[Acorn Gaming]


The Chaos Engine

[ 4/5 **** 4/5 ]

[Main title screen]

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.

[Choice of characters]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 shop]

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.

[Activated node]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.

[Grrrr - your partner died!]

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...

[World 2]

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.

[World 3]

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.

[World 1]

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.

[ 4/5 **** 4/5 ]


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:

R-Comp Interactive
22, Robert Moffat, High Legh, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6PS
Tel. (01925) 755043; Fax (01925) 757377; Email rci@rcomp.co.uk

...this page last updated: 7/5/00...
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