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Chaser Review

publisher: JoWooD Productions
developer: Cauldron
genre: Shooters

PIII 650, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.35GB HD
ESRB rating: M

release date: Aug 19, 03
» All About Chaser on ActionTrip

While you're sitting around waiting for Valve to unleash Half-life 2, you might be interested to know that Cauldron, a Slovakia based development team, has released its first FPS title, called Chaser. The game utilizes their in-house engine, CloakNT - developed expressly for this game. These days, the FPS industry is being dominated by three powerful engines: The Source, DOOM3, and Unreal. So, you've got to admire a team that wants to make a stand with their own engine against such strong competition. After many demos and beta builds, we finally sat down to check out the full version and see if all of Cauldron's efforts paid off.

The basics of the story are probably known to most of you, since we've mentioned it on several occasions, but if not, here's the skinny - at the very beginning of the game, the details of the character's background are vague, which gives the whole game a subtle element of drama and tension - one of the most alluring aspects of the game. Striving to find out the character's real identity and true purpose, John Chaser, has been caught up in the middle of a great conflict. No matter where he is, John constantly has to be on the go. Many dangerous people are after his head... literally. As the plot unfolds, Chaser is tormented by sudden flashbacks and brief images from the past. The cool thing is that some of these flashbacks can appear in the midst of combat, which actually proved to be a rather interesting and original aspect of gameplay. A nice and refreshing gameplay element is always welcome (more details about the storyline and plot can be found in our recent hands-on preview.

Chaser has well-paced gameplay with plenty of enemies to kill and mysteries to unravel as you go along. The game becomes more interesting as you progress. The good thing is that you won't have to wait very long to get a taste of the variety of weapons, and thanks to this, the first couple of missions aren't too difficult to complete. As you progress through the game though, your opponents become smarter and better equipped, and you may soon find yourself on your heels every step of the way. The game's quick pace will be enough to keep you excited for all the way through.

Playing through a number of chapters, I discovered a certain number of nasty flops in the AI routine. Granted, my first encounters with the enemy seemed a decent challenge. I really had to make a serious effort to outsmart my opponents. It appears that enemies handle themselves extremely well in outdoor areas, often grouping and trying to come at you from all sides. Because of that, players will be forced to be on their guard almost constantly. Every single soldier that's lurking around the corner will act fast, shoot straight, and I've never seen them rush headlong into certain death. They take their time to plan out an attack or take cover until reinforcements arrive. While all of this sounds all well and good, there are some glaring errors in the current AI - it quite often tends to exhibit unusual movement and behavior in enemy ranks. For example, an enemy trooper can get jammed in doorways or alongside walls, which occurred on several occasions and ruined the experience entirely. Also, sometimes I got the feeling that the bag guys are incredibly accurate - too accurate as a matter of fact. You can peek around a corner and get your head blown off from a single shot, which came from a mile away. This would be acceptable if the enemy was equipped with a sniper rifle. But, firing from a great distance with an Uzi and they can still manage to hit you right in the forehead?! C'mon, people! That's just too much for a mere mortal to contend with. On top of that, some opponents tend to get stuck in one spot... which is when they treat the audience to a graceful Moon-walk variation a la Michael J. If this happens, just shoot the poor bastards and put them out of their misery. Quite a challenge, isn't it? Believe it or not, that's not all. I noticed a rather freaky glitch that occurs with the enemy spawn time. Apparently, in certain situations your opponents get stuck in their spawn points or will refuse to attack, unless you come out and face them. Some initially decent concepts got simply butchered along the way.

John Chaser has a solid variety of firearms at his disposal. Your basic FPS choices are there; the Beretta M12, Ingram M10 sub-machine gun, and so on. The Colt Commando and the so-called FAMAS definitely remain this reviewer's favorites. The FAMAS in particular, has a lethal and exceptionally nasty 40mm mortar as secondary fire, which, when fired, devastates anything in the nearby area ... which brings me to an interesting issue. Using grenades or the mortar sometimes just doesn't seem to have any effect on the enemy (!?!). Picture it if you will: you toss a grenade in the direction of an unsuspecting foe; the grenade explodes, and the unsuspecting foe walks away without even a scratch? What gives? Usually, this comes as a great obstruction to the gameplay, whatever the source of the problem may be - unbalanced weapons or simply bad programming.

At any given time during the game, you can use the so-called Adrenaline Mode, which allows your character to engage in slow-motion bullet-time combat. While in Adrenaline mode, players will be able to shoot more accurately and avoid enemy fire with ease. This is a cool gameplay element, but it's nothing we haven't already seen many times before (Max Payne, Enter the Matrix, Will Rock, etc.).

Chaser also seems to present a slightly confusing level design - an aspect that significantly spoils the atmosphere and ruins the gameplay. This characteristic can mostly be attributed to numerous indoor areas, which were created sloppily and somewhat hastily. The problem is that these sections look too much alike, on top of which you'll encounter many dark nooks and crannies that frequently hide a passageway or an exit. If this was meant to be a challenge, it sure as hell didn't play its part well from where I'm standing. The point of the matter is that if players end up running around in circles simply because they cannot distinguish a hole in the ground, an opening in the wall, or even a doorway, then the whole experience becomes a nuisance, rather than a straight challenge. This drawback doesn't apply to every single level mind you. Some outdoor levels were excellently designed, often obliging you to resort to more tactical approaches, rather than Quake-style rushes.

The overall quality of the graphics could've been better. Although we've seen some nice lighting effects here and there (nothing in the neighborhood of masterpieces like Splinter Cell), this game is merely so-so. The physics have their good moments - sometimes when you throw a grenade or fire a mortar, you can hurl enemies backwards and watch them smash into windows or glass doors. Also, the game displays impressive water effects - ripples appear on the water surface as you fire into it. The development team attempted to enrich indoor environments with details like occasional reflections on the walls and ceilings. Otherwise, most of the levels show off scantily textured backgrounds, so the aforementioned reflections don't amount up to much. Cauldron's Cloak NT engine doesn't seem to offer much when it comes to explosions, particle effects, and stuff like that. Furthermore, the game still has many technical flaws, which if I remember correctly were also present in the beta we took a look at. One time, the main character just walked through a wall and consequentially fell off the face of the earth and died; a rare occurrence, but rather off-putting. Similar slip-ups in the engine code can be observed throughout the game. I found that sometimes, small items on the floor, like bricks or thin wooden planks, can obstruct the movement of your character. And, to top it all off, the game crashes on a regular basis.

Chaser exhibits a decent variety of ambient sounds and music tunes. You won't hear anything out of the ordinary. Still, the entire audio seems pleasing enough throughout the entire game. Voice acting is a bit dodgy however.

For those of you who desire a bit of multiplayer fun, Chaser offers the typical range of modes - Team Deathmatch, CTF, objective-based (launch rocket, defuse rocket, destroy all enemy forces, etc.). Multiplayer matches in Chaser can be fun, although you're better off just sticking to games like CS, UT 2003, Battlefield 1942, and others.

When you get down to the basics, Chaser doesn't offer any particular innovations in terms of gameplay. The plot is interesting though, and it can keep you playing for a while. Visually, the game has a few nice moments, but could definitely use more features that are in line with today's standards. Sadly, thanks to several technical mishaps, topped with AI flaws, this game won't accomplish much with heavy FPS competition looming right around the corner.


5.9   Okay

Well-paced gameplay. Interesting plotline. Tense atmosphere. A few nice visual effects;

The game looks a bit dated, frequent crashes and flawed AI. Inconsistent level design, shabby visuals.



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