Monday, 30 November 2015

Chasm: The Rift (MS-DOS)

Developer:Action Forms|Release Date:1997|Systems:PC

Today on Super Adventures, I'm putting a few hours into Chasm: The Rift, a game in which you don't play as a zombie lizard jester with a circular power-saw hand. This isn't even the title screen, the game has no time for crap like that. It just dumps you straight to a typical 90s first person shooter menu screen floating above a typical 90s first person shooter gameplay demo.

Oh, I should mention that this is a typical 90s first person shooter. It's kind of an obscure one too, which is exactly what my site's been missing lately. I haven't had a DOS FPS on Super Adventures since Wolfenstein 3D back in March, and that's just terrible. The game I mean, not my FPS negligence (thought that's pretty bad too).

Anyway I had Chasm on a demo disc back in the olden days and remember thinking it had a surprisingly decent looking homemade 3D engine, but not much else. I pretty much forgot the demo entirely for a decade or two after the game disappeared off the face of the Earth. Or I assumed it'd disappeared anyway; turns out the game had actually been released the year after Quake and Duke Nukem 3D and I just hadn't heard about it. It wasn't exactly the next big thing, but it's the next thing on my site so I'm going to go into it with my best attempt at enthusiasm and see if I can get some fun out of it.



Hey it's got an briefing! Quake never had a briefing... and most would likely agree that this is a good thing.

There's no intro cutscene, no story set up and no hook. I begin the game right here, cornered by a military commander who wastes no time explaining that intelligence has received word of a disaster at one of the power stations and it looks like the actions of the TimeStrikers!

Okay boss, I've got just three questions:
  • Who are you?
  • Who am I?
  • What's the difference between a TimeStriker and a TimeSplitter?
Ah the text looks better now I've switched down to 320x200 resolution. Nothing can fix the fact that I'm being briefed by a pair of wobbly blinking monotone cardboard cutouts though. Well, aside from pressing 'escape' that is.

The guy on the right is the Technical Consultant, Strickland, and he's here to explain that the TimeStrikers are invaders from another dimension and time who come here through 'time channels' to... screw around with our power plants I guess.

The two of them continue to tell me what I'll be doing, while my hand continues to edge closer to the 'escape' key. The camera pans to the commander, pans to the advisor, pans to the commander, pans to the advisor and they never stop talking. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t presented in the dullest possible way, with voice acting that can be described as ‘not good'. Wolfenstein: The New Order it ain't.


LEVEL 1:  THE POWER STATION.


Whoa, it's raining! That's one trick that Quake never did.

Speaking of tricks, there's something weird going on with these visuals. It looks like a proper 3D textured polygon world at first glance, but every wall is exactly the same height, and that overhanging roof on the left is 0 pixels tall. The floors are all perfectly level too, with the pavement the same height as the street; it's like I've found the missing link between Quake and Wolfenstein 3D. This is all software rendered by the way, there's no hardware 3D acceleration.

The game has CD music, as was the style at the time, and it's very grim and atmospheric. Well it actually sounds like someone playing around dropping bits of metal in an empty warehouse to see what noise they make as they hit the floor, but it works.

I walked down the road a bit and this speedy little scorpion creature scurried out and went straight for my ankles! It's so close to the ground I had to back up to see the bloody thing, which is awkward as I need to be able to see something before I can shoot it. My character isn't great at looking down, or looking up for that matter.

The good news is that the game is actually reasonably slick. The bad news is that this rifle has no feeling of power to it. It can kill a spiky scorpion thing in a couple of hits, but it's just not that fun to use. There's no reload key either so I can keep firing until I'm dry. Actually I just realised I can keep firing forever as the thing's got infinite ammo, yay.

Hah, fluttering paper! Now the developers are just showing off. There's no shadow under the desk though, so the engine they've used can't pull off pre-calculated lightmaps.

It's definitely able to render spinning green cartridges though. I'd go over and pluck it from the air, but I'm worried if I bring it outside it'll get wet.

Oh okay fine I’ll take it with me.

Turns out there was no need for the green key as I “don’t need a key to make this open.” Well okay then you smart ass game, how does it open then? I’m not seeing any switches or levers around and I doubt my rifle’s going to shift a metal door that thick.

Oh, I’m looking right at a fuse box aren’t I? Duh.

Blasting the electrical box got the door unlocked and that’s the first puzzle solved. Another demonstration of my genius level intellect.

Oh shit, I wasn’t expecting a soldier right in my face when I went to step inside. Can I have a chance to react next time?

Wow, turns out that enemies drop ammo backpacks when they die, just like in Quake. This gun I've got doesn't actually need ammo but I still appreciate the thought. It'll be useful for when I upgrade to whatever they're carrying. Hang on, why can't I just grab his gun?

Alright now that I've broken the door and gotten inside the power station I can go and, uh... I have entirely forgotten what I was sent here to do. Shoot things and hit switches I guess.

Hey, this guy’s just like one of those flying things that spits on you in Quake! Fortunately I’ve found myself a Quake-style super shotgun to shoot him down with. I’ve also turned on the Quake-style HUD to complete the look. I want to see if I can get angry visor-face down there bloodied up a bit.

Actually to be honest this corridor's reminding more of Alien Trilogy with those beams sticking out of the wall. It’s nice to finally see something diagonal in this flat and boxy world. Next on my wishlist is seeing more than one enemy on screen at once. Maybe even more than two!


SOME HALLWAYS LATER.


Well I’ve found a helipad, but it’s fenced off.

I followed the fence around but it lead me to a dead end with a switch on the wall. Like Quake there's no action key to interact with things, so I activated it by running into it with my face and got a message saying “Door to power plant’s wind turbines has been unlocked”. It'd be nice if I had any idea where that was but there's no signs or maps in this building, so now I have to backtrack and face-slam all the doors that wouldn't open for me along the way.

First though, I'm sure I walked past a barrel around here somewhere and I suddenly feel like seeing something explode.


ONE BARREL EXPLOSION LATER.


Well the explosion was a total let down, but the barrel was sitting in front of an old school secret passage containing armour and this lost looking soldier! Also holy shit I just took the guy’s arm off!

I didn’t expect this of all games to have a bit of Soldier of Fortune dismemberment, but there you go. A missing arm wasn’t enough to put him down but it sure gave him something to think about during the split second it took me to get my next shot out. I'll have to remember to aim for the enemy's gun instead of their head next time.

The secret passage lets me run behind the scenes and peek through all the vent covers I've passed along the way but otherwise it's a bit of a let down as well. Okay I'm meant to be looking for a door leading to the wind turbines, so I'm going to find my way back out of here and go do that.


SOON.


I found the wind turbines!

Bit weird to wall off a wind farm like this, but as long as they’re spinning it’s all good. Now I have to get back to the helipad and find a way to get around those fences.

Turning on the power opened up this alternative route to the helipad with some ultra-low resolution looking shadows on the floor and ceiling.

Well the first of these alcoves contains a Quake-style ammo box and the second contains a Quake-style health box, so I'm thinking that the third's going contain a Quake-style bloke with a shotgun waiting to ambush me. That's how these things typically work.

I can sneak up behind enemies but if they hear a noise they come to get me, so I fired my gun and two of them ran out. That's two enemies trying to kill me at once, it's amazing!

Enemies are dead, helipad is reached, level one is done!

No 3D helicopter I’m afraid, it just cuts back to those two back at HQ giving me another interminable briefing.

Blah blah nuclear weapons, blah blah, warheads with enough power to wipe out the human race… whatever, just cut to the bit where you tell me what switches need pressing.

I'm glad the developers made the effort to give the levels some context and add a bit of story, but these briefings are just pure exposition with zero storytelling or charm. There's no interplay between the two characters, the characters have no character, and what they're saying is basically irrelevant to me. The story's only dragging the game down so I'll be skipping these from now on I think.


LEVEL 2: THE MILITARY BASE.


This sneaky bloody game...

As I was walking down this hallway the wall on the right suddenly opened up to give the enemies inside a few free shots at me! It wouldn't be so bad except it'd just done the exact same thing in the room behind me. The game's fond of its traps.


SOME TIME LATER.


Another room, another enemy with less limbs than he'd like. These regular enemies don't tend to miss, but the take their time between shots so I can strafe in and out of cover to avoid being hit. Blasting them with a shotgun tends to throw them off balance for a second too, which is something I always appreciate in my first person shooters.

I'd appreciate being able to crouch too, as that passage under the pipe to the left seems like it’s going somewhere, but I can't get in there. I can jump at least, but only barely high enough to get onto those tables.

Ah I've just spotted a door to the right so I’ll head through there.

The yellow key at last! I should've known I'd find it caged up in the centre of a giant refrigerator. Wait, I’m looking for a green key at this point, I’ve got no clue where to use the yellow key.

There were two semi-obviously fake walls in this refrigerator, so I blasted some of the hanging meat to give myself some room and enemies came out! Turns out that they were standing in secret closets on switch guarding duty, so they were probably grateful when I put them out of their misery. 

I flicked their switches, opened the key cage, grabbed the key, and then inexplicably blew up on the way out. The game loves its traps.

At least now I know that when I lose I restart the level at the beginning armed with just the starting rifle, like in Doom. Then I immediately reload my last quicksave instead because I've gotten fond of my super shotgun.

Ah, I've figured it out now. It turns out that that a third wall opposite the exit opens up when I grab the yellow key, with an instant-kill rocket soldier hiding behind it. If you’re in the same room as this guy you are seconds from death, especially if you turn your back to him and try to leave.

I took his rocket launcher arm off with a lucky shot and then took his life with the next one. So that's one problem sorted out.

I found a yellow garage door for my yellow key back near the start of the level, just to the left of the green door I still need to get open.

Unfortunately I have no idea what to do next as the garage is a dead end. I did stumble across this cool Gatling gun hidden at the back though!

Well I'm stuck.


EVENTUALLY.


Aha, the map revealed a secret room outside the yellow key cage refrigerator, so I blasted the wall open and got inside that pipe I wanted to crouch under earlier! This is the closest the game's come to having a room on top of a room so far.

Aw crap, the pipe led right back to the area with the APC garage! Well that doesn't help much.


TWO AND A HALF MINUTES OF TEDIOUS SEARCHING LATER.


Turns out that there was a door inside the garage just in front of the APC. It kind of blended into the wall so I didn't notice it until I came back with the auto map turned on. Ooops.

Still at least my wanderings got me some health and armour, and I'm about to get me something else as well if I can make this leap. My character's got no height on his jumps but he's got a surprising amount of distance.

The power up gave me invisibility! Just in time for it to be utterly useless to me as I've got the green key now and I'm ready to use the exit lift.


LEVEL 3: THE UNDERGROUND BASE.


Oops, I hope he wasn't using that head.

I like that very 1997 looking desktop PC down there, with its beige case, CRT screen and floppy drive. It's a shame though that the desk top it's sitting on is falling to pieces a little from this angle. Now I know why the game doesn't want me up this high.


SOME FIRST PERSON SHOOTING LATER.


And this is what the game looks like in 320x200! I took a break and forgot to set the res back when I started the game up again, but I think I actually prefer it this way. Not how it looks, but how it keeps a decent frame rate when there's more than one enemy on screen.

There's been plenty of locked doors and mystery switches along the way so far, but for this room they've moved up to timed switches! When I flick the switch behind those glass doors on the left I get 4 seconds to figure out what it's opened and run through it! Fortunately this door makes a noise when it opens and closes so I at least know that it's slammed shut again, and it hasn't sent me on a useless mission to slam my nose into every other locked door I've passed along the way.

A little further on I found a wobbly teleporter beam hidden behind a nuclear missile, so I jumped into it and ended up...


LEVEL 4: THE SARCOPHAGUS PIT.


... burning to death in a pit of sewage.

I ran forward to reach the exit, but a gate slammed down and blocked the route. DEAD.

Next time I tried turning around and going backwards, but there was a wall behind me! DEAD.

Turns out that the wall behind me opens up, but I have to go forward to trigger the gate to come down first, and I have to do it bloody quickly as this acid can strip 100 health away in 6 seconds. To be fair though the wall does have a 200hp box and a row of guns waiting behind it, so even if you start the level without the health to survive first time, you'll be well armed again not long after you respawn.

This level's got some cool looking spiky corridors in it. They're designed more for style than for strafing though I'm afraid, as they make it a pain in the ass to run around in a fight.

No no, not into the acid again! The bloody level designers have put invisible conveyor belts on the bridge to shove me off the side. I'm not all that terrible at first person shooters, but the game's doing a good job of convincing me otherwise. Quicksaves are my only friend in this place.


SOON.


Oh shit I think I've found myself a boss battle.

"Hide for a while"? Hide where, this is a tiny room with no way out!

Eventually I figured out that I could stand behind that pillar on the left and that kept me out of sight until a wall opened up leading to a corridor full of ammo. But the boss is apparently bulletproof so that didn't do me a whole lot of good!

There, I've got the giant fan blade spinning! Now I just need to encourage him to step into it somehow. It sucks me in if I get anywhere near it, but he's just happily stomping around on the other side and no amount of shooting will knock him off balance or shove him backwards. It's no good, I'm going to have to give up... and check a YouTube longplay video.

Turns out I had to lure him around to the side of the fan that sucks instead of blows. Yes I am an idiot, though to be fair there was a fence in the way that I didn't know I could open again. The bloody level designers just had to add a couple of extra unmarked switches to make things more complicated than they had to be.


LEVEL 6: UNDERDUNE.


I got a few levels further, fighting new enemy types, getting new weapons, and killing a whole lot of scorpion things, but I'm giving up on it now because I'm so sick of running laps of this Egyptian labyrinth trying to work out what I just opened. It's like Hexen all over again! Except flatter.


CONCLUSION

Chasm: The Rift isn't Quake, no matter how much it wants to be. It's a 2.5D FPS in disguise, with 90 degree corners, two dimensional mazelike levels and not a whole lot of scripted transformation going on. Well, besides for walls opening up behind you so that enemies get a free shot at your back and the occasional crusher.

Basically what you do in the game is go through a narrow passage with some tiny scorpion things rushing to get below your angle of view, open up a room, kill a couple of enemies inside and hit a switch, then go back out to ram your face into doors until you find what's been opened. Repeat until hopelessly stuck. I can't say it's the most interesting of games.

But I can't say I didn't enjoy playing it either, as it gets a lot of the basics right. I may have had to visit the 'load game' menu more times than I usually like (for reasons that weren't always my fault), but I've played far worse than this. In fact I replayed the first 5 levels to get a better idea of what I think about the game and it's a lot better when you know where to go and what the traps are. You're able to blaze through and focus on the shooting bit rather than the boredom bit. But it becomes even more fun when you turn it off and play something else like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D or Jedi Knight.

I kind of want to give it my prestigious Not Crap award, but I only give them out to games I want to keep playing and I'm pretty sick of this to be honest. The gameplay's competent enough for what it is but the level design's a pain in the ass, with barely enough room to dodge incoming fire and classic "where the fuck do I go now" layouts. Plus I haven't found a single chasm in all the time I've been playing. The game engine can't even render chasms.

So I'm not going to recommend the game, but if you're an old school FPS fan I wouldn't talk you out of trying it either.


Next week on Super Adventures I'll be showing off a game about clowns! The week after that's going to be a clown game as well, so you've got that to look forward to.

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7 comments:

  1. I always liked this one in spite of its flaws. "Competent" is probably the best descriptor for it. I always liked the sound design, and the novelty of it being a poor man's Quake (and the oddity that it really does sorta bridge the gap between Quake and Wolf3D).

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  2. Greyer than a wet afternoon in Wales.

    Just out of interest, can you actually confirm 100% that "you don't play as a zombie lizard jester with a circular power-saw hand."?

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    1. Well I didn't come across any mirrors, but the hero's got that little picture of his head on the HUD (which doesn't get bloodied up at low health, making it pointless) and the zombie lizard jesters show up as an enemy on the later stages.

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    2. You do not in fact play as him. The saw-hand jester lizard is a common enemy in the viking world, which follows egypt world. They just used him as the mascot for some of the box art.

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  3. A classic Quake and/or Doom clone I have never even heard of that looks like mashup mod of Quake and Hexen II.
    Yep, as old fps connoisseur I have to try this out.

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  4. Looks cool. I missed this back in the day. Also... Penumbra Twilight of the Archaic (2015) and Penumbra Necrologue (2014) by Countercurrent games are fantastic Ray and free but you need Amnesia TDD to run them. I hope you review them someday, not as far as Amnesia, best survival horror games ever.

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  5. Great game if you ask me. Iam stuck at the end lv.6 finding the tomb. lol any help would be appreciated. :) I would lov to see this modernized like in starwars old republic. Loads of ideas, would be awesome!

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