Have you ever sat down with a nice cup of tea in your hand, popped the telly on and watched one of your favourite shows only to spot an actor on screen for three minutes before that nagging question “Where have I seen him before” starts forming in your mind. Now replace “Telly” with “PC” and “Actor” with “Chaos Engine” where you will understand the first impact it had on me. Unfortunately, that was the only comical and slightly enjoyable aspect I received from this game.
For a brief summary of what The Chaos Engine exactly is; it was originally a game released in 1993 on a variety of different consoles. The game was set in some type of British steampunk era with six mercenaries fighting against monsters to stop some time experiment that has gone horribly wrong resulting in altering both person and animal. That however, is neither the introduction nor the explanation of the story I was introduced to when starting up the game. What I had received was a badly written summary that consisted of just two lines before going straight onto the biography of the six mercenaries. And unfortunately it took me quite some time to realise I had to press the spacebar to continue after it had looped three times..
Complaints on the story and introduction aside, the gameplay is just as off-putting as the underground retro chiptune music you have to endure. You must play with two characters, never by yourself, so you have a choice of either an A.I. character, a ‘local’ friend or a friend through Steam, this is the first introduction to one of the “remastered” segments of the game. The characters consist of six mercenaries, but despite what the introduction says about them, what I’ve gathered is that they come in three categories. The Strong and Slow guys: Navvie and Thug, The Average guys: Mercenary and Brigand and finally The Weak but Fast Guys: Gentleman and preacher. The stats for each character in each category are exactly the same, the only difference is their weapon power and specials, an example: Navvie has the stronger weapon despite having the same stats as Thug.
Once you’ve selected your man for the job you ready to face the world full monsters and other critters trying to maim you. There are four levels in each world and supposedly there are four worlds to complete but I could never make past the third level. The game is really hard, not Dark Souls hard but difficult in its own right no thanks to the mechanical flaws in its gameplay. The controls are bit clunky and a little unresponsive, I say this as The Chaos Engine uses the eight direction shooting system but I when trying to aim diagonally the chap just ends up pointing either straight up or to the sides, when I do eventually aim diagonal to shoot I’ve already been smacked in the face by whatever debris was heading towards me before I could get a shot off for myself.
Another flaw is the damage indicator, I never know when I’ve been hit except when enemies volleys have hit you, physically touching an enemy never indicates that you’ve taken damage whatsoever so there will be many a time when I’ve died after being hit by an enemy charging me with me saying “How did I die, I had full health?” speaking of health there is no way to recover your health apart from death.
As I previously mentioned the game has been remastered for PC but the only really useful ‘remastered’ section of The Chaos Engine is the ability to play with friends via Steam. Other remastered sections would be the ability to Tweet, why on earth I would need to tell the three followers I have how badly I’m doing at this game is beyond me, so the feature seems pretty worthless and the “bloom graphics” are actually the same colours but two shades brighter when you turn it on.
So despite this long rant about The Chaos Engine’s flaws is there anything good about it? Yes there is. Every two levels you have the option to upgrade your mercenary stats to help him fight better or live longer with the money you’ve acquired throughout the two levels. There are three stats to improve Stamina, Speed and Strength (Wisdom is a fourth but only available to A.I companions) among those you can improve your weapons strength or buy an extra life. You are given a limit to how much you can improve, which seems fair so you can have a balanced character.
My hats go off to the part of the game that focuses on stat improvement but this segment of the game lets itself down by not allowing your character to recover his health after the health boost, I never felt rewarded for lasting the two levels with just scrap of health left only to find myself with the same amount but a little stronger.
As a fan of retro games it saddens me that I couldn’t enjoy this game at all. I thought I would get something special out of The Chaos Engine, sadly, all I received was frustration and annoyance. It felt more of a chore to play than to actually enjoy. Perhaps in the past it was a game for all to enjoy but in this day and age I don’t think it could entertain the new generation.