During my formative years there were numerous developers from among a plethora of bedroom coders to become gaming powerhouses, fondly remembered as some of the primary influences for gamers the world over. Psygnosis,Team 17, DMA Design, Sid Meier and Peter Molyneux all gained prominence during this period to firmly cement the legacy of machines as gaming platforms. For me though, one particular developer sum up this golden age of gaming : The Bitmap Brothers. If, like me, you are now humming one of the many iconic soundtrack produced by this team, congratulations on surviving the great system war; Of course I am referring to the epic decade long Amiga/Atari conflict not the trendier Sega/Nintendo fracas.
So, the news that a remake of one of my favourite titles from this period filled me at once with a nostalgic wave of joy, and a simultaneous shudder of trepidation as it is a sad but well known fact,that remakes of these classics can either reveal your time hewn preconceptions to be nothing more than hazy and flawed recollections. More often than not, it utterly fails to retain the core essence that made that very title great. It is, unfortunately, few and far between that titles survive this process with their souls intact.
For those who have never experienced The Chaos Engine, the premise is simple, as most where in those days. A Time Traveler, visiting Victorian Britain on a reconnaissance mission is stranded in the distant past, with his technology falling into the hands of Baron Fortesque. The Baron, through reverse engineering finally culminates his work in the creation of the titular Chaos Engine, which can modify the very nature of Time and Space. As is the case for the plans of most evil geniuses, everything soon goes wrong. The Chaos Engine becomes sentient, and captures Fortesque while the ramifications of its ability to modify time and space begin to spill out into the surrounding countryside, mutating human and wildlife alike. It is now up to you, as one of six mercenaries hired by the British Government to shoot, blast and navigate your way through a series of Steampunk worlds to track down and stop the Chaos Engine.
Firstly, I should mention the looks. Utilising the existing code from the original Amiga release means that the game has retained all of its original assets. Its obvious from this approach that the team at Abstraction Games were aiming to preserve as much of the original across into this remake. A refresh of the art assets has been included but you have the option to switch back to its original blocky glory at any time. New bloom effects make a noticeable improvement to both the original and renewed graphics to bring the game as up to date as possible using the original coding.
Sound is and has always been a key component of every Bitmap Brothers game, and for good and bad, the original soundtrack and effects have been kept entirely intact. Sadly though, distortion and breaks in the effects mar what is a true homage to what made these titles great, and its amazing how much the originality and complexity (for the time) of these soundtracks negated their repetition. In today’s environment of event and context based audio its hard not to see the limitations the designers of these games had back in the day.
Gameplay changes are the biggest innovation brought into the mix by Abstraction. Where before you were limited to 8 directional shooting, the team have developed full 360 movement which simplifies the difficulty significantly. This is not always a bad thing, as Chaos Engine retains its hardcore mechanics. Starting out you begin with only two lives, no autosaves and an antiquated, yet true to origin, Password system when you complete each world. Each of the four worlds consists of four levels which must be traversed before you reach a checkpoint. These checkpoints work alongside the Password system to give a more manageable alternative to memorising 12 digit passwords.
Just like the original, you select two of the six available mercenaries but this time rather than playing as one with an AI Controlled NPC, or local co-op, the Steam integration allows for the welcome addition of remote co-op play.
Finally, the inclusion of Leaderboards and Steam Achievements, with a proposed workshop addition to round out the package and bring this title smack up to date.
At the end of the day, this retro remake will have a somewhat limited appeal. Those who wish to relive those halcyon days, or anyone interested in the origins of our now somewhat bloated hobby, need look no further than this for a great way to while away several frustrating hours. Those of you looking for the next big thing in gaming need not apply.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: PC/Mac Release Date: 29/08/2013
Disclosure: Midlifegamer were provided a copy of The Chaos Engine for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.