The Chaos Engine
The Chaos Engine is the latest release from R-Comp Interactive, and it's
a port of an old 16-bit Amiga title originally written by The Bitmap
Brothers, authors of such classic titles as Gods and Speedball 2.
For some reason this game strikes me as being similar to the arcade classic Commando, although there's a lot more to it! For one thing you can wander in any direction, which Commando never let you do. Equipped with an
upgradeable gun and a limited supply of special weapons you must travel
through level after level from start to exit, along the way destroying the
various enemies that get in the way whilst collecting keys and activating
nodes to reach your goal. Pretty standard fare, then.
The Chaos Engine uses a fixed pseudo-3D top-down view, and you play as one
of six different characters (illustrated right), all of whom have slightly different attributes
such as speed and weapon power. Unlike most games you're forced to play
with exactly two different characters at once - if you don't have a willing
friend then the computer takes control of the second character. After
every couple of levels you reach a shop where you can upgrade your
character by buying new weapons and increasing their 'skill' so that further
upgrades become available to them. Levels are grouped into 'world's, and
once you've finished a world you get given a password so you can start
again at that point without having to play through again - the password
also stores how well you've done, so if you only just made it through
you'll probably need to try again to get a better password. You're rewarded
for replaying levels or exploring them well because each one contains several
hidden areas which conceal power-ups and bonus money - this money is then
used to buy extra upgrades in the shops.
The gameplay is reasonably well paced in as much as that it
certainly does get harder as you progress at about the right rate. There is a
good selection of concealed areas and alternative routes, too, with various
ways of finding hidden zones - sometimes by destroying bits of scenery, other
times by killing specific enemies, or collecting objects (or not
collecting objects!), or simply by doing things in a particular order.
There's quite a bit to reward you for investigating things, giving the game
some 'play it again' appeal.
The forced addition of a second character is interesting.
I'm not entirely convinced with the performance of the computer-controlled
version because of the computer's unintelligent tendency to wander into enemy
fire, although that said you can upgrade the computer's intelligence at the
in-game shop and different characters act in different ways so to some extent
you get, by experimentation, to tailor their behaviour to suit your gameplay.
I found that I was often forced to
continuously walk forward and retreat, walk forward and retreat over and
over again in order to force the other character to follow you and withdraw
from danger. They never become as clever at avoiding fire as even a reasonably
competent human player. Part of the game then becomes keeping the other
character alive, but I found this a distraction in what is otherwise a pure
walk-and-shoot game - it adds a tactical element which I'd have been happier without. If you like experimenting, though, then it might suit you. I'd rather just be able to pick the game up and play it and then forget it, rather than having to decide on what configurations to choose. Also potentially annoying is that unless you're careful the computer
can take all the power-ups you wanted for yourself, and when they're killed
(as can happen pretty frequently) you're forced to use the money you've
collected to buy them an extra life (see picture below - notice the lack of a 'no' option!). They also always take half the money
when you reach the shop - you're not allowed to distribute it as you want.
As per most ex-Amiga games it's limited to 16 colours, but although it looks rather
drab and dull it does at least make good use of the colours that are available
to it and it's reasonably atmospheric. The game's graphics are designed around the limited number of colours,
so you're not really aware of the restriction whilst playing it. Animation is
adequate, although the main characters are pretty poorly realised. The sound
is fairly good, with some nice speech samples to add to the atmosphere,
but the music is a bit annoying with some strange distorted sounds that make
you wonder if it's really supposed to sound like that...
The Acorn port, which will run on just about any machine (see requirements), seems to be just about perfect. There are some strange crunches
from the sound system when you change levels, and there is something odd
about the screen that tells you which level you're entering (it vanishes
instantly and the fade in and out does something strange occasionally) but
other than those totally trivial points the port seems basically flawless -
which is clearly a good thing! So if you can find a review of a
version for a different computer on the internet then I guess any comments there also apply to this
Acorn port. The Acorn version also includes a desktop program to let you
redefine the keys, although you're still forced to use cursor keys at the
shop and menu screens which seems odd. I thought the key redefinition program
was broken to start with - click anywhere on it and it stops working - but
once I realised you were just supposed to use the keyboard and not touch
the window (other than to save) I got it to work.
Each world consists of four or five fairly similar levels, although one or
two new enemies are introduced on each level. Each of the worlds uses a
different set of graphics and introduces new gameplay elements, so the game
stays reasonably fresh as you play through. That said, however, the passwords
are about half as frequent as they should be and so there is a risk of
getting fed up continuously replaying through the same levels over and over -
at least they're not completely linear.
And that's about all there is to it, really. It's a pleasant enough game
that's pretty simple to pick up once you've understood what the various
upgrades in the shop do. It's certainly not perfect - the two-player use
with the computer frequently borders on becoming annoying, and the method used to fire the secondary
weapon is appallingly bad - but it's not such a bad way to pass the time, and
more importantly even when you're playing through a few levels it never takes
too long, so it's a game you can play even if you don't have a lot of
time to set aside. It's not amazing and it's nothing special, but it's fun.
Despite being a port of a fairly old game I still think it's worth the
£20 that R-Comp are asking for it - just don't expect it to be
anything more than an old-school scrolling explore-and-shoot game and you
won't be unhappy with it. In fact it's probably better than I've just made
it sound - it's a good game, albeit rather dated. Worth buying.
The Chaos Engine will run on just about any machine. If you run it from floppy (it comes on two HD discs) instead of installing to harddisc you have to forfeit the music and sound effects. R-Comp tell me it should run in 2MB but it's safer to have 4MB.
The Chaos Engine is published by:
22, Robert Moffat, High Legh, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6PS
Tel. (01925) 755043; Fax (01925) 757377; Email firstname.lastname@example.org
...this page last updated: 7/5/00...
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