Review: The Chaos Engine (PC)

The Chaos Engine
Developer: Bitmap Brothers
Publisher: Mastertronic
Genre: Action
Release Date: 8/29/2013

The Chaos Engine was one of the big hits released for Commodore Amiga computers back in 1993. It was quite a popular game and found itself being ported to various computers and consoles. For Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis gamers in the USA, the game was renamed to Soldier of Fortune. The Chaos Engine was a steampunk themed action game that centered on Co-op play with either a friend or a CPU controlled ally.

The story of Chaos Engine involves a man that traveled back in time to a Victorian Steampunk version of England. His technology was stolen by the local hierarchy, The Royal Society, who reversed engineered the technology and created the Chaos Engine. The Chaos Engine was the most advanced piece of technology on the planet, and it would play around with time, space and even matter. Think of it as the basis for the Large Hadron Collider. The Engine eventually gained sentience, took the lead scientist as its host, and began producing monsters. The monsters laid waste to England and the British Empire look to mercenaries to go in and destroy the Chaos Engine.

Even though the game is twenty years old, the story does hold up pretty well. While I am not well versed in steampunk lore, the Chaos Engine‘s story is incredibly good, even though it is mostly told through still screenshots. While there isn’t a whole lot of lore or backstory, what we are given is strong enough to create a believable world. Unfortunately, we never see any interactions with the Royal Society, or have any other forms of story or dialogue throughout the game.

You are given six characters to pick from and you select one for yourself and another for your CPU partner, assuming you don’t have any friends to play this with. The six characters available each have their own unique abilities and strengths. You have heavy hitters, the Navvie and Thug, which have more powerful weapons and begin the game with the most health. There’s the Merc and Brigand, who are the more well rounded characters, with a decent amount of speed and firepower. To round up the troop, there’s the Preacher and the Gent, who are the fastest of the weakest of the bunch and have the least amount of health, but are the quickest to compensate.

As you play through The Chaos Engine, you and your in game partner blast your way to the end of four worlds, solving puzzles and managing your way through maze like stages. There are an additional four levels in each world as you try to locate nodes to unlock the exit for each level. As you move around each level, you will encounter and blast to bits various monsters that quickly spawn out of the blue. There is also a ton of treasure, gold and coins hidden throughout each level. You can collect these to purchase upgrades and special ammo at the end of every second and fourth level in a world. In the upgrade section you can increase the firepower, health, and speed of your character, and even purchase various special ammo, like the napalm grenade.

Everything mentioned above is pretty much what you do for the entire game, until you make it to the Chaos Engine itself, which is the only boss fight of the game. You traverse the mazes as they get bigger, solving their puzzles to reach the exit. This was a top notch game that was critically praised back in 1993 because of its intense Co-op action gameplay. Bitmap Brothers decided, for some odd reason, this was a game worth re-releasing, along with all the other retro and re-released games coming out. The big difference here is that those other classic re-releases all received updates that allow them to fit in this era of gaming, be it updated graphics, new gameplay mechanics or both.

The Chaos Engine didn’t get any of that, despite its tag line of being remade from the ground up for this era of gaming. All the game received was online Co-op play; the music isn’t even as good as the remastered tracks for the Amiga CD32 port, and there’s some really annoying blooming effects which we can thankfully turn off. How this can even pass and be touted around as a remake is beyond me. The only positive is that The Chaos Engine was given a upscaled edge smoothing effect so as to hide the aged pixel look of the game.

There’s no revamped HD graphics, similar to other classics like Ducktales Remastered or Bionic Commando. There aren’t any additions to the gameplay that keep it from feeling dated. There’s no voice acting talent anywhere to be found here. There’s also no extras gameplay modes added on. I would’ve like to have at least seen Chaos Engine 2 added as a sort of add-on. Chaos Engine 2 was nothing more than a two player deathmatch game which would’ve been a perfect gameplay mode addition. All we have here is a game that screams retro, and while I loved this game in the past, this is one of the few games that I feel belongs in the past.

Short Attention Span Summary:

The Chaos Engine is a relic that, for whatever reason, was re-released as a remake without the perks or qualities to even give it that merit. Its a simple, classic action game that, while it can be very enjoyable with a friend for a short amount of time, said enjoyment factors ends very abruptly. The Chaos Engine offers nothing new and really has no substance to get out of its dated gameplay. There are Steam achievements for those that enjoy collecting those, but aside from that, there is nothing to warrant even having the game. The Chaos Engine should’ve stayed buried alongside the Commodore Amiga, to be remembered fondly and not as some quick cash-in.