You wake up. You’re in space, on a surgical table with wires coming out of you. Naturally you feel pretty bad, you manage to unplug the cables and get up, but no doctors seem to be around. Just then you hear soldiers coming towards the room. They seem to be calling you Chaser, but you have no memory of anything at all - so you decide to just run. You seem to be in a huge spaceship called the HMS Majestic, and while escaping you have a number of flashbacks related to someone who goes by the name of Stone. Maybe this man knows who you really are, what you’ve done in the past, and what you should do from now on? You need to get to Earth, figure out what’s going on, and hopefully set things straight. The problem is that a lot of people want you dead, and you’ll be surprised to what lengths they’re willing to go. The story takes place in 2044, on Earth and Mars.
In 2044 Earth has become a rather apocalyptic place to live, so people do what they can to move to Mars. Those who remain live mostly in anarchy, with raging gangs, mafia, and the like. The process of moving to Mars began in 2042.
Brief History - The UN establishes MarsCorp (Martian Security and Economics Committee), under the leadership of Samuel Longwood. In the years that follow the UN slowly loses control of MarsCorp, by and large because of the non-transparent license policy of its director. Samuel uses his power to create vassal relations between companies and MarsCorp. Samuel and his company become extremely wealthy, extremely quickly. A lot of the 'regular people’ aren’t too happy about Samuel’s plans. A group of underground rebels is formed, which plans to do what it can to maintain freedom and democracy on Mars, so Mars should hopefully one day be a good place to live.
Throughout the game you visit a huge number of varied locations like nearly abandoned cities, a Japanese mansion, dark mining caves on Mars, various military bases in Russia, and plenty more. Much of the story progresses with the use of cut-scenes, which works quite well. Some of the more action-packed cut-scenes are actually surprisingly well done, adding a nice boost to the entertainment value. One of the problems regarding the story is that it isn’t really narrated very well in the game, so to really know what’s going on you’ll most likely have to consult the manual, which shouldn’t be necessary in my opinion.
In Chaser you play through a number of missions where you’re usually given a set of goals. Sometimes you’ll just have to find certain items, and use them to do things, you’ll defend things, direct assaults, sneak through enemy installations, and assassinate important people. The maps are actually enormous, to the point where you’re often wondering if you’re heading off in the complete opposite direction of where you should be going. The levels aren’t just huge – they’re also very detailed. Even though not all the levels are equally complex, many of the Earth levels in particular have tons of objects that seem as if they belong there. Yet, the levels aren’t without faults. There are bugs; related to the game itself - textures, modeling, collision detection, and more. What’s more, finishing a level usually means you’ll be stuck on a number of occasions, where you’re just wondering where in gods name the developers intended you to go. The solutions are usually obvious, but other times they’re just frustrating. In my opinion the ideal level should be big, but it should be designed in a way where you’re always going the right way, so you won’t have to be angry at doors that just “shouldn’t” be locked, etc. People who have played 'Jedi Knight 2’ should know exactly what I’m talking about.
Also, there are limits to how long people should work to keep the story progressing. Finishing a mission can take hours - when you do just that, you hope the story finishes, something goes wrong and you’ll have to keep playing for even more. How long a game should be is hard to say, because it depends a lot on the story and the game itself, but in my opinion the developers could’ve made some of the levels shorter, left out a couple, or just made the story progress in a more interesting way. This was highlighted in Grandia 2, for those of you out there who have played it.
The developers at Cauldron made their own engine for this game and named it CloakNT. The engine supports pixel and vertex shaders, volumetric light, stencil buffered shadows, reasonably good rag-doll physics, various facial expressions, a full skeletal system, and is able to render advanced materials. The visual quality is fairly high compared to other recent games. The graphics aren’t exactly as jaw dropping as Doom 3, but it definitely gets the job done both indoors and outdoors. The textures aren’t always super sharp, but never downright blurry. The pixel shading is very much evident in the diffuse lighting, which is applied to many of the weapons, and many of the metallic materials, so the light reflects as it would in real-life. In my opinion this reflective effect could’ve been left out in some cases, because garments (clothes) shouldn’t reflect light like metal, and that’s just one example. The water effect also looks awesome, although the shader program is only applied to small “sections” of water. The water doesn’t ripple as much as it should, but it reflects what’s above it much better than that in Morrowind, so you’re in for a visual treat - if you like staring at water.
Many of the best looking games tend to have very static levels, meaning very little actually happens, such as ceilings that cave in, explosions that tear things down, etc. CloakNT impressed me in particular with all the ways it can transform the levels, so prepare for some very entertaining hours of gaming after you’re done with about half of the game.
John Chaser, our hero, is voiced by a man named Jay Benedict, who you may’ve seen as Brandon in Double Team, or heard in the game Headhunter from 2002. He does a pretty decent job, making the character a bit loony, yet funny. The rest of the voice-overs are generally good, but I do think that the Yakuza would sound better with Asian voices, rather than American, but that’s not really a big deal. The music isn’t really done by anyone internationally famous, but the selection is surprisingly good and diverse. Most of the tracks have a sense of electronica in them, but some mix it with rock, while other are more mellow and quiet. The tracks usually fit the levels extremely well, but when finishing a level can take a couple of hours then you’re bound to get annoyed by at least a couple of the recurring beats.
The gameplay follows the recipe that most shooters use yet Chaser actually differs a bit because it doesn’t demand you to interact much with people, use keys, or other semi-advanced things. You basically just run around, shooting whoever is in your way because only on a few very rare occasions you run into friendly humans. The challenge lies in the puzzles, or whatever objects hinder you from progressing. You’ll have to climb a lot, do death defying jumps, and use a lot of logical reasoning when you’re stuck. The weapons are actually one of Chaser’s strongest points. Including mounted weapons you’ll be able to use over 20 fun, and highly realistic tools of death, ranging from a knife, to rifles like the Heckler & Koch G11, which uses caseless ammunition, a project that H&K are working on today. Besides the many accurately modeled weapons from today you’ll also find a few exotic, highly futuristic weapons, like Judge Dredd’ish fully automatic rifles, and a rocket launcher that can do three in a burst.
One of the few gameplay additions happens to be something called Adrenaline Mode, which can be described as bullet-time, in first-person. By pressing caps lock time slows down around you, so even though you don’t move any faster you’ll be able to aim a lot better, and hopefully even dodge a few bullets, since you can better see how the enemy shoots. This mode can’t be used for a very long time, but it slowly recharges, so if you’re patient then you can without a doubt have a lot of fun using Adrenaline Mode.
When comparing Chaser to Counter-Strike you do find some similarities, and I’m sure that’s one of the main reasons why so many people have started preferring the Chaser MP demo to Counter-Strike. Chaser’s multiplayer mode is pretty good, even though it doesn’t come with too many maps. Shock Troops is Chaser’s special mode, where two teams (law breakers and government forces) are given certain objectives, such as launching a rocket and killing the government forcers, or defusing the rocket, and killing the law breakers. There are five shock troops maps to choose from. In Deathmatch there are three. In Team Deathmatch there are two, and in capture the flag there is only one. I’m sure the developers will post more levels soon, but since people are happy with the even fewer levels offered in the multiplayer demo then the total of ten will probably suffice. There aren’t too many servers up and running on the full game, but at least the netcode seems to work nicely.
Chaser is another game that has surprised me. This is a game that dares to avoid unnecessarily complex gameplay features and instead focusing on run-and-gun action. Unless you press quick save on a constant basis I’m sure most shooters fans will have a good time with this game, because the tension is usually quite high. I don’t like the randomly spawned enemies, who pop out of nowhere, the bugs, the somewhat tedious levels that you get stuck on every other minute but there’s something about the gameplay that just works. The graphics and audio are both of a high standard, although not mind-numbingly so. What I do think will make people buy this game is the multiplayer mode, which can be a lot of fun unless you run into the cheaters who have invisible skins.
The game doesn’t say how long you’ve been playing, so I can’t say for sure how long it takes to finish the single player mode, but it took me nearly three days of pretty heavy-duty gaming, so I’d say somewhere around 20 hours is a realistic estimate.
In my eyes Chaser is a slightly rushed game, but if you’re looking for a challenging, yet fun shooter, which you can have a lot of fun with over the Internet, or on a LAN, then Chaser just might be what you’re looking for.