Monday, 17 September 2012

Retro Review

Welcome to Chaos

The Chaos Engine is a futuristic vision of Victorian steampunk Britain where only six mercenaries are capable of purging the evil genius Baron Fortesque and ridding the world of his monstrous machine (that can bend time, space and matter and bring to life and alter all manner of creatures of terror) through tactical upgrades, brute force, special abilities and a whole lot of running and gunning.

Developed by Bitmap Brothers and published by Renegade in 1993, The Chaos Engine was one of the defining games for the Sega Megadrive. With a dynamic 16 bit soundtrack by Richard Joseph that altered depending on how play was approached, it also offered my first introduction to RPG - where I was in control of how to level up my character (skill and weapon, skill and weapon). This top down shooter is also a fine example of local co-op play as Tracey and I can testify; it still feels great nearly 20 years later.
A noticeable difference when coming back to play any of our earlier consoles is the joy at the swiftness of how fast you can get into the game – from TV and Megadrive off it took 9 seconds to get the main screen and to playing and shooting in just 15. In comparison to the Xbox 360 and PS3 where the eons of loading screens, signing in junk and what’s the latest update baggage - the immediacy of immersion into the chaos was satisfying.

Broken into four worlds with four levels per world and choosing to play as the Thug with Brigand as a +1 we rampaged around the wastelands with their strange inhabitants, on the loot hunt and searching for electrical nodes.

Giant hands with only three fingers flicking silver spheres, straight line kamikaze jumping frogs and beige building climbing lizards were just some of the examples of the enemies that appeared out of  walls/trees/sewers or the general ether causing sharp intakes of breathe and a significant expelling of ammunition.
Along with the sudden emergence of enemies, the game is quite a taxing affair for a number of other reasons a) certain characters start with very little life b) enemies can remove your life by either walking into you or aiming their long range projectile in your general direction and c) the ability to save progress is only offered at the end of each world through the scribing of a 12 digit password. The password option freezes all current abilities and enables players to re-start at the beginning of a world with however many lives you happen to have left.

Alongside my shotgun, I discovered other special abilities to aid my quest including a monster distracter and shield which were effective in buying extra seconds to escape or attack from a better angle.

Finding golden sets of keys often lead to increased weapon upgrades or health replenishment and silver keys and ringing telephones enabled progress through the area. After killing enemies, they dropped either a gold or silver coin which remained on screen only for a couple of seconds before it disappeared and the completionist in me was often left rueing my stats at the end of each level after it revealed I had only 98% of the level complete and had missed a few coins, a monster or a set of silver keys.
The Chaos Engine is a brutal game that kept me on my toes throughout and has huge amounts of replay ability through the different combinations of characters, local co-op or player + CPU. The constituent parts of frenetic action, puzzling landscapes, inventive enemy design and immersive soundtrack gelled together to create a gaming experience that has seldom been bettered on the Megadrive and rarely surpassed in the next two decades on alternative gaming platforms.
Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.

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