Release Date: August 19, 2003
Buy 'CHASER': PC
It's been a reasonably long time since there's been a solid single-player first-person-shooter. Arguably, the last great one was Halo - and that was introduced on the Xbox nearly two years ago. It seems appropriate, then, that the guys at Cauldron set out to make an epic FPS. Unfortunately for them, their project, Chaser, is up against some heavy-hitting titles this fall: XIII, the PC release of Halo, and most importantly, Half-Life 2, are all looking to be masterpieces worthy of immediate attention. Chaser has gone by without a ton of media attraction; and now that it's out, it begs the question: Sleeper hit or sleep-inducer?
Chaser isn't a bad game. For the most part, it's pretty solid. You play the role of John Chaser, who, at the beginning of the game, seems to be completely oblivious to his past. It's through the use of cutscenes and flashbacks (sometimes happening during big shootouts - a neat touch) that you learn his story and why it seems that every person in the game is after his head. The story kept me reasonably intrigued and kept things moving fairly well.
The game controls reasonably well, too. Menus are nice and easy to use, and allow you to customize controls to your liking. You have your general assortment of keys for moving to and fro, strafing, jumping, crouching, shooting, et cetera. You can also enter a nifty state called Adrenaline Mode, which allows you to slow time but continue shooting accurately. This seems to be in many action games nowadays, and isn't such a big deal anymore - in fact, it's basically identical to what Max Payne introduced several years ago - but it is still a noteworthy touch as it hasn't been done a lot in the FPS genre as of yet.
Mr. Chaser has a nice variety of weapons to blast things with, you've got your basic baretta, your sub-machine-gun, a colt 45, and so on. Some guns have secondary features; you'll be able to use scopes, or toss mortars, for example. It's nothing new, but the weapon selection could be worse. There are a few problems; namely, that grenades and mortars strangely don't affect the enemy 100% of the time. You'd expect a close-by explosion to clear out anyone standing by, but it seems like they are simply optical illusions now and then, and enemies walk away unphased. A strange bug, but an annoying one nonetheless.
The level design is a very mixed bag here. There are several very large levels, and while some of them - especially outdoor areas - are nicely designed and allow for some strategizing and clever thinking, others - namely, some of the indoor levels - are bland and repetitive. It was nice of the developers to make them expansive and roomy, but when every room looks the same, something is just not right. Walls, windows, doors, structures, objects, and enemies all look nearly identical throughout a stage, making them less of a fun thing, but more of a frustrating maze. You'll find yourself looping around and wondering if you had been in this room or not many, many times. This problem is one of Chaser's larger faults.
Not such a large problem is the enemy AI, but it isn't perfect. Usually, your foes aren't stupid enough to charge at you, guns blazing. They like to stay in groups and keep their distance. The problem is that their aiming is deadly accurate way too often - you'll peek around a corner and get your head blown off before you've even seen the enemy. And it's not like these guys are snipers - they're just regular old joes with machine guns or whatnot. It works both ways, though, because you can run down a hallway right behind a guy and he'll have no idea you're there until you practically touch him. So while there is AI that's been worse in other games, I think we've all been reasonably spoiled by games like Halo - problematic things like these just aren't quite so acceptable anymore.
Chaser offers a multiplayer mode that you may wish to utilize after you've worn yourself out with the single-player game. There are several different ways to play: Team deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and other typical modes are all here. There are also a few objective-based missions thrown in; stuff like getting to the bomb in time to defuse it, taking out every enemy on the map, and so on. I have a 56k connection and I didn't have much trouble playing, which is great news for most of you with connections that are better than that anyway. The whole multiplayer mode isn't any reason to buy the game, as most of the stuff in it has been done before, but it is a nice incentive and some added replay value if you decide to buy it. Jowood seems dedicated to support the game as they recently released a pack with new multiplayer maps, so the fun can continue...
The game's graphics are no real slouch, but they really aren't impressive either. Things run at a solid framerate the whole time, which is a plus. Animation's also solid, and the physics model is pretty nice most of the time when it comes to explosions and such. The cons include blurry textures, low-poly models, not-so-special special effects, and so on. The real problem is repetition, though. The blurry textures show through in the level design when you're looking at everything over and over, getting lost and frustrated.
Sound is, at least, a good point in this game. At any one point, you'll hear a ton of stuff going on. Frantic music in the background, loudspeaker voices chanting monotone phrases, macho soldiers shouting to kill Chaser, explosions, gunfire, and so on, seem to never let up. This can really help draw you into the game and made me all the more immersed, even forgetting that the graphics were a bit on the poor side and just having fun. I can't imagine playing this game without sound - it would just take so much away from the experience.
There were a few moments I had while playing the game where I reminisced about playing Half-Life for the first time back in '98, and being really engrossed in the action. That's exactly the kind of thing action games should do: immerse you in the action and make you really feel like you are in the game. I wish some more time was spent on improving the levels and smoothing out the AI and other various glitches. Chaser doesn't really innovate much, though. Everything in Chaser is probably something you've seen somewhere else at some point.
So, all in all, Chaser is a game that doesn't really disappoint, but doesn't fill me with glee, either. I definitely don't hate it - heck, I had fun learning about John Chaser and seeing what would happen next with my speakers turned up high. But I was also frustrated with the level design and clunky AI, and the lack of new ideas and gameplay features isn't so hot. But if you absolutely need something to hold you off until Half-Life 2 hits the shelves, Chaser isn't a terrible investment - just don't have your hopes up too high, and you might have a bit of fun with it. It's a solid game.
Score : 6.9/10
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