by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
In this modern age of indie developers, with their Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter campaigns, it’s easy to get swept up in the positive atmosphere. I’d be the first person to admit to having a soft spot for indie games, and I applaud the ‘do-it-ourselves’ spirit that has given us so many excellent new games on shoestring budgets.
The problem with DIY is that it is easy to bite off more than you can chew. You might knock up a new bookshelf in an afternoon, and you might even feel proud about having made it, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it falls to pieces as soon as you put any books on it. In much the same way, Chaos Domain feels like developers Holy Warp drank a few beers, played a bit of Contra, then bellowed “I can do that, easy!” and stumbled off to find their toolbox.
DON’T RUN – IT’S DANGEROUS
Billed as a run and gun platformer, Chaos Domain is aimed squarely at the neo-retro market, where old-school gameplay meets modern graphics. The marketing blurb quickly drops the names of Contra, Abuse, and Doom Troopers as key inspirations, but by inviting comparison between itself and critically acclaimed classics, the game is doing itself no favours from the off.
Playing, inexplicably, as a futuristic version of an Egyptian god, you run and jump your way through a huge spaceship, eviscerating peculiar-looking aliens and occasionally fighting a boss. The story is clearly not the game’s strong point, but sadly neither is gameplay. From the off, the controls feel floaty and imprecise – I played using the standard keyboard controls, as the gamepad mapping does not support using a D-pad. When combined with the poor visibility afforded by the camera, it’s extremely easy to leap straight into enemies with no way to react properly.
You start the game with a standard rifle which fires painfully slowly. It can be upgraded using the cash you earn from completing a level, but it is absurdly underpowered to begin with, so expect to replay the first three or four levels repeatedly before you have the firepower to get any further without tearing your hair out. In the style of the classics, you can obtain weapon power-ups which are, broadly, great fun to use. Sadly, you come across them only once or twice per level.
The end result of all this is that you are forced to spend the entire game playing extremely cautiously; creeping forwards until the next enemy appears at the edge of the screen, firing at them while staying out of range, and then continuing.
When a game advertises itself as a ‘run and gun’ shooter, I tend to expect certain things from the gameplay: running and gunning. The fact that Chaos Domain manages to fail at both of these things from the outset does not exactly inspire confidence in the remainder of the game. The remainder is riddled with issues – hit-boxes a mile wide, physics glitches that propel bodies comically through the air, and boss fights that will have you either falling asleep at your keyboard or wanting to throw it out of the nearest window.
INSERT LEVEL DESIGN HERE
Running on the Unreal engine, the game looks quite nice in places. Sadly, given that the entire game takes place on a huge spaceship, the environments are all made of generic space-metal. Metal walls, metal floors, metal crates, metal doors. It’s uninspiring stuff, and the level design is no better, with every single level in the game being made of metal platforms arranged in peculiar patterns. It’s almost as if the level design was an afterthought – something thrown together at the last minute to give the player some choices about which platform they should jump to next. Not that it matters, since most of the enemies don’t actually move. It actually looks like Holy Warp spent more time on the level backdrops than they did on the playable areas.
With all that said, the audio is very fitting. From the music to the sound effects, it’s just as bland and dull as the rest of the game, so perhaps some credit is due for consistency. Anyone who has played Contra can probably remember the music from stage 1 even if they haven’t played it for years, but I can’t remember a single music track from Chaos Domain and I was playing it five minutes ago.
As a fan of the plucky indie underdog, I really wanted this game to be a hidden gem. I wanted to be able to scratch the surface of uninspired graphics and audio, and uncover a shining example of gameplay over presentation. Unfortunately, the more I tried to uncover, the more obvious it was that the insipidity was far more than just skin deep; this game is painfully average to the core.
Parts seem to have been lifted wholesale from a variety of unrelated sources, from Egyptian mythology to the Alien franchise, and cobbled together in the vague hope that something interesting comes out. Like a failed DIY project, the game feels disjointed – a true amateur effort, but not in the good way. The storyline doesn’t exist, the graphics are shoddy, the game plays badly, and the level design might as well have been randomly generated.
On paper, Chaos Domain has all of the elements needed to make a great run and gun platformer, but in practice it utterly disappoints with every one.
It didn't crash. Two-player co-op mode might be good for a laugh.
Painfully dull in every respect. Two-player co-op mode means inflicting this game on a 'friend'.