GAME REVIEW: The Chaos Engine

ChaosMain1The Chaos Engine is probably one of those classic games for anybody whose age might have been nudging double figures in the early nineties. It was originally created by The Bitmap Brothers and published by Renegade on the Amiga in 1993. Now in 2013, it has been remade by Mastertronic and Abstraction Games, once more opening up its steampunk Victorian world to old and new gamers alike.

The Chaos Engine is a machine created by a meddling scientist type, which then becomes sentient and promptly assimilates the scientist, before manifesting all kinds of strange creatures and robots across the English countryside. The population must flee, leaving England a quarantined mess. A group of mercenaries decide to brave the desolation and strange hostile denizens in an attempt to get to the bottom of things, and make a fair amount of coin too no doubt.

There are six mercenaries to choose between, each character falling somewhere on the scale of fast-but-fragile to slow-but-powerful. Whichever you pick (and you can pick two), you can slowly improve them over the course of the game. Every creature you kill seems to drop gold or silver upon death, which can be hastily snaffled up, along with any other power-ups they might have been hiding. This comes in very handy for character development, as every couple of levels your chosen characters can purchase all manner of stat or weapon boosting upgrades, all with their own particular cost in gold.

The game itself adopts a top-down view of the game world, and your two characters (one is AI controlled if you are playing alone) run around in various lines and angles, trying to get your line of fire to hit the enemies around you, whilst trying to avoid their own line of fire too. Initially it felt very strange to be merely moving in the 8 directions of a compass, but after awhile it soon became second nature. You can also equip various bombs and radiating bullet power-ups for large area-of-effect type carnage when the creepy enemies get just a little too close for comfort.

Graphically, it is pretty true to the original, with the bleak undercoat of browns and greys splattered with colour here and there in the guise of trees or garishly coloured enemies. The sprites are functional and easy to see, although I did find myself sitting further back than usual from my monitor as the fullscreen 1080p is less than kind to their aged pixels. You can also choose to play it in varying sizes of windowed mode, but I am just an all or nothing kind of guy, and don’t like distractions around what I’m playing.

The soundtrack is faithful to the original, and is typically fast paced and looping forever. The only relief comes when you move from one world to another, as each of the four worlds (read as zones) has its own soundtrack. This is pleasant for awhile, until it begins to grate once more. It’s not horrendous, it just feels monotonous to the ear of someone used to the sound design in more modern games.

The Chaos Engine is a nicely satisfying romp through the landscape of a retro era game. Once you have clicked with the response rate of the controls and characters, if becomes another of those Zen-like games where you don’t really have to think too much, you just explore a little here and there, finger jabbing the fire button almost continuously to hit enemies before they are fully on screen, and hoovering up gold and power-ups like there is no tomorrow. The grating music and low-fi visuals all play into this effect quite nicely, and the character upgrades help you feel like you are improving your onscreen alter-egos and making them a little bit more “yours”.

The Chaos Engine is out now for PC, Mac and Linux, and is available on Steam, Getgamesgo and GoG.com.

Rating : 4/5

Reviewer : Casey Douglass

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