Available: February 2003

Chaser © JoWooD Productions Software AG / Cauldron Interactive
Genre: First-Person Shooter

If you've had a few shots at this summer's mediocre FPS titles, your Chaser is coming. Developed by Cauldron studios, Chaser is an action-intensive FPS attempts to take the best elements of past FPS games and blend them into one, superb gameplay experience.

Taking a hint from a strain of highly successful FPS titles such as Red Faction, Chaser takes place in space, specifically Mars. Unlike Red Faction, however, the adventure begins en route to the red planet creating a unique gameplay environment. You become Chaser, a convict being shipped off Earth to be punished through labor on Mars. Confused and disoriented with his situation and surroundings, Chaser breaks free from his captivity to search for answers and his freedom. Unfortunately, all he finds is stiff resistance and it's up to you to chase it all away.

From the moment the main menu opens to when the first fire fight ensues, Chaser visually impresses. Taking full advantage of an engine specifically designed for the title, Chaser clearly is an example of a next-generation PC game. The clarity and detail of the textures give the game a crisp and polished look. The game offers a number of effects that can be toggled through the options menu (based on your PC's specifications) including reflection mapping, dynamic lighting, limited particle effects, and full shadowing. Even with most of these effects toggled on, the framerate remained steady and only dropped noticeably once in the incomplete version shown. Artistically, Chaser succeeds, but doesn't necessarily bring innovation. Character designs and animations feel slightly borrowed yet appropriately match the environments they are in. Rather than introducing radical new designs, Chaser feels more like the quintessential space FPS.

The sound definitely compliments the visual presentation of the game. Both the use of sound effects and music are complimentary to the gameplay environments and action on-screen. Again, as with the art direction not anything revolutionary, but good indeed. Voice acting is good, yet in the version shown, there wasn't a lot of dialogue. If there was, it was definitely lost in the echoing din of my crazed shooting rampages.

Controlling Chaser is simple, yet leaves room for improvement. Standard FPS interface applies here with the mouse used for looking and the keyboard for movement. Your weapons are controlled by the mouse keys and scroll button, while actions are set to the keyboard. In the version I played, the controls couldn't be adjusted for player's preference and I was stuck using some keys on the keyboard I wasn't keen on using. Nonetheless, the controls are responsive. One major function missing was the ability to toggle automatic aiming. This becomes a problem in some parts of the game where a barrage of enemies is assaulting you and you're unable to nail them down because it's difficult to target.

Pushing aside the game's graphics and sound, how does it play? Is it another shot in a long queue of mediocre titles, or is it the tasty Chaser that follows? From what I have played, the game is simple and intuitive, yet provides a hefty challenge in the face of enemies. Avoiding and disposing of enemies tends to be the most difficult part of the game thanks to the tough enemy AI. Puzzles are infrequent and extremely easy; the developers have decided to emphasize action over intellect. A smart move considering the recent wave of games that have successfully chosen action-packed gameplay over brainy puzzles. The game is a little on the hard side, which is great. Enemy AI is consistent so you can learn from you mistakes and try again. Often I died trying to assault guards, only to return jazzed about attempting a new tactic. It's definitely a fun, engaging title that will still see a lot of improvement as the development cycle winds down. Although Chaser is not the most innovative FPS to come around in recent times, it certainly feels like a nice blend of past games. Put away your shot glasses boys and girls, Chaser is on the way.