Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Review - The Chaos Engine Remastered (PC)

..and the point of this would be?

We are seemingly swamped with remakes, remasters and reboots these days. From the recent DuckTales Remastered, Flashback and Superfrog HD, to the forthcoming (today no less) Castle of Illusion reboot, we retro gamers are really being catered for. While the quality can often vary, it is always interesting to see what developers can do with their old franchise to bring it up to modern standards and what new ideas they have implemented to, hopefully, improve on the classic formula. It is, of course, a double edged sword, as high expectations from loyal fans can often lead to the title in question being heavily criticised, often unfairly. 

The Chaos Engine was originally released on the Commodore Amiga back in 1992, and received ports to the two 16-bit consoles, the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. It was a top down action game set in a steampunk fantasy world that allowed you to pick from a motley band of mercenaries, each with their own individual gun and special weapon, before frantically running around blasting waves of monsters and activating 'nodes' by shooting them. It featured 2-player co-op play, with the CPU taking charge of your partner in crime should you be lacking a human companion, and very minor RPG elements in the form of upgrades that could be purchased for your character every two levels.  It was straightforward stuff and, while reasonable fun in short bursts, I was never really that taken with it, finding it quite repetitive and cumbersome to play - the brutal difficulty level certainly didn't help maintain my interest and I soon forgot about both the original, and it's lacklustre sequel.

Now here we are in 2013 and we have a modern update from the original creators - the Bitmap Brothers - which is now available for PC users to enjoy. Even though I wasn't a huge fan of the original I am always curious, and vaguely excited, to play remakes, so I fired up the game with an open mind. However, it became instantly apparent that absolutely nothing has changed in the last 21 years. The Chaos Engine is one of the laziest remasterings of a 'classic' game I have ever seen. The new visual enhancements (and I use that term very loosely) simply consists of a horrible filter that takes away any detail or character the sprites once had, and some tacky lighting effects that resemble phosphor burn on an old coin-op screen. Thankfully you can choose to play using the original Amiga graphics which contain a million times more charm. The music is identical to the Amiga, only louder and more intrusive this time around - worse still is the fact there are still no sound effects for your gun firing, making the action seem empty and unsatisfying. 

Gameplay is also identical - run around the maze like stages blasting nodes and collecting keys - which don't unlock doors, as you would expect, but make parts of the scenery vanish or walkways appear, allowing you to progress. It is often not clear what a key has done, or which way you have to go, making the drab stages even more of a slog to get through. Controls are just as stiff and frustrating as they ever were - you can only fire when standing still, meaning combat usually results in a stop-start affair that looks as though your character is continually jerking in the direction he is trying to go. They could have implemented twin-stick controls in the same vein as Geometry Wars or Robotron 2048 and it would have made this game infinitely more satisfying and enjoyable to play - but that was obviously too much effort and would have taken longer than the 30 minute lunch break the developers apparently spent on this revamp.

I went back and played the Amiga, Mega Drive and Super Nintendo versions of the Chaos Engine, and I have to say I enjoyed playing all of them more than this new version - in fact, the only way I could tolerate 2013 Chaos Engine was to use the original Amiga graphics and disable the 360 movement option, rendering the entire existence of this game completely pointless. There are Steam achievements - big who cares! - and online co-op, though often the lag I experienced made it unplayable. Co-op is also frustrating to play as, thanks to a lack of split screen mode, both players have to stick very close to each other otherwise you spend most of your playtime being killed by off-screen enemies thanks to the screen playing catch-up. It was better on the console versions where you were playing next to your friend and could communicate by shouting directions and orders at each other.

Overall, this is exceptionally sloppy and half-hearted work, and you would expect better from a game that, while not my cup of tea, has a loyal fanbase that will be expecting more from a modern remake - after all, you can play the original Amiga or console versions today via the disks or cartridges that can be picked up on Ebay for half the price of this Steam download. Purchasing this half-arsed insult to fans will only encourage the Bitmap Bros, and other developers, to produce more lazy updates that take decent games and spoil them with pointless and detrimental new additions. 

The Good:
  • Fast paced top down action
  • Cool Steampunk style visuals
  • Engaging in short bursts

The Bad:
  • Very repetitive
  • Overly difficult
  • Lack of sound effects on guns
  • online co-op is less fun that local multiplayer
  • The 'enhancements' are a complete joke

Title : The Chaos Engine
Developer : The Bitmap Bros.
Year : 2013
System : PC
Price : £6.99