Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Chaos Engine (Amiga)

Super Adventures in Bitmap Brothers Games - Game 8

A.k.a. Soldiers of Fortune on the US SNES and Genesis (not to be confused with Soldier of Fortune on PC, which is a totally different kind of shooter.)

The title screen music (youtube link!) this time is by Joi, and it's awesome. Unless you're playing the DOS version, then it sounds like clown music (also youtube link).

Amiga CD32
Most versions of the game start with some prologue text, and pictures of the heroes, but the Amiga CD32 version has a voiced narration and a bit of animation. But either way the story's the same and to be honest I'd rather have the music.
Sometime in the last century, an experimenter with time, space, and early computers created a bizarre machine.
Amiga CD32
That's what someone looks like when they take a blast of science point blank to the face.
Although primitive, the machine became incredibly powerful and turned against its creator.
Amiga CD32
Its power to corrupt time and matter was out of control. A cloud of chaos descended over the land. Humans and animals were turned into ravenous beasts.
Amiga 500
Just in case you were wondering, no you never come across a dinosaur in the game. Amazing artwork though, especially considering it only has 32 colours.

Amiga 500
Enter 'six hard-nailed mercenaries for hire', to head to the source of the distortion and sort out the evil computer problem. Yes, even this guy is hard-nailed.

SNES
Tech-support was different in the Victorian era.

Clockwise from the guy with the dramatic pink lighting on the left, they are: The Brigand (green), The Navvie (grey), the Mercenary (blue), the Preacher (red), the Thug (green), and the orange gentleman with the revolver and the pipe is the Gentleman. Actually wait, where's his pipe gone? Nintendo must have stolen it to stop him corrupting the youth.

Amiga 500
Damn that's a nice looking character select screen. I should probably mention it looks very steampunk, because I need to get that word in somewhere and this seems as good a place as any.

They've given me a starting budget of £6000 (which doesn't sound like much, but it must be over £500,000 in today's money) to basically hire myself and a sidekick. Though first I have to choose who I am. Each character has different health, speed, and IQ attributes, plus guns and special weapons, so it'd probably be a good idea to pick a pair that compliment each other.

SNES
Just in case you were dying to know, the character select screen looks pretty much the same on all versions except for the SNES, where they've redrawn it to fit the system's smaller resolution. It's a fine piece of art, though I miss the indents around the lights.

Hey wait, they've renamed the guy 'the Scientist' and taken away his collar! I guess Nintendo changed it to stop him tempting kids into becoming a priest. Actually it's not really their fault, he's a scientist in the Genesis version too. Whatever he's called, he seems a good choice for a sidekick because he's smart and carries a first aid kit.

Amiga 500
Okay, I have to admit I may have played this game before. Enough to know how to get through the first few levels anyway.

Basically, it's an overhead run and gun shooter, with fantastic art and excellent dynamic techno music. My automated associate and I have to proceed through the level, shooting the monsters we find along the way, and the ones that find us by sneaking out from the trees, or just plain appearing out of thin air.

Yeah it uses a bit of Gods style enemy spawning, trigged when I collect a certain pick up or visit a certain area, but in this it's far less annoying. For one thing, I'm actually able to move around and dodge bullets.

Genesis/Mega Drive
The graphics are pretty incredible, even on the Sega version. They've done a lot with only a handful of colours. It's weird how they've managed to make it look so detailed, even though the floor is basically just one solid colour with a few rocks scattered around. It seems to have been a smart choice, as everything's instantly readable against the background.

The Genesis/Mega Drive version seems to be basically the same as the Amiga version, except for crappy music, more screen space and dodgier looking colours. Oh, and a difficulty select, which I think might be unique to this version.

MS-DOS
I collected a gold key, and opened up an optional room full of coins, food, special weapon ammo, and most importantly, a shiny brass gun power up. More weapon power equals faster kills, and there's no danger of ever losing it.

The DOS version of the game has more colours on screen than the original Amiga version, and the music isn't so great, but otherwise again it's pretty much the same as far as I can tell. Oh, also the hud's a little different, with 24 pixels of extra screen space in exchange for floating numbers getting in the way. I think I prefered the simple health bars and having all the info lined up in one place.

Amiga 500
Hey, they've left one of my special weapons lying on the floor to demonstrate what they do. This is the kind of on-the-job training I like.

This particular weapon, which I guess is dynamite, blows up every single last mutant on my screen. And couple of the mutant generators too. It's so useful in fact, that I almost guarantee I'll totally forget to ever use any of my own.

Amiga 1200
NODE ACTIVATED. It seems that almost anything can turn out to be a trigger to open up new paths, or other various effects, but only shooting these nodes can open up the level exit.

The Amiga 1200 version has the extra colours like the DOS version, but otherwise seems to be identical to the original. And to be honest, I'm not sure that the recolour makes it look any better overall. It's more vivid for sure, but this isn't exactly supposed to be a pleasant stroll through the countryside on a bright summer's day.

Amiga 500
Hmm. Judging from this end of level stats screen, it would appear that I'm barely outperforming my cpu controlled comrade. Which is mostly because he's actually pretty useful to have around. He shoots enemies, collects coins, backs me up, and stays out of my way. He never wastes my special weapon ammo, and he's incapable of accidentally shooting me in the ass.

True co-op would be better, but I couldn't wish for a better fake player 2.

RISC OS
Near the end of the 90s the game was also ported to the Acorn Archimedes range of machines, and though it doesn't seem to have as many colours on screen, it definitely makes up for it in resolution. That must be an extra 30% of level up there on screen, giving the player a big advantage.

Amiga 1200
Oh crap, I didn't mean to bring this screen up. The Gentleman's starting special power is a map, which is usually nice to have in a game, but in this case it costs some of my precious special ammo, so I can live without it. The Preacher's special on the other hand, is a first aid kit, which is massively more useful. And because he's my cpu sidekick, I can swap our specials at any time and get some health back. So basically I just wasted a first aid kit to bring this map up.

The level has different paths branching off, depending on things like what keys I've picked up. Though I'm never sure which is the best route to go for.

Amiga 500
Ah, it's using the old, 'walk into the enemy turret's blind spot and another one will spawn to shoot you' trick. Sneaky.

Amiga 500
After every two levels I get to visit the shop and spend my scavenged cash to upgrade my characters and buy new specials and weapon power. I have to upgrade certain stats before others become available though, which limits my options.

I decide to spend £500 on a single extra life, instead of improving my gun power. Cause I'm an idiot.

Amiga 500
Son of a bitch! That was my shiny new £500 life you just wasted.

Enemies like to open up holes in the walls and trees and jump out at me, but they're usually a fair distance away when they're triggered. Sometimes though I'm not so lucky.

Fortunately the game has checkpoints, so I'm never thrown back far.

Amiga 500
The game loves to do stuff like this. Put a room full of shiny things in plain sight and dare me to figure out how to reach it. It turns out in this case I had to go down, collect a gold key, then come back up and shoot one of the rock pillars.

Occasionally it'll pull this crap with part of the main path too, but thankfully it's rare that I have to start shooting the scenery.

Atari ST
The game loves to pull stuff like this too; spawning an ambush when I go to grab something useful. It wouldn't be so bad, but I always find it awkward trying to predict where those green balls are going to land.

The Atari ST version of the game looks a bit worse than the Amiga version, and it doesn't have any music in game. It doesn't even have voices yelling stuff like "PLAYER SAVED!" or "NODE ACTIVATED!" That's basically half the experience missing!

Amiga 1200
Getting the gold keys and shooting the extra node gets me EXIT B. It leads to the same level, but I end up in a different part of it, with the potential to take a different path.

Amiga 500
Like here I had a choice between walking along the top of the rock wall and shooting the node, or going through the tree passage and getting the treasure within.

Amiga 500
Brigand, you son of a bitch! Why'd you just grab the ultra-rare extra life pick up from this secret passage, when you had three lives already and I have one? If he dies I can spend money to respawn him on the next level, but if I run out of lives it's game over. There's no continues.

Though if I can hold on just a little longer I can get the world 2 password. Every version of the games has the passwords as far as I know, and none of them have save games.

Amiga 500
Well that's fantastic. I came down here to grab a little stuff, and it turned out to be an ambush! It would have been more of a surprise if it didn't happen all the time. Still, I'm no less screwed. There's no way I'm dodging all of these whirlwind monsters.

Amiga 1200
Oh no, it happened again! Curse my irresistible lust for wealth. And the bastard that just locked the door behind me.

Amiga 1200
C'mon Preacher, you're supposed to be the smart one. Don't tell me your AI was never taught to avoid jets of scolding steam? Seems a bit of an oversight really.

RISC OS
Running on zero health, and with my AI partner dead, I make a heroic and reckless run through the enemies to grab some (unmarked) tins of food. Actually, wait, I have full health. They swapped the colours in this version to confuse me!

I gotta say, I love how these enemy bullets cast light on the ground instead of a shadow. It's a nice touch. My muzzle flash does the same thing, though you'd never notice.

Amiga 1200
The game mixes things up here by having the damaged section of the path flicker open and closed. By collecting a gold key at the exact moment the hole is fully closed, I can fix the walkway permanently and walk across.

Though here I fucked it up, and my dude can't jump across even the tiniest of gaps, so I've got to take the boring normal path instead. He can't even jump off a walkway to the ground below, he's rubbish.

SNES
Dammit! Another bastard jumped out the wall at me, taking off a huge chunk of my health. These hard-nailed mercenaries are actually really fragile.

It's probably my fault for being impatient. There's no time limit in this so I'm free to trigger enemies at my own convenience.

RISC OS
Wall mounted Terminator heads on the wall that spit bullets, delightful. As video game mansions go, this is probably one of the less hospitable ones.

RISC OS
Oh shit, HANDS! The game's going all Addams Family on me.

They're crawling out of the trapdoors in the floor, and they've only got three fingers! How disturbing the forces of chaos are. Well animated though.

SNES
And now I'm up against six legged spiders. Is there no law of nature this Chaos Engine won't break?

Tapping the fire button is enough to stop my guy from walking forward as I'm shooting, which is nice when I'm trying to aim at enemies without throwing myself into them. Still, these little critters are fast, and I'm shocked I actually got out of this without losing a life.

RISC OS
Hey, my artificial ally's back from the dead, and he's brought a clone. Oh damn, they're both clones, and they want me dead! They'd be having more luck if they'd bothered to upgrade their guns though.

And I'd be having more luck the Preacher was still around so I could use his first aid kit.


BUT THEN.


SNES
Things were going so well, until I stepped on a landmine. Actually that's a lie, these things turned out to be no trouble at all really. It was the malevolent high-speed attack dumbbells that tore through my lives and finished me off in the end. GAME OVER.


I think it's safe to say that as games go, this is probably one of the good ones. I'm not even much of a fan of Gauntlet 'em ups, and even I can't resist its steampunky charms. As far as I'm concerned, it's easily the best Bitmap Bros game and it's definitely earned itself a shiny gold star.

Though which version is the best version? They all seem to play exactly the same to my untrained senses, but I think the Amiga versions have the edge with music and visuals, with the SNES a close second. The game apparently plays to the Amiga's strengths and even the loading times are bearable.

Bitmap Brothers games:
Part 1: Xenon (Atari ST)
Part 2: Speedball (Atari ST)
Part 3: Xenon 2 - Megablast (Amiga)
Part 4: Cadaver (Amiga)
Part 5: Speedball 2 - Brutal Deluxe (Amiga)
Part 6: Gods (Amiga)
Part 7: Magic Pockets (Amiga)
Part 8: The Chaos Engine (Amiga)
Part 9: The Chaos Engine 2 (Amiga)
Part 10: Z (MS-DOS)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, brought back some memories from my A1200 days! The graphics and the music and overall polish and atmosphere was terrific. Thanks for posting.

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