

The game also featured older renditions of the soundtrack such as the instruments sounding slightly different to the final game that can be heard from clips of the game's E3 2002 build. In addition, screenshots of the game featured a prototype version of the Mini-Gyro (in Red Skull markings), a black version of the Piranha, and a Brigand (in Ragin' Cajun markings, which most likely served as the intended plane to Dr. Fassenbiender). What's more, concept art images featured a scrapped unnamed plane and the Doopelganger (in Luftwaffe markings).

Reports

Xbox.com

In a (now deleted) page of Xbox.com, Wolf Wilson stated that the game's oldest version of the first level started with Nathan Zachary and the Fortune Hunters on a routine heist on a floating casino in Catalina:[6]

"Crimson Skies is set in an alternate reality in which the highway and other land-based transportations systems were never developed. Instead, the world took to the skies. Robust zeppelins, modified prop planes, and hot air balloons serve as vehicles instead of cars, trucks and buses. As a result, "highway robbery" has taken on a whole new meaning.
Crimson Skies is set in an alternate reality in which the highway and other land-based transportations systems were never developed. Instead, the world took to the skies. Robust zeppelins, modified prop planes, and hot air balloons serve as vehicles instead of cars, trucks and buses. As a result, "highway robbery" has taken on a whole new meaning.
You play Nathan Zachary, air pirate and flying ace. You and your squadron start out on a routine heist on a floating casino. The three of you need to destroy the hot air balloons protecting the casino, destroy the casino's cannons, and then defeat the zeppelin pulling out of port. I'd tell you more, but honestly that's as far as I've gotten. This game is tough!
The controls in the game can take a bit of time to get used to. Just like in a plane the control stick (Left thumbstick) points the plane down when you point it up and vice versa. If you're not used to combat flight sims, this will be a challenge for you. If you are used to such sims, this game is still a challenge. There's a lot of tight maneuvering between rocks, dodging under other obstacles, and of course avoiding fire. You'll find yourself pulling moves that are technically impossible coming from a sim, but certainly add some fun and wildness.
If you're familiar with the PC version of Crimson Skies, be prepared for something totally new from the Xbox version. They may have a common background story, but actual gameplay and storylines are worlds apart.
Roger out!"

GameSpot

The site comments that the game's minor antagonists, the Ragin' Cajuns, were intended to serve as supporting roles to the main protagonist of the game. It talks about the second segment of the first level where Nathan Zachary has to fight off the Red Skull Legion on a populated island (presumably a precursor of Sea Haven), whom are serving as enforcers of the owner of the floating casino. Furthermore, there is a "trench run" in which the player has to defend one of their wingmates from enemies in a narrow canyon: [7]

"Earlier today, Microsoft representatives brought by a playable demo of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge for the Xbox. It's a flight-combat game set in the Crimson Skies world, though it's not quite as mechanically complex as its PC predecessor. The Crimson Skies games are set in an alternate USA, circa 1930s--a world in which man's wildest romantic fantasies about aviation have been fully realized. It's a world that's altogether different from that era's version of our own in more ways than one--the "union" between states is much more shaky, resulting in a country that's much less cohesive. No interstate highways exist, as a result, so the premier mode of transit is aircraft--everything from slick "flying hot rods," as Microsoft puts it, to huge zeppelin "sky buses" and freighters. Regional militias are composed of these types of aircraft, and they're used to settle state-to-state disputes and deal with the bands of air pirates that have emerged. It's a very interesting world, to be sure--the pulp-adventure tone is pretty tangible. Think Indiana Jones meets Top Gun, and you'll be pretty close. The original concept came from the same fertile minds that brought you the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, so you know to expect something very well-thought-out and novel.
The game itself is a fast-paced combat shooter, and the controls are meant to be easily accessible, as well as quite fast and loose. The build we played today felt as if it were fast approaching that goal. Before we go into the particulars of the mechanics, though, we'll provide a little background for the sake of context. The Xbox's take on Crimson Skies puts you in the role of Nathan Zachary, the sky pirate of the "heart of gold" variety, who starred in the game's PC predecessor. The single level we got to play took place shortly after Zachary had knocked off a casino in Catalina. Cash in hand, he has flown out with his cohorts--members of an airplane gang called the Ragin' Cajun--when via radio, he's contacted by the casino owner's enforcers, the Red Skulls. They then proceed to shoot at him, whereupon you gain control of his craft. In Zachary's shoes, you have to clear the otherwise idyllic island's skies of anyone not on your side.
The ship we were allowed to pilot during our demo was called the Devastor, the real-propelled four-winged craft most prominently displayed thus far in the screenshots that have been released. It's quite zippy and maneuverable, but it's the only plane we've ever had the chance to fly, so there's nothing to compare it to. In and of itself, though, the game is very fast-paced, and the controls are such that you'll be allowed to pull some flashy stunts. The layout is as follows: You'll shoot your machine guns with the right trigger and fire missiles with the left. The A button is reserved for the special weapons you'll find littered throughout the game's battlegrounds, while the Y and B buttons control boosts and brakes, respectively. Moving your ship, finally, is done with the analog sticks--the left one lets you steer, and the right adjusts your roll. We've seen only a couple of special weapons so far, but they've been pretty useful. One pickup was called "minimissiles" by Microsoft--these had sort of a homing cluster-bomb effect that could take out a close-flying squadron. The other special weapon we saw was the Tesla cannon, which shot forth short-ranged bolts of the mythical purplish energy.
The mission pacing was pretty intense in the demo we played. Combat was thick at all times, and flying all around were enemies' planes, as well as your own squadmates'. Dozens of ships seemingly occupied the sky at any one time, and there were just as many balloons and zeppelins about, populating the space between the hills and rocks and making the environments feel quite busy and alive. All of these cool visual and gameplay elements do much to convey the mood of the world; it all looks like something out of a 1930s World's Fair postcard. Buildings are fully destructible, as are many of the flying objects--the hot-air balloons specifically. This particular level seemed heavily combat-focused--there were a few heavy dogfighting sequences, and after the last one, we were made to perform a "trench run" of sorts. Basically, we had to follow one of our wingmates into a narrow canyon and watch her back as she made it through. Enemies would periodically zip and attack her, and we had to dispatch them as quickly as possible. There were also several destructible land bridges that you could shoot. The effects seemed scripted, but we're not hard-core real-time fetishists.
Truth be told, the game looks quite far along, and we were suitably impressed with how well it played and how smoothly it ran. We're suspicious, though, because we weren't shown anything resembling the coolest Crimson Skies has to offer; we have seen screenshots of the flying casinos with the neon lights all over them and have even caught wind of a stage that takes place inside of a storm. We're also fantasizing about going up against 1,000-foot-long superships, but we're making those up. In any case, we'll likely see some of this crazy stuff at E3, so we'll update you then. Be sure to check out the latest screenshots."

GameSpy

A report on GameSpy briefly mentions about the game to have a planned level set in the city of Manhattan, centering on a cabby run. This level was later finalized in the retail product to be set in Chicago. [8]

The X Factor - Inside Microsoft's Xbox

A documentary entitled The X Factor - Inside Microsoft's Xbox showed an early rendition of a level taking place in Chicago in which Nathan Zachary has to rescue one of his friends from a train, it featured the DeCarlos originally intending to serve as one of the game's minor antagonists. The documentary showed another clip of another earlier version of a level set in Arixo in which the player has to recover their signature plane (Devastator) from the Los Muertos instead of outright destroying it.

Unseen64

The site comments on how the game would have featured more single-player maps, a different tutorial level and various features that are intended for the game; whilst excluding online multiplayer[9]:

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge on the Xbox was going to have a bunch of other levels, and a completely different tutorial level that centered around robbing a flying casino over the ocean off the coast of Louisiana. You can see remnants of it (and other content) in the early trailer. It would have included destructible terrain, different cutscenes, and a bunch of other stuff…. but no online multiplayer.
Crimson Skies became a launch title for Xbox Live, and that involved totally overhauling the game to include Xbox Live multiplayer and cutting a lot of content to make room on the disc.
There’s still some remnants of the old content, though – the game’s dialogue includes references to the casino heist, the music from the above trailer was included on the game’s soundtrack CD (although the music never plays in the game itself), and the game’s tie-in novel ends at the casino heist (which, at the time of the book’s writing, wasn’t cut from the game yet).

Gallery

Concept Art

Cutscenes

Screenshots

Videos

IGN footage of the build.

The game's official trailer, showcasing an earlier prototype of the build.

The game's Official Xbox Magazine trailer, showcasing a later prototype of the build.

A clip of X Factor: Inside Microsoft's Xbox documentary, showcasing a (very) later prototype of the build.

References