Retro Game Review – The Chaos Engine

 

Factfile
Developed by: The Bitmap Brothers
Released: 1994
Format played: CD32

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Ruminations

The Chaos Engine is a top down, isometric run and gun game. Similar in basic concept to the likes of Ikari Warriors with elements from Gauntlet, the core gameplay sees you and a buddy choose from a collection of 6 surly looking combatants to tackle 4 worlds, each containing 4 levels, battling a progressively tougher set of enemies in your quest to unlock the ‘nodes’ that allow exit from each level.

Whilst it can be played by 2 players, if played solo the computer steps in to control the 2nd player, doing a more than passable job of killing enemies and collecting treasure whilst leaving the real good stuff (power ups, special weapons) to you.

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Second Impressions

Having played the game fairly extensively when it first came out, it is interesting to see how it stands up today.

Visually the game takes its cues from previous Bitmap games, retaining the metallic style made famous by the likes of Speedball 2. And it is testament to the quality of this style that the game very much holds up today. There are some rough edges sure; a crude shadow appears as you blob your way past the bottom of flights of stairs for instance. But the game remains visually striking and the worlds and their inhabitants are diverse and memorable.

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Gameplay

Visuals are the first thing to go in the transition from new to old but we quickly become accustomed to them. It’s like watching Star Trek TNG and then switching to the Original Series; the jump is jarring but spend enough time in the respective universe and you soon lose yourself in the story, the visual element forgotten.

So it is with games, which means that after the initial jolt of visual adjustment has worn off, it is down to the quality of gameplay to keep you hooked. And it is here that The Chaos Engine occasionally shows its age.

The game is short but hard. The save mechanic is structured in such a way that you complete two levels and then enter a shop where you can upgrade, buy extra lives, restore your fallen comrade etc. But you only get to ‘save’ by way of a code on completion of all four levels of the world. That may not sound like much on paper but in the heat of the action, and as I found out to my cost towards the end of the game, it can be a problem.

I found it incredibly tough going to get to the final level of the game. Along the way I lost my AI controlled colleague (it came as quite a shock part way through the game to discover that he could be killed, I assumed him to be impervious) and found myself down to just 1 life and barely any health. The final level seemed to be impossible to beat (at least by myself) without sacrificing a big chunk of health. It took several reloads to get me past this last section. Only to discover the final final level, at which point I was promptly killed almost instantly. I felt that I had no choice but to quit and start again, this time painstakingly massaging my health right to the end.

The basic control of the character creaks as well. Players cannot move and shoot, firing your gun brings your man to a screeching halt. And there is no 360 degree movement, you must instead point in the direction you wish to move or shoot, which can occasionally be fiddly.

Despite these niggles, this remains a well executed, solid gaming experience. Your main character moves fluidly, the AI controlled character reacting intelligently to your own movement. Enemies are aggressive, presenting an escalating level of challenge, largely without feeling unfair. And levels are well designed too, secrets hidden throughout, power ups dangled as a temptation to explore, creating replay value.

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Sound

This is where the game really stands the test of time. The CD32 version has a narrated opening but that aside, the music and sound effects throughout are excellent and add greatly to the atmosphere of the game.

It is a little jarring to hear diverse enemies utter the same pitch of moan when killed but they die satisfyingly. Speech throughout helps add to the atmosphere too whilst the techno soundtrack thumps along in the background, spurring the adrenaline fueled action.

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The Bottom Line

The Chaos Engine may show signs of age here and there but remains a quality title and a fine example of the level of output seen on the Amiga. Tough but fair, this is a superb action romp and worthy of classic status.

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