Reviewed: December 31, 2003
Released: August 22, 2003
It's 2044 and in the space station Majestic John Chaser lies unconscious on an examining table. Before the player can gain a sense of stability, the scene is shattered by masked commando squads that rip the room asunder. Chaser awakens, having no memory and no clue as to why heís being hunted, and is able to escape into an adjoining hallway by mere inches. Although, all is not safe as the space station begins to destabilize and threatens to explode, forcing the amnesiac hero to find and board an escape pod.
Following the thrilling escape from the Majestic, Chaser returns to Earth and gets involved with the mafia, where heís eventually led to Mars and learns of his past and a far-reaching conspiracy. While all this is a somewhat clichťd backdrop for a first-person shooter, itís handled well enough to provide for a good deal of heart-pounding action.
Developer, Cauldron, has crafted Chaser as a game that mixes gameplay portions of Half-Life and Max Payne, creating something that would have been memorable had those games that inspired it never existed. Chaser lacks originality and contains a few issues, although it is still a fun and challenging shooter in many respects.
The vast majority of Chaserís gameplay is of typical FPS fare where the player must shoot the enemy before the enemy can shoot back and cause too much damage. However, there are some instances, albeit few, where stealth is of primary concern and no shots can be fired. The handling of John Chaser is nothing complicated and will be instantly recognizable by FPS fans. The keyboard moves John around and allows him to interact with the environment, while the mouse enables him to look around and use weapons. There are no complicated maneuvers to worry about, such as looking around corners, back-flipping to safety, or even going prone - just plain, fast-paced FPS controls that consist primarily of aiming and shooting. For the few who arenít yet accustomed to the FPS genre there is a quick tutorial that takes the player through the basic running, jumping, crouching, and shooting thatís required to be successful, although veterans shouldnít waste their time on it. Chaserís designed in a way that makes it easily accessible and just as quickly enjoyable.
Thereís also an adrenaline mode, which is a bit like Bullet-Time from Max Payne, as it slows down time and allows the player to see everything unfurl in slow motion. The adrenaline mode isnít exactly necessary in Chaser, although it is always available if the player thinks thereís a need for it. Honestly, the mode is never really required to accomplish tasks and has little effect on the gameplay itself, but it does stand as a neat little trick.
The game is primarily of the shoot-`em-up variety, however one will come across different styles of play every once in awhile. Sometimes the player must use stealth in order to infiltrate a facility without firing a gun, and in others you may be expected to cover an objective from a long distance by the use of a sniper rifle. While these different gameplay elements only come into effect every once-in-awhile, they do offer a welcome respite from the nearly continuous shooting matches that characterize the levels that precede them.
Chaserís level design, while perhaps not on an expert level, does not disappoint completely. Levels are simply gigantic and for the most part, mapped out logically. It will be difficult for the player to become bored exploring each of the levels, attempting to either infiltrate certain areas or destroy whomever stands in the way. There are a wide variety of different settings that Chaser's levels take place in, from the space station that opens to game to slums, a warehouses, a lighthouse, and even underwater, which adds a bit of excitement. Frustration does find its way into a good deal of the levels, however, as certain areas can look nearly identical to others.
Also, more than once will a player find a door thinking it leads to another area only to realize itís a strategically placed dummyóone must learn that in Chaser, the door to the next fight is never the first door the player sees. While this at first makes the game seem more challenging, after a while it can become annoying, especially if the player gets lost in certain areas that look very similar due to their similar layout and texturing. The major problem with the level design also deals with one of its major strengths: Some levels are simply too large. By the time a player makes it to the end of certain areas, he or she will be nearing exhaustion, hoping to find the event that will trigger the end of the level without finding it.
While expansive, in-depth levels are usually a plus for FPS games, making levels too large can have a very negative effect and this is the case with Chaser. Also, some levels contain spots where it's easy to become stuck in certain areas or briefly snagged. While this doesn't occur all that often, when it does it becomes extremely frustrating and sometimes will force the player to resort to the most recent save.
Since their introduction in Half-Life, scripted events have become a norm in FPS games, and Chaser has followed the same path. The player will be introduced to Chaserís scripted sequences as soon as he or she begins the game within the space station Majestic. Panels explode, energy branches out of exposed wires, and metallic debris falls on enemy commandos, all coming across rather impressively. Of course, it would be more impressive if it hadnít been done all together well before, as in the aforementioned Half-Life and its descendents such as Halo. Regardless, the scripted events do add quite a bit of atmosphere and alter levels impressively, which in turn will keep the player on his or her toes.
The weapons of Chaser, a game which takes place in the future, are an anachronism. The player will come across submachine guns and pistols from the present, including Beretta M12s, FAMAS, Colt Commandos, and Sig Sauer P226s, among others, Each weapon has an alternate fire mode which can be accessed, by default, by hitting the mouse 2 button. For the most part the weapons, despite their oddity concerning the time period, function well. Aim is dead on, balance is fine, and weapon drops offer just enough power for the levels they're found in.
The AI of the enemies is not exactly top notch, but it is enough to make most encounters at least somewhat challenging. Enemies will eventually trundle around corners if a player attempts to hide, although that is not always the case. In many instances the player can rush right up to an enemy whoís attempting an ambush, hide behind a nearby barrier to reload, sit there for an almost unlimited amount of time without being bothered, and then charge through the blockage without being too severely damaged. The enemies are generally set to stand in strategic locations throughout the levels and fire maniacally whenever the player turns up in their sights, and thatís basically it. Nothing flashy, such as diving for cover when taking fire or moving in squads. The challenge is in the number and location of the enemies, not exactly in their sub par skills and tactics.
There is a high number of cinematic scenes throughout Chaser, each moving the story along and adding overall depth. The scenes are handled nicely and employ an awe-inspiring use of direction and editing, bouncing back-and-forth between flashes of memory and the present with ease. These scenes tend to be overly long, however, and, despite their artful beauty and importance to the story, will sometimes bore a gamer whoís trigger finger is extremely itchy. Luckily, the scenes can be skipped by hitting spacebar without any deep ramifications.
Chaser does come with a multiplayer mode that functions exceptionally, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and an objective-based mode similar to what is found in Counter-Strike. However, there is not a huge following just yet, so it may be difficult for one to find a decent match online. The game also supports LAN connectivity, so, if all else fails, a player can get some buddies together and party it up.
Chaserís graphics by way of Cauldron's CloakNT engine are decent, adequately portraying the Majestic space station and locations on Earth and Mars. The biggest problem, however, is exactly how drab certain locations look, which can almost be expected considering the grim, dirty future setting the game takes place in. However, many levels are livened up by the background scenes, especially in the slums of Earth, where toppling structures are contrasted against towering futuristic skyscrapers, all lit up with hues of blue and red.
The character models are acceptable, although some look better than others. Characters in civilian attire do not look as smooth as they could, although other models depicting commando forces in highly detailed armor appear spot on. There certainly isn't a wide variety of different model types throughout the game, especially since the player can expect to take on the same type of enemy unit over and over within a certain number of levels before being exposed to enemies in different clothing, which doesn't necessarily keep the visual interest level high.
The animation is not exactly smooth, as enemies jump from overhead appearing anything but fluid in their motions and jerk slightly with every movement as they die. Facial animations, however, aren't all bad -- They're mainly badly timed as lip flaps rarely match whatever is being spoken.
There are also clipping problems, where portions of enemies will sometimes be visible through solid walls or objects, which tends to ruin any sort of suspense that is supposed to be gleaned by their supposedly hidden locations. Sometimes enemies will even fall through walls or the floor after their deaths, which is indeed a strange sight to behold.
The graphical effects are done rather well. Blood splats convincingly on walls behind enemies as they're shot, water looks realistic, and light reflects off of shiny objects as it should. However, there's a bit of the problem with the reflective effects which doesn't deal with how it technically works and looks -- There are simply way too many reflective surfaces in the game. The vast majority of the space station Majestic is overly reflective, and there are several locations on Earth and on Mars that are very similar. Woven clothes sometimes are reflective, even, which is definitely not how it should be unless metal can be woven into wearable fibers in the future. While reflective surfaces are indeed a pretty sight to behold, its overuse can really annoy a player, and this is exactly what happens as a player makes his or her way through Chaser.
The cut sequences are done extremely well, mainly thanks to the direction. Each scene is done expertly with a cinematic air, choosing just the right angles to aid in the creation of dramatic tension. The splicing of real-time events with flashes of Chaser's returning memory prove a highly satisfactory effect which not only pushes the story forward but also helps drag the player further into Chaser's dilemma. If there is one aspect of the game's presentation that's deserving of special recognition, it is most definitely the cut scenes and how they play out.
Chaser's background score is of the cyberpunk/techno-rock sort, which works well with the setting. Certain selections create tension, while others help the adrenaline flow in extremely tight situations. The sound effects are nothing spectacular, although they work. The guns sound like guns, breaking glass sounds like breaking glass. The ambient noises are done well, too, as the player will come across crackling fires, cawing seagulls, and the shattering sounds of broken glass among other atmospheric noises.
The spoken dialogue within the game is absolutely laughable, which is a shame since it tends to take away from the artistry of the cut scenes. Emotion is forced in the vast majority of the lines and that fact is highly obvious. If anything, the dialogue is entertaining by way of it being so horrendously bad.
At $40 Chaser would be a good buy for anyone who simply cannot wait for the next big first person shooter to hit stores. The game is large and will take up four or five afternoons of gaming to complete, and proves to be challenging enough even for the most veteran of FPS gamers. The multiplayer will also add some playtime, but the noticeable lack of an online following will make it difficult for a player to find many large-scale games to get involved with.
Chaser is primarily for the hardcore FPS gamers out there who are simply tired of playing Half-Life conversions or Unreal Tournament and are looking for a decent diversion as they bide their time for Half-Life II or Doom III.
Chaser is nothing spectacular, but it is fun despite many of its flaws. The gameplay is straightforward, harking back the the genre's roots while merging elements of other successful FPS games to create something that's very playable. The flaws found within the level design are nothing that ruins the overall experience, but they do add some challenge while testing one's patience. Graphically, the game looks quite good, and despite some animation and clipping problems, pulls its weight in relation to other games on the market today. The sound, although sophomoric when it comes to the dialogue and ambient noises, passes without being overly flashy.
As a simple shoot-`em-up, the game is a success. Anyone looking for an immensely deep gameplay experience is not going to find it in Chaser, but what they will find is a fun, albeit somewhat disheveled, first-person shooter.