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Activision releases online-only PC game without online content, cracked in one day


Want to avoid this warning message on <em>Crash Bandicoot 4</em>'s PC version? That's currently not an option for anyone who's bought the game.
Enlarge / Want to avoid this warning message on Crash Bandicoot 4‘s PC version? That’s currently not an option for anyone who’s bought the game.

Activision / Sam Machkovech

2020’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time received a soft relaunch on Friday that revolved around next-gen console patches, a downgraded port for Nintendo Switch, and a debut on Windows PC. The latter case, debuting exclusively on Activision-Blizzard’s Battle.net app, saw the publisher take an unusual step: requiring an online connection to launch the game.

While this isn’t the first “offline” Battle.net game to be saddled with online-only DRM (those honors go to February’s Blizzard Arcade Collection), it’s arguably the highest-profile game to get such an official limit and one that follows the revived platforming series’ shift from Steam to Battle.net. Perhaps even more embarrassing to Activision, this DRM effort only lasted a single day.

Wanna be the empress of Crashin’?

By midday Saturday, one day after the game’s Battle.net launch, cracking-group Empress claimed first dibs on stripping Crash 4‘s PC version of its online check-in system. Their crack replaces one file in an otherwise vanilla install, and the group’s release notes don’t clarify what the crack does, other than describing the game’s defeated DRM as “Battle.net + online only.” (We thus believe this isn’t a case of someone defeating Denuvo, even though a joke in Empress’ release notes mocks the much-maligned DRM provider.)

As of press time, Crash 4 has zero online content, in spite of a couch co-op mode (designed to let a parent and child take turns with the single-player campaign) and a simple four-player versus mode dubbed Bandicoot Battle. Thus, the Battle.net handshake appears to revolve entirely around DRM, as opposed to checking for add-on content like new levels or even score leaderboards.

Should you want to play Crash 4‘s single-player content offline legitimately, you’re limited to its console versions (and suffering with inconsistent frame rates on “base” consoles like Xbox One S or PlayStation 4). Attempts to load the legitimately installed game on an offline PC result in an error message: “Failed to sign on to Battle.net, error code: BLZ51900002.” Using the crack bypasses this restriction—without otherwise changing what content is available compared to, say, the console versions.

Playing Activision-Blizzard games while offline via Battle.net is already a tricky proposition, in part because most of the service’s games make always-online assumptions in terms of content. Battle.net’s offline mode is also a bit buried, as it requires logging out, then choosing a “play offline” toggle behind a gear icon. After this step, however, most games react confusedly, perhaps because Battle.net’s offline mode doesn’t save an encrypted token on your machine to verify that you’ve recently confirmed your purchases (a feature found in offline modes for the likes of Nintendo Switch and Steam).

This may be why StarCraft 1 and WarCraft 3 require their own in-app logins before you can actually pull your Ethernet cable and play their single-player modes offline with all of your purchases and content. Sadly, the offline content in Battle.net games like StarCraft II and Diablo III is completely inaccessible without an online connection and credential confirmation.

The last Crash Bandicoot platforming game to land on PC, the N.Sane Trilogy remaster collection, had no such online-only restrictions when it launched on Steam in June 2018. It instead relied on Steam’s built-in DRM system, which requires infrequent online checks before letting games work without interruption whenever offline mode might be toggled. This differs from Denuvo, which can be built into any game’s EXE to require a validated handshake with a game’s online server before it will function.

Activision representatives did not immediately reply to questions about Crash 4‘s online-only requirements on PC.





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