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PLATFORM PC

Chrome Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Strategy First
developer: Techland
genre: Action Adventure

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIV 1000, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.chromethegame.com/

release date: Oct 28, 03
» All About Chrome on ActionTrip


Rich people get richer as they suck on the blood of the poor, who in turn only get poorer, sicker and are left with no medical coverage. Since the dawn of times, those who were on top of the food chain had it better off than the miserable sods that ran around with a huge "I am food" sign stuck on their back. These basic rules apply to everything in life, and that includes the gaming industry. The big boys get all the fun - fast cars, girls and money. They get to release all the AAA titles, while the rest are forced to claw their way to success by picking up bits and crumbs left by the big boys. Things get even harder for the little guys if they come from Poland or any other small European country. Your reputation equals a big round zero, and your budget isn't exactly good enough to ensure a high-profile launch. No Sir, if you're Techland and want to publish Chrome in the states with the help of Strategy First, you better make sure your game is up to par, or you can kiss your American dreams goodbye. So did Techland succeed in their mission improbable? Read on to find out.

Chrome is a tactical FPS that takes place in the future during the colonization of the newly discovered solar system of Valkyria. The story takes place among the huge and wild terrains of five planets, within the residential complexes of the first settlers, deep within mines rich with precious minerals and inside the headquarters of the powerful corporations fighting among themselves over the unique riches of Valkyria. The riches in question are called Chrome. It's like black gold back in the days. Everyone wants it and there are corporations out there willing to slaughter a few thousand innocent lambs to get it. It ain't easy getting by in Valkyria, but our savvy hero, Logan, is up to the task. Ever since he was set up by his ex partner, Logan has been doing everything in his power to make sure he sees all the angles. He has become a bounty hunter and now he roams the universe with his female navigator in search of lucrative business opportunities. He doesn't let himself get too emotionally involved and all that crap. As things usually go in games, Logan is sucked into a huge conspiracy involving Chrome, innocent people and has to get out of it with his head still attached to his shoulders. The plot unfolds quite nicely as you progress through the game. Logan is forced to make a few crucial choices during his adventures and these major plot branches have sufficient enough reasons behind them to make them seem fairly credible and less pathetic. The dialogue is passable and even funny at times. I won't reveal any more of the narrative, but, seeing how the plot outline reminds me a little of Unreal 2, I can safely say that the world in Chrome is more consistent and plausible (taken with a grain of salt, of course).

If we're to take this Unreal 2 comparison a bit farther, it becomes clear that Chrome also features meatier and more substantial gameplay, with plenty of additions that Unreal 2 was sorely lacking. Chrome may not have as much style, finesse and flair in terms of the visuals and art design as Unreal 2, but it sure as hell offers a more elaborate and addictive gameplay experience with plenty of cool things that should keep every sci-fi shooter fan happy for days. The people at Techland managed to create a huge world, with large maps, vehicles you can drive, biomechanical implants, stealth-based missions and more. To top it off, they've wrapped it all up in a decent story that keeps players interested as they progress through the single-player mode. I must admit the rather unattractive weapon and player models initially put me off, but the actual game design grabs you by the shirtfront and drags you inside the world of Chrome and keeps you going, making you forget these minor cosmetic downsides. The ability to drive cool futuristic vehicles over long distances only to get out and engage in stealth-based combat that requires you to use your various implants and cloaking devices to breach enemy defenses, adds a special touch to the game that makes you feel like you're a part of the game world, and not just a drone being railed on a certain path and carrying out short missions. (Not that there's anything wrong with highly linear design when done right.) Chrome is a different type of shooter, however, and as such, it's pretty damn good. The vast terrain, which you cover in each of the missions, will ensure that you feel less restricted by the environments and often times you'll even be able to choose the order in which to finish your objectives. Not exactly open-ended gameplay at its finest, but it does create an illusion of one. Chrome's puzzles are definitely not one of the key elements of gameplay. They usually come down to "memory"-like mini games, and finding the right equipment to smash. Chrome's challenges lie in mastering your opponents with brute force or the use of stealth. While you're at it you'll also get a chance to artificially enhance your abilities, drive Mech-like "Walkers," engage in buggy chases and more. The single player campaign is pretty damn big in every way, and that ensures constant variety, nice twists, and a few interesting boss encounters.

As far as the technical aspects of the game are concerned, I must give plenty of praise to the very good and believable AI code. Baddies can hear and see you, use advanced military tactics like flanking and much more. Here are two excellent examples. The enemy naturally won't see you when you're cloaked, but it will damn-well detect automatic doors opening for no reason. That's about as "real" as AI code gets these days. Another good example is when you try to ambush a patrol. Instead of running blindly at you, they will spread and while one of them draws your fire, the others will try to seize the opportunity to flank you. My only beef with the AI code is that they occasionally appear too damn alert and far too accurate with their weapon. Chrome follows certain, specific, rules of engagement. Some of these rules have to do with the weapons and some with the extremely accurate AI. You can rarely go storming into a room, all guns blazing, as the baddies will have no trouble drilling a few in your skull. You have to make sure to bring your gun up and use the "iron sight view," crouch and remain cool under fire. Slow and accurate duels are the way to go in this game.

This brings me to one of its downsides. The guns are fairly unbalanced. Although there's plenty of them (standard fare: rifles, side arms, rocket launchers, sniper rifles) you can pretty much get by with an assault rifle and a silenced side arm for the stealthier tasks. Sometimes, you'll need a rocket launcher or a sniper rifle to ice some hard-to-reach guards, or wreck a few "Walkers," but other than that, you'll rarely carry any other weapons aside from the ones I've mentioned. You can pick up and drop weapons along the way, so just use the specialist weapons once and discard them. Overall, I would've liked to have seen and used a more balanced arsenal that would provide even more variety to the gameplay.

Other minor drawbacks include some examples of repetitive model and level design, and a few clunky interface solutions, like not being able to simply walk over your enemies to pick up useful items. This, however, is not a glaring drawback, so don't worry about it too much. That's just your jaded reviewer writing crap to make the review longer and more "in-depth."

I've already mentioned that Chrome lacks finesse when it comes to art design. The models look less than spectacular. They're kind of dull and uniform. Although the vehicles and certain parts of the game world look good (with lush flora and even some indigenous life) the art design is not nearly as imaginative or consistent as it could've been. That's just how I see it anyway. You may disagree with me entirely for all I know. Technically, the engine works quite well. It makes seamless transitions between outdoor and indoor environments. The physics model is decent, with some nice rag doll effects and such. The only thing I didn't like about it is the way buggies and speeders seem to stop dead in their tracks when they hit smaller trees and shrubbery. By and large, with a little code tweaking and some more talented artists, this lack of finesse and flare can be easily corrected, as it's mostly superficial in its nature.

The musical soundtrack is very good and brings loads of drama to the action scenes. The voice over's are mostly good, although there will be a few times when they'll sound flat and unprofessional. Luckily, Strategy First hired some native English speakers to make the game sound suitable for the stateside gamers.

In closing, I should note that Chrome comes bundled with a fully featured multiplayer option. Good stuff, considering you can have yourself a sci-fi Battlefield-like experience going with your buddies or over the net. Coupled with a meaty single-player mode, online play ensures that Chrome has a decent dose of replay value.

So did Techland succeed in their mission improbable? The short answer is yes. Certain areas of the game need more work to go toe to toe with the 900lbs gorillas of the genre - even better dialogue, voicing, art design, simpler interface solutions. On the whole, however, Chrome's strong points make it a shooter worth playing. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a good, albeit rough around the edges shooter experience.

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ACTIONTRIP SCORE
8.1   Very Good


HIGHS
Immersive game world, solid mission design, AI code, vehicles;

LOWS
Rough around the edges, unbalanced arsenal, AI unfairly tough at times.

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