a game by Cauldron Ltd.
Platform: PC
User Rating: 8.0/10 - 1 vote
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See also: Old School Games, First Person Shooter

Here's One for you What would you do if you woke one morning to find yourself on a rapidly collapsing space station parked on the earth's hard-shoulder, your memory blank, a dead body lying next to you and a gang of armed men baring down on your hospital bed with intentions on your life?

  • A) Cry
  • B) Shit your pants
  • C) A+B
  • D) Somersault over the bed, dive for cover, run out of the room, rip out an assailant's spine, steal his weapon, escape to earth and become embroiled in a gang war which will eventually see you travelling to Mars and taking part in a battle for freedom against a tyrannical corporation?

I know, it's a tough one, so take your time. But while you're mulling over your options, let me introduce you to John Chaser who'd take option D any day of the week. Or at least, that is, the specific day of the week that you decide to start playing this future-based FPS. Straight from the off, when your eyes flick open, blinking violently as you scan your surroundings (generated by Cauldron's stunning CloakNT engine), you're embroiled in a fight for survival, trying to piece together your forgotten past from the flashbacks which torment your mind as you stumble towards an unclear future.

And They're Off

The enemy hits you, again and again, like a pneumatic drillmounted boxing glove, never giving you a moment to rest, to relax, to fully make sense of what is happening. And by the time you reach your evacuation pod and make your long journey down to the earth's surface, you're left in no doubt about Chaser's (that's the game's, not the character's) intentions.

This is an old-skool, boot it and shoot it bloodbath, action-packed to the back fillings with unrelenting firefights, interspersed with lengthy cut-scenes, which introduce and develop a world you have no prior knowledge or memory of.

And it doesn't get any easier, either. Once on earth things don't really look any rosier, as you find yourself in Montack city in a neighbourhood so dilapidated that you instantly wish you were in Bognor Regis instead. OK, maybe not that bad. But close.

Making Sense Of It All

What's worse, everyone seems to know who you are - your face is all over the news like a spilt cup of coffee, and those who aren't shooting at you are trying to recruit you to shoot other people for them. Confused? You will be. But it will start making a little more sense as the campaign unravels, and as more and more flashbacks provide you with snippets of your past. Sadly, though, the plot never quite gels, its paradoxical propensity for keeping you guessing while at the same time trying to fill in some of the blanks often leaving swathes of confusion flapping around in a near-nonsensical gust. The plot itself is, errr. how to put this - heavily influenced' by sci-fi films. Or is that shamelessly ripped off'? See if you can make the connections.

You've lost your memory and end up fighting for freedom on Mars against an evil corporation (Total Recall), with undertones of human cloning {Attack Of The Clones) and you're constantly being chased (The Running Man). Of course it could just be a coincidence (cough, NO!). Hey, that was a cough, OK, I wasn't trying to tell you the answer. Honest. As if someone would do a thing like that.

So, onto the action itself, and, as you may have guessed, there's plenty of it. Underpinning the game is a reliance on twitch trigger hammering, straight out of the days of Doom, with a fat dose of puzzle solving thrown in to really get the nostalgia glands oozing. But just as you start to feel the novelty of the non-stop shoot-out wane, Chaser throws up an odd change of tempo, in an attempt to drag you away from the challenging Al -which, although erratic on occasions, ducks and hides and runs and weaves to avoid your bullets while attempting to fill you with its own quota of lead - and challenge you in more subtle ways.

Silent But Deadly

And so you'll find yourself manning a tower with a sniper rifle, navigating underwater ship graveyards, dodging cameras on recon missions and running like a hyperactive baboon as you try to escape, unarmed, from would-be captors.

But none of these, along with a somewhat tacked-on Bullet Time mode called Adrenaline Mode (an excellent survival aid to have in the game's more manic moments), ever manage to satisfy you fully, often bringing you to the brink of excitement without ever pushing you over the edge to a satisfactory climax.

Weapons are kept simple, an assortment of machine guns, sniper rifles and grenade launchers dressed up in varying metal guises. While each one handles fairly differently, you'll generally find yourself relying on your favourite sniper-scoped machine gun, something instantly versatile for close and long-ranged confrontations. Within a few levels you'll have mastered its kicks and magazine capacity as you drill yourself into an unstoppable killing machine.

It's A Bitch

At least... that's the plan. More often than not, you'll end up dead, because this isn't your average, finish-in-a-day shooter. Even on the easiest setting, there's countless hours of gameplay - despite the abundance of health packs and the small amounts of damage the enemy inflicts at this level.

Crank up the difficulty to medium, or, if you're totally mad, hard, and you're looking at one of the most infuriatingly challenging shooters of the new millennium, one that'll have you slapping the quick-load key into oblivion well before the final cut-scene fades from your blood-soaked monitor.

Virgin Suicides

But while the difficulty will have you swearing with frustration like a 40-year-old tourette's-afflicted virgin, it's the often endless and brain-liquefying corridor exploring required to find a key or important room that will have you moaning like a pensioner who's just been overcharged by a penny in Tesco. A bit more in the level variation department would have been handy.

So, the $34.99 question. Is Chaser worth your 3,499 new pence? Tough one that. On one hand, Chaser is an adrenal hit of shooting-galleryesque action with a solid, generally well-acted (with the exception of Chaser himself) script and challenging if often samey gameplay. While on the other, it's an old-fashioned, somewhat glitched FPS that tries to do a bit of everything, without ever really pulling it off with conviction. The plot may be cliched, but to Cauldron's credit the conclusion is impressive, throwing out a suckerpunch ending that'll have you reeling in disbelief. And the excellent engine, despite only running at 65 per cent capacity here, will have you cooing in delight like a pigeon in a breadcrumb factory.

So there you have it -it's time for decisions. You've heard the arguments, you've played the demo, and as one final pointer, in case you're still not sure, here, have a score...

Missed Opportunity

Shift Into Sixth Gear

The CloakNT engine certainly scores highly in the visuals department, rendering some stunning-looking characters who move just like you'd expect them to in real life. Yet many of your surroundings lack a similar sense of detail. If Cauldron had gone for broke and unleashed the full power of its engine, there's little doubt it would be close to rivalling Doom III in the beauty stakes.

But great-looking character models aren't its only forte. On the odd occasion when you do venture outside to more open and impressive looking landscapes, it's instantly clear that an opportunity has gone begging. Why Cauldron didn't throw in a few sprawling, free-form levels to help chop up the abundance of corridor-based action is anyone's guess, as it really could have propelled an already entertaining game into the Essential bracket.

Flash Before My Eyes

Where Am I? Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here?

Chaser, if you want to get all pretentious about it, is a journey of discovery. Over the first few levels, you're given the odd hint, strange flashes of recollection clouding your in-game vision as snippets of your past pop into your head. All you know is that you need to get your arse to Mars and find an apparently evil soldier called Stone. The flashbacks are rationed superbly throughout, at first scaring the life out of you as they jump out of the screen in the middle of a level. They never give too much away, though, meaning you're always left guessing as to who you really are. Sadly the plot suffers somewhat as a result, as you're sometimes left utterly confused as to what's actually going on.

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System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

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