Chaos Engine is an HD Steam remake of the cult classic hit from 1993. Originally released on all the home consoles, to varying degrees of quality, the game looked to bring some arcade fun to the home machines. Released by the 90’s powerhouse of The Bitmap Brothers, the legends behind GODS, Speedball 2 and the truly underrated Magic Pockets, Chaos Engine was, and is, a top down co-op shooter with an attitude to fairness matching that of a dictator.
Straight away I want to say I struggle with this game, not because of its content but because it is painfully hard. There is a certain point when that turns into a motivation with Chaos Engine, after your fifth attempt you look at the afterbirth of the lines of code entered by a program and think “You are not going to beat me!”, and then it does, with a paddle, in front of the world. There are numerous reasons it is so hard, and almost none of them are down to Mastertronic, creators of the remake, it’s all because of the original game. Back in the day it was acceptable to have 8 way shooting and a password system, today though we like full 360 rotation and quick saving. It’s worth saying that if you use a joypad you can turn on 360 rotation but if you are like me and play games on the go and just use a keyboard on your laptop then you’re a little boned.
The game features 6 playable characters for you to choose from, another character is either selected by a second player or if you have no friends then the computer rocks up to be your virtual buddy. The game is co-op in its simplest form. from a top down perspective you and your comrade must shoot your way through various enemies whilst at the same time looking out for little towers that when destroyed reveal nodes that are activated to open the end of level portcullis. There are more and more of these nodes as you progress through the game.
Each of the 6 characters have their own skills and traits and weapon of choice. The Preacher for example can be a nippy blighter and shoots a relatively weak pistol where as the Thug rocks up with a double barrel shotgun that destroys all. Getting yourself and your partner is easier said than done, with only 3 lives and no continues, this game is all about the perma-death.
The A.I. does its job fine, it provides the support when required but other than that it is the worst grieffing player you will ever encounter. On numerous occasions the computer controlled player ran ahead of me to score money or, in a more annoying scenario, decided to sprint on ahead to grab a power-up or insta-weapon like a molotov. Normally this wouldn’t bother me but the lack of accuracy or care frustrated me in an already stressful game.
The money is used to level up your character at the end of each section, the gauges are hard to interpret and harder still to see a valuable payback from all that moolah you spend, I completely cleaned out my pockets to get my Brigand’s health up, next level I die. I’m not saying these events are connected but I would have liked to see a bit more bang for my buck.
The graphical overhaul has been minor for those that played the originals, the graphics are basically the same except everything has been slightly rounded off ‘pixel-wise’. It looks like a game from the 90’s but that isn’t a bad thing, most developers are striving for that these days so I feel this game will be let off.
Not much has changed between the original and this release, there is now the ability to find players online, that being said I tried a few times during my review time and only found one player in that time. There is also a relatively useful ‘how to’ on the main menu with a wide selection of guides to various aspects of the game, unfortunately it doesn’t mention specific buttons and to remap the controls you need to reduce the game down to window mode to access any options. Die-hard fans would rather have usability over faithfulness to the original, we weren’t going to kick off if you had added options onto the main menu.
Overall the game is fun, and if you’re a fan of top down shooters, or bullet hell games, that this could be something to keep you busy. Nostalgia has to be put to one side at times and when I do that with Chaos Engine I see a game that has a horrible difficulty issue but also some really fun co-op. Implementing some modern expectations from games would have taken this from a really good emulation to a game that could have been the start of a reboot. The game itself is fun, there’s no two ways about it, and with its pseudo steam-punk style the game is pleasantly original even for a game from 20 years ago. If you can spare the cash and have a friend who’s interested in some local co-op you can’t go wrong with Chaos Engine, just don’t trust the A.I. and don’t get angry.