Reviewed: November 25, 2003
Released: October 29, 2003
My first glimpse of Techland’s new FPS action title was at the Strategy First booth at this year’s E3 show. Even in May Chrome looked simply amazing, both in visual design and some interesting twists not commonly associated with the FPS genre. While the designers wouldn’t come right out and admit it you could tell they were preparing to take on HALO for PC.
Rather than reinvent the genre Chrome spins it with plenty of nifty ideas, some of which have already been explored and other are still relatively new. Vehicles are nothing new in FOS games but the nimble dune buggy, anti-grav speeder, and even a mech-robot tank certainly make things more interesting.
Logan, our macho leading man, is not only an accomplished master of more than 18 weapons but is fitted with several implants that can be used to enhance various abilities such as targeting, speed, vision, reflexes, armor, etc. Toss in some interactive environments, a shockingly realistic combat engine, and some of the most brutal AI ever seen in a FPS title and you have one of the most difficult and visually stunning games this winter.
As to be expected with any FPS game these days, Chrome comes in both single and multi-player flavors. The single player game spans 16 missions that will take you to wondrous locations across the galaxy offering up one breathtaking vista after another. Missions generally have multiple objectives that are updated and changed on the fly and everything is tied together with a surprisingly strong storyline.
Chrome revolves around a unique mineral (of the same name) and the fight to control this mineral by two warring corporations. Logan finds himself in the middle of this battle playing both sides against the other, but eventually difficult decisions must be made to determine the outcome of the story.
At first glance Chrome looks and plays just like your average FPS game, but even in the opening (and interactive) prologue you will quickly realize there is much more going on here. The first thing that sets Chrome apart from other FPS games is the “aim” function. This is similar to the “look down the barrel” mode in Call of Duty, but Chrome favors – nay insists that you use this mode for 95% of all your combat. While you can hit and eventually kill enemies without aiming it will take twice as long and three times as much ammo to do so.
Enemies have some sinister AI that will have seasoned gamers cursing at their screen. Rather than charge blindly forward the enemies in Chrome will hide or take strategic cover then wait for you to come to them. While I can appreciate this aggressive upgrade in opponent AI there are some things that border on the level of cheating.
Enemies can arbitrarily detect your presence even when you are crawling on your belly in tall grass totally out of sight and they have uncanny accuracy. In the opening mission you must take out a sniper in a watchtower. The sniper can accurate place bullets into your body from two miles away no matter how much running or evasive weaving you do. Armed with only short-range weapons you must make your way from tree to tree and rock to rock until you are within 400m. Needless to say you are going to eat a lot of pain along the way no matter how cautious you are.
This problem persists through the entire game both indoors and out. Enemies will always spot you long before you see them. It’s nearly impossible to find a location where you can safely target an opponent without opening yourself up to incoming fire. And while you can peek around corners you cannot fire while leaning. To make matters worse, you have to be “aiming” to do any real damage and your overall speed is drastically reduced in this mode making you a slow moving target at best.
In the interest of keeping Chrome realistic (and somewhat annoying) is an inventory system that resembles those found in most RPG games. You know the kind – the grid system where weapons and items take up so many squares in your inventory grid. This means you will constantly be making tough decisions on when to trade-in your 8mm assault rifle for a 9mm machinegun or clear out extra space for the lengthy sniper rifle. Do you carry four grenades and six meds or six grenades and four meds? Ammo is also specifically boxed in 8, 9, and 14mm sizes and needs to be independently collected and combined for each weapon you carry.
While this inventory system is somewhat unique to the FPS genre it also become tiresome and overly complicated bogging down the gameplay. People tend to play these games for intense action but more often than not you will find yourself scavenging dead bodies for ammo and meds then shifting items around the grid to make room for these additions. To make matters worse, the game doesn’t pause in the inventory screen so you can easily get ambushed while searching corpses for loot.
The other interesting element to Chrome is the implant abilities. These strongly resemble the augmentations found in Deus Ex only not as complex or configurable. You have a limited amount of rechargeable energy that these implants can draw from so you simply can’t run around with your 2x zoom vision toggled on the entire game. You also can’t run too many concurrent implants or you can risk a painful overload.
Chrome is a difficult game, even on the normal settings where it takes 2-3 shots to kill an enemy. There are easy and very easy and hard and very hard settings that tailor the game to the person playing it. On the harder levels the enemies get really smart, take even more hits, and are more aggressive, plus you lose your radar-like HUD that senses enemies in a forward arc. As the difficulty increases the amount of items on the corpses decreases. You’ll be counting every bullet and savoring every med kit on the harder skill levels.
Chrome is a feast for the eyes and offers the best visuals since Unreal II, and in some ways it even surpasses that title. Chrome desperately tries to emulate HALO with its lush environments, futuristic dune buggy with rotating turret, and armor plated enemies. Chrome and HALO (for the PC) are remarkably similar in quality, but the big and most impressive difference is that Chrome runs flawlessly on a modest 2GHz PC while HALO struggles to keep up on a system with twice the power at half the resolution.
The first thing to impress me was the stunning textures used in this game. Whether we are talking about the textured leather jacket on Logan or the crinkled latex jumpsuit of his female partner, the clothing looks fabulous. The characters are further enhanced with realistic facial features, moving lips, eyes, and even eyebrows that actually synch with the speech to form expressions during the cutscenes.
In space you are treated to some bump-mapped highly realistic textures on the space ships and the interior cockpits are full of animated instrument panels, monitors, and other controls. The black canvas of space is painted with spiraling nebulae and photo-realistic planets with transparent atmospheric layers and wispy clouds.
Once you land on a planet the game really starts to strut its powerful graphics engine that is capable of delivering stunning landscapes at draw distances that boggle the mind. Multiple types of foliage sprouts from the ground and sways gently in the breezes, and moving through the thick forests reveals a near infinite variety of trees and plants. There are no repeating patterns or textures here.
Lighting is totally realistic with the sunlight being diffused through the forest canopy in shimmering rays. Looking up will reveal a bright sun with lens flare and on some planets two or even three moons of various sizes. There are plenty of other special effects that include weather and particle effects including some of the best breaking glass in a game since Metal Gear Solid: Substance. The water effects are equally as stunning weather you are looking at the ocean, a river, or a calm lake reflecting the trees and sky above.
Despite all the wonderful visuals there are a few problems. The graphics engine is definitely geared for outdoor levels and when you venture indoors the design turns into something simple if not downright boring. There is nothing original or inspired about any of the interior designs as you move from room to room. Levels are also quite linear and you tend to have to exit anything you enter meaning you get to play a lot of the levels backwards after you complete your goal.
The levels are also quite massive which makes it even more impressive when you realize there are no load times during the mission. Be prepared to wait 2-4 minutes the first time you load a new level/planet, but after that its smooth sailing.
The cutscenes use the game engine graphics and come in two types; lengthy story-related movies and small clips to enhance the gameplay by adding a cinematic flair to the presentation. The movies are all done quite well with some excellent camera angles, pans, and zooms.
The soundtrack is nothing special and consists of a generic futuristic score that blends some military elements with typical sci-fi genre stuff. The music plays mainly in the movies then fades into silence to allow you to appreciate the realistic environmental effects.
Wandering through the levels you will crunch through the underbrush and listen to assorted wildlife. These sounds are all perfectly adequate, but where the game truly falters is perhaps the most important part of a FPS game; the weapons. The guns in Chrome are not only unoriginal but just plain weak. The pistol and assault rifle are wimpy at best and the sniper rifle fails to give that satisfying echo after you snipe an enemy from 1000m. The shotgun – traditionally the loudest weapon in any FPS game, is so disappointing I’m ashamed to use it.
The voice acting is a mixed bag. While the story is quite good there are portions of the dialogue that border on the inane and when you have the voice of none other than “Duke Nukem” playing the lead character, everyone else’s performance is already at a disadvantage. There is even a valiant attempt at creating a friendly but adversarial atmosphere with just a hint of sexual tension between Logan and Carrie that manages to come through in the movies and ongoing radio chatter.
On the normal difficulty setting seasoned gamers can expect 12-15 hours of intense action and cranking it up to hard or extra hard can double that estimate. The multiplayer portion of Chrome isn’t nearly as fun as you might think. With eight exclusive maps spread across deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and assault game modes, there just isn’t much to go around. Even after a month since its release I found it hard to find very many people playing online.
Chrome is a significant step forward in the natural evolution of FPS games. It offers a creative mix of vehicles, attribute-enhancing implants, lush environments, and a good assortment of weaponry, but it also gets bogged down in it’s own self-induced complexity. The clumsy inventory and totally outrageous enemy AI will scare off all but the most diligent of gamers.
Normally this is where I would tell you to try before you buy, but in this case Techland has released a really bad demo (at least for the single player game) that is no way indicative of the overall production values or gameplay found in the final game. My best advice is if you are an avid FPS gamer then you will definitely want to check this out. Everyone else will probably want to approach with caution or at least wait for the price to drop or a new demo to appear.