To steal a poignant moment from Jackass: The Movie, it’s always worse when your parents say: "I'm not angry with you, I’m just disappointed." It’s a crushing moment, sure to scar a young mind for life, and not something I ever thought I’d find myself repeating. And yet, having spent the last week playing Polish first-person shooter Chrome, I now have some inkling of what drives parents to such ends. Chrome hasn’t just let us down - it’s let itself down. We’re not going to yell at it or lock it under the stairs with no dinner, we’re just going to slowly shake our heads and mutter words of deep dismay: "All that potential, gone to waste... what did we ever do to deserve this?"
To be fair, Chrome hasn’t shoved a toy car up its arse and headed for the x-ray clinic, but it has committed some equally grievous acts of stupidity, ruining what might otherwise have been a splendid free-roaming shoot ’em up.
Chrome On The Range
Of course, we always knew Chrome was going to be a bit B-grade. It’s from an obscure Polish developer, based on a proprietary rendering solution built to serve multiple titles in multiple genres. It’s defiantly low-budget stuff, with production values worthy of a Troma film, a storyline knocked up on the back of a greasy serviette and voice acting to make Keanu Reeves cringe.
However, there was always one thing that threatened to lift Chrome out of the murk of plagiarised shooters, and that was its wide-open outdoor environments. Not only huge, the game levels are frequently breathtaking, the forests alone setting new standards for dense and realistic foliage. Twinned with a powerful sniper rifle, the broad countryside offers a joyful freewheeling killzone, allowing you to stalk your opponents like so many hogs and pluck their lives away from exceptional distances. Strangely, however, this type of action only comes in fits and starts, and is largely overshadowed by some truly miserable chunks of turgid corridor bashing.
Opening with an introductory/training level on the planet Zorg, the game introduces you as Bolt Logan, a rugged space mercenary in the Han Solo mould. After a tour through the game's various hybrid quirks - searching bodies for items, managing a limited inventory, plotting destinations on an electronic map - the game makes its first huge error by setting the bulk of the first level indoors. Immediately, you’re into hackneyed room-clearing territory. Move through a series of identical rooms full of static enemies, hack security systems with a simple 'Memory -style mini-game, and quick-save repeatedly to avoid the pain of repeating even a single step of the journey. It’s wretched stuff, but incredibly it's a mistake that recurs throughout the game.
The real problem, other than the drab interiors and uninspired design, is the diabolical Al. Harking back to a more innocent age, the enemies in Chrome are stupider than backyard wrestlers. The best you can hope for is that they'll run towards you in zigzag fashion, but only when you’re outdoors. Inside, they might, if you're lucky, walk up and down a straight line, or perhaps duck (completely randomly of course), but generally they're rooted to the spot and dumber than rocks.
The game attempts to compensate for this in several ways. Firstly, by making the enemies ridiculously tough. As soon as you enter their field of awareness - vast for enemy snipers - they'll rain gunfire at you. with unerring accuracy. Secondly, by emphasising sniping and ranged combat, although this is really just a lucky side effect of the large outdoor environments.
What results is a game that’s both extraordinary difficult and unnecessarily punishing. There’s little more infuriating than being killed repeatedly by enemies that are stupid yet inordinately deadly. No matter what the packaging says, cranking up enemy accuracy and health does not make Chrome a tactical shooter, not by any stretch of the imagination. What's more, the levels are long, complicated and arduous, often leaving you guessing how to proceed and where to find the one elusive security card that will open the door to the next area. Even the fun of sniping begins to wear thin after a while...
Other problems are more difficult to put a finger on. On the one hand. Chrome tries to do too much, attempting to be both a tactical shooter and a free-roaming, outdoor Deus Ex. Ideas cribbed from ION Storm's masterpiece include cybernetic implants, an RPG-style inventory, multiple-choice endings and a dense conspiracy-laden storyline. (Once again the parent in us waggles an accusatory finger "If Deus Ex jumped off a bridge would you do it too?") Unfortunately, all these things are implemented in clunky inelegant fashion.
Take the cyber-abilities. Several of the eight skills obtained throughout the game are either useless or next to useless, and come into play so infrequently you’ll forget they even exist. And you have no choice of which implant to obtain and when, as new abilities are added at random intervals. You also have such a ridiculously low 'neural overload’ threshold that you can only use the skills for a few seconds at any time. They’re not completely without value by any means, and the slo-mo 'Reflex Booster' is crucial towards the later stages, but the whole system is ill thought out. But probably the most annoying feature in this whole flawed game is something so small, so seemingly innocuous, I can’t believe I have to mention it - the ladders. These innocent devices are so hatefully implemented in Chrome that trying to step off them in any direction inevitably means falling off, repeatedly, and often to an instant death. Having almost smashed my fist through my monitor several times when this occurred, I'd have to advise against buying Chrome at least until a patch appears to remedy this heinous glitch.
In the final measure. Chrome is a mixed affair. When you're allowed to rove freely in the delightful outdoor environments, the game is fun, with a sense of liberation rarely seen in a shooter. Even if some sections are poor, there’s still a good degree of variety, with everything from on-rails turkey shoots to stealthy forest incursions, along with vehicles, cybernetics and what-not. The problem is that this is only half the story.
If, as we were assured was the case when we previewed Chrome, the game was going to be less than $20, we could to some extent forgive the crap script, the appalling voice acting, the long load times, the derivative ideas, the awful Al, the terrible indoor sections - maybe even the ladders. As it’s not, we can only advise you to wait for Far Cry, which looks set to have all the best features of Chrome and more. Sorry Chrome, but it hurts me more than it hurts you.
Don’t Be Fooled - They Really Are That Dumb
Like a monkey smoking a cigar, the game's primitive Al will occasionally try to dupe you into thinking it’s more evolved than it is, with hilarious results. Throw a grenade anywhere in the vicinity of an enemy and he’ll yell "Grenade!", at which point you'll back off and find cover, naturally expecting him to hurl the offending pineapple back at you. However, after a few times, you'll realise such prudence is unnecessary - a peek around the corner will reveal the enemies doing their best statue impression as the hand-grenade fragments into their testicles.
They have a few other phrases they like to bandy about -"enemy hit", "I'm wounded" and so on - but it’s really just noise. It might be designed to give the impression there's some team communication going on with the Al, but quite clearly there's nob.
Why Are Chrome'S Vehicles So Rubbish?
While clearly I've painted Chrome as one big missed opportunity, the chance that's really gone begging is the vehicles in the game. You do get to drive buggies, hover-speeders and two types of scout walker through the course of the missions, but the handling on all but the buggy is nigh on unmanageable. A quirk in the walker design means you can't shoot anything outside of a narrow set of distance and elevation parameters, making them largely useless, and the speeders are simply rubbish. If they'd been done well, the vehicles could have elevated Chrome to a whole new level, as the large game environments verily beg to be explored by wheel, wing or even rudder. Developer Techland actually specialises in racing games, and has built both a dirtbike game and a high-speed rally game on the same engine. Why some of this expertise was not brought to bear on Chrome is a mystery.
Once again, you only have to look to Far Cry to see the potential for vehicles in this type of game - jeeps, speedboats, even hang-gliders have been thrown in, and it’s looking all the more magnificent as a result.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Where I Come from, the practice of glue-sniffing, or deliberately concentrating and inhaling domestic solvents for the purpose of getting high, is commonly known as 'chroming'. Chrome, on the other hand, is a tactical first-person shooter from Poland, which has nothing to do with huffing paint till your eyes bleed, but it does have one or two things in common with its sleazy homonym.
You see, while chroming is clearly not an ideal fix, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a fold of Peruvian flake, and a whole lot more intense than a round of beers with your mates. And that's what Chrome is all about. It's not a Class-A shooter by any means, but it works hard to make up for it with a unique repertoire of gun-toting action and a street price of just $20. And it might just get the job done.
Take A Deep Breath
The game kicks off in deep space. You are Bolt Logan, a tough-as-nails mercenary and bounty hunter, on a mission to steal some data from a fortified installation with your heavy-handed partner, Hertz. Touching down on the planet Zorg (yes, Zorg), the first mission sets the pattern for the rest of the game, with a mixture of expansive outdoor environments calculated for long-distance sniping, and claustrophobic indoor sections marked by narrow metallic corridors. It's an uneasy start to the game, as you're hastily introduced to mechanics such as searching bodies, managing your inventory and setting waypoints on a popup map. The free-roaming gameplay is initially curtailed by the presence of your annoying partner, but fortunately things soon improve and the game settles in to some serious planet-hopping action.
The plot of the game is pure space opera - evil mining corporations, sinister galactic plots, a love/hate romance between a hardhearted rogue and his sharp-tongued companion. After a narrow escape on Zorg, it's a year-long time lapse, returning to find a tougher, more experienced Logan with a fresh new set of cybernetic implants and a score to settle. It's silly sci-fi stuff, but sets the scene nicely for what is to follow.
Judging from the build of Chrome we've been playing (which is around 90 per cent complete), a few things are immediately apparent. For starters, the broad outdoor environments are clearly going to be this game's strong suit. The freedom to roam across wide-open grasslands, mountains and forests is fantastic, allowing you to approach each target from any angle and with any tactic in mind. The sniper rifle is a hefty one, and combines with the huge draw distance to produce some magnificent headshots, while the long-range combat helps to disguise some fairly basic Al patterns. The Chrome engine is also much better at rendering stunning natural environments - gorgeous sunsets and magnificent tropical forests - than it is man-made ones. And on top of all this, outside is where you get to drive the many vehicles in the game, which range from combat buggies to scout walkers to twitchy hover-speeders.
The basic gung-ho action is also spiced up by the inclusion of a Deus Ex-style implant system that offers you a variety of cyber-enhanced special abilities, such as improved aiming, recoil reduction, speed, strength and heat vision. These must be used sparingly, especially in the early stages, as you risk overloading your neural system, which results in a temporary dizziness/blackout effect. However, using your cyborg skills is essential, and the various abilities add a satisfying layer of interest and strategy to the FPS gameplay.
Inventory management too is all-important. You've got a limited number of inventory slots for weapons and items - only one primary weapon and one handgun can generally be carried, along with an assortment of grenades, health packs and ammo. You have to search dead bodies to keep yourself in supplies, with a basic Diablo-style drag-and-drop system used to organize things. Clearly, you'll drop your standard Uzi, machine gun or shotgun in favour of a sniper rifle the first chance you get, but you'll have to ditch it again for a more appropriate weapon before you enter a building.
Stuck On Glue
Having played several of the nearcomplete levels, we've been increasingly entertained by Chrome. The indoor bits are currently a bit tedious, but the free-roaming outdoor sections are shaping up excellently. The variety of gameplay also can't be faulted - in addition to the indoor/outdoor dynamic, you've got a smattering of on-rails sequences, vehicles and boss battles, as well as a generous selection of mission objectives. Certainly the whole thing has a very low-budget feel to it - the cut-scenes are bad, the voice acting laughable -but there's plenty of satisfying action to compensate. If the developers can only beef up the repetitive indoor gameplay before the game ships, we could be looking at some hospital-grade stuff here and not just a quick back-alley wheeze on a spray can. Check out the exclusive Chrome demo on our cover discs and judge for yourself.
You Sneaky Little,,.
Chrome Is All About Big Guns And Wide-Open Spaces, So Tread Carefully
One of the things Chrome does very well is push you to use the expansive outdoor terrain in the game to your advantage, forcing you to think about things like cover, lines of sight and elevation. One clever gameplay device that's repeated throughout the game involves a sniper's nest and a lot of deliberately placed rocks, the guard tower placed in such a way that you have to take it out before you can proceed. To get in range, you're faced with a large exposed area of ground - the perfect killing field for a sharpshooter. But look! By an uncanny stroke of luck, there's a series of boulders, hillocks, trees and ditches you can zigzag between until the gunman is in your sights, hopefully giving him only a few chances to pepper you before you nail the sonofabitch. It's a basic idea, but one that works well, forcing you to exercise a bit of patience and giving a nice feeling of reward when you get your man.