The Kingdom Under Fire series had some real momentum in the 2000s. It had three strong games, followed by a simplified entry that fell flat. Then the series vanished for years before showing up with a new sequel that didn’t come out over here until late last year. But publisher Blueside wasn’t done with the surprises. Today, one of the best-regarded entries in the series, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders, has landed on Steam — about 16 years after it first appeared on Xbox.
It’s not every day that an original Xbox game from 2004 is ported out of the blue, so I was a bit doubtful of its necessity. After a decade and a half, most games from that old don’t always hold up so well. I went in with some very low expectations and I’m going to delve into not only the technical aspects but also how the game has aged in good and bad ways.
The fog of war
When it was first released, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders was a very good-looking game. It used the Xbox’s power to have a large number of characters onscreen at once, plus a decent draw distance too. I’d love to say that some new bells and whistles were added to the PC version, but this is mostly a completely straight port.
For starters, there are very few options. When you start, you can choose to either launch the game itself or configure it. You can change the resolution, the aspect ratio, and the number of shadow maps. That’s it. Once you launch the game, you’re going to be functionally playing the exact product that released in 2004.
As far as I’m able to tell, the only real difference this has from the original North American release of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is that this version has Korean and Japanese voice acting in addition to the English, German, French, and Spanish ones from the original. And if you want to play this game with the sound on, you’re probably going to want the original Korean audio playing, as the English dub is terrible. Not only is the acting obscenely bad, but the audio quality is reprehensible. It sounds more like a game from 1994 than one from 2004. It can be good for a laugh, depending on how high your tolerance for awfulness is, though.
Holding out for a hero
Surprisingly, though, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders has held up rather well. The game’s mixture of RTS and hack-and-slash elements are still very unique and quite fun. The action gameplay is still fairly basic, with your non-special combat actions only boiling down to a heavy attack and light attack, but it’s still highly playable.
The visuals haven’t even aged all that badly, all things considered. The draw distance appears to have improved substantially from the original, with you being able to see quite far away. Distance objects still pop in but from much further away than I would have guessed. The terrain and geometry are simple but acceptable.
The character models even look okay… from a distance. When you get up close, though, oh boy. Their faces can hardly look human at all. One of the playable characters, Gerald, looks like he has two twisted, black eye sockets where his eyes should be (if you stare into the abyss…). The characters have mouths that open, but they’re always open. When their models animate, you can see their mouths move to the same rhythm at all times. And they’re only open a tiny bit. It’s very creepy. The models weren’t made for so many close-ups.
Keep your soul
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders keeps the controller support of the original with no changes. The camera isn’t great, as it will slowly spin around your character once you enter into combat and you’ll need to move it to make it stop. Plus, it can be fairly hard to focus on anything, as the masses of bodies tend to blend together a fair bit. One of the biggest problems is that aiming and positioning the movement of your troops is fairly awkward and takes some serious getting used to.
But you can play with a mouse and keyboard this time, at least. It probably won’t make much difference to people with a choice between the two, but it’s there. Keys are also rebindable if you don’t like the default arrangement. All-in-all, it’s as basic of a port as they come, but it gets the job done. The one really big thing that is likely to irk players is that the framerate is capped at 30 FPS. I’m assuming it’s a game logic issue, but it’s super noticeable in a game like this. Humorously, the save screen makes mention of the Xbox’s block system storage. So, it always says you have 50,000+ blocks available.
The bare minimum
So, the port features very little additional work and a low framerate, but Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is perfectly playable. Not only that, but it’s still an entertaining time even though it’s been so long. It is worth mentioning that this version does nothing to rectify the lack of checkpoints in the original. Some of the missions can be quite long and you can only save at your home base, so, if you die, prepare to re-do the entire thing from the beginning. Fans of the game interested in playing through it again are almost certainly the only people this game is for, but even as someone who’d never played it I still found plenty to like.