The Average Gamer

The Chaos Engine Remake Preview

The Chaos Engine - Character Screen

I’m something of a fan of anything that remotely resembles a “HD Remake” so maybe I’m predisposed to enjoy the current remake of the Bitmap Brothers classic top-down shooter The Chaos Engine, made famous for its universal playability and merciless features.

Or maybe The Chaos Engine remake is utterly amazing!

As I sit down I instantly notice that the classic 16 bit graphics are the same and even the music remains untouched. I’m confused, as normally HD Remakes include a remastered graphics texture pack and reworked game mechanics. It is then explained to me by a member of the team that this ‘rejuvenation’ of the classic Chaos Engine simply sees the save feature changed and the aspect ratio altered, allowing it to be played on larger, more modern TVs.

For those unfamiliar with the story behind The Chaos Engine, the world is set in an alternative Victorian era where a grand inventor – Baron Fortesque – has obtained technology from the future and reverse engineered it to become the most powerful man in the country. Eventually creating The Chaos Engine to manipulate matter, Fortesque failed to notice that his creation had become sentient and before it was too late, it assimilated him. The now-quarantined Britain has become an attraction for mercenaries seeking to plunder Fortescue’s vaults.

This is where your characters come in – playing as one of six mercenaries drawn to Fortescue’s vaults you play as either the Navvie, Thug, Brigand, Mercenary, Gentleman or Scientist. Whilst each have their own special attack and movement speed it is easier to follow the rule that the first two are essentially berserkers (very high strength, low movement speed) the next two are soldiers (well-rounded) and the last two are scouts (high movement speed, penetrating shots).

The whole experience is extremely close to the original, from the limited directional fire, the quite relentless enemies, the industrial music score. It’s a real pleasure to play a game which feature so heavily in my upbringing and introduction to video games. The game consists of four worlds like the original, each level requiring you to activate ‘nodes’ to progress through them. You also have the option to upgrade your character at the end of each second level to increase power, health and that sort of thing.

The Chaos Engine - BridgeThe game works amazingly well with only a retouching of the pixels to smooth any unsightly edges and a revamping of the colour the game basically remains untouched from the Amiga code. I’m told that even the levels codes from the Amiga game will work on this remake.

Yes, level codes. Sorry, I should probably explain. Before the time when it was actually possible to save a game – due to the limits of technology back in 1993 – many developers who wanted to make a longer game would include a code system. You completed a level (or string of levels) and you were presented with a code. You wrote this down and that was your save. When you reloaded your game you needed to enter this code to ensure you continued from where you left off.

There are a few niggling issues that concern me with this remake of The Chaos Engine however: The unrelenting nature of the game might be slightly lost on some newer players. This isn’t me being a stereotypical ‘older-gamer’ but rather an observation that some other attendees of Rezzed played The Chaos Engine on co-op together and didn’t understand why the characters didn’t instantly respawn or couldn’t jump. These features are representative of the original game and, as said by the developers, “If it isn’t broken, we aren’t going to fix it.” It’s an admirable comment but one that, especially given my next thought, might not be for the best.

The Chaos Engine - BridgeLet’s say, when The Chaos Engine is released, I purchase it on day one (which I’m going to). I then jump straight in for online co-op. If I’m playing with a random person online and they die in the first few minutes they then have to wait until I reach one of the trademark ‘players saved’ icons which act as respawn points in the remake. What if this person gets bored and logs off? Will that end my game also?

No amount of comforting through voice chat will stop a bored gamer simply playing something else if they aren’t enjoying the experience. I posed this question to the Bitmap Brothers team and they didn’t really have an answer for me. One suggestion on my part would be a drop-in/drop-out style of co-op similar to the Lego series but currently we can only wait and see.

Despite these concerns, I left my playtime with The Chaos Engine feeling nostalgic and satisfied that The Bitmap Brothers hadn’t ruined a classic top-down shooter.

The Chaos Engine is due for release on 29th August 2013 for PC.