Chaser Walkthrough

* Cutscene Level

Acknowledgments

Chaser Review ★★★★★

Oh, how I wanted to like Chaser. Or, to put a finer point on it: oh, how I wanted to give Chaser a good score. In fact, I did enjoy large segments of the game, as Chaser certainly starts out strong.

The title character, John Chaser, awakens on a space station with no memory and in a heap of trouble. The station is being attacked - with Chaser as the primary target - and his narrow escape results in continued flight from danger on the unfriendly city below. Or as the box explains, his fight through hell. One of the game's best moments follows as large chunks of the just-destroyed station can be seen careening into the towering skyscrapers above.

The effect of these massive structures' height and the brilliant balls of flame smashing into them is wonderful. Other Uber Moments include a sequence where the space station is beginning to break up, causing a corridor to do an Irwin Allenesque tip to the side worthy of a Shelley Winters fly-by. These scripted sequences in Chaser's early game are frequent enough to add interest without becoming intrusive. The techno soundtrack is good enough to make you pause and listen, provided you are a fan of the genre. Stable code (the game never crashed on my system) and a high framerate added to my optimism that this title would be a winner.

Such optimism was not to be sustained. Chaser soon devolves into a repetitious corridor-crawl where the tired tedium of die/quickload/kill/quicksave becomes the core gameplay. Samey levels make it difficult to determine if you are advancing through the map or retracing your steps. Frustratingly difficult mission objectives and contorted jumping puzzles interrupt the tedium but serve largely as temptation to quit the game altogether. Worst of all is an inability to jump higher than your shoelaces. Ladders are often a death sentence. Invisible barriers frequently prevent exploration.

The game's weapons do provide a decent tactical challenge. The weapons are varied enough that the right choice will aid in your advance, and snipers will enjoy Chaser's substantial sniping level which takes place atop a lighthouse. Despite these strengths, the weapons themselves, modeled on real-world guns, are rather dull for this type of game. Plasma-spewing gauntlet of death is more my thinking for a sci-fi assault. Instead you are armed with a MAC 10.

The UI is a mixed bag, too. Quickloads and quicksaves are mercifully fast (you will die a lot), but there is no compass to aid in navigation. The HUD has no labels to identify items until they are obtained, and rotating through weapons with the scroll wheel is slow because the animations must play before the next weapon can be selected. A "bullet time" feature (dubbed "adrenaline mode" here) provides a nice assist for those tougher enemies.

Criticism of a game's AI has always seemed a bit pointless to me because there isn't any AI worthy of the name "Artificial Intelligence." At least none that I have witnessed. Nevertheless, the AI in Chaser is especially bad. Enemies often remain motionless as you slowly chip away at their health from around a corner. The voice acting of the main character is consistent with the AI - really, really dumb.

The characters' dialogue is humorless and the story becomes incomprehensible by game's end. Chaser doesn't know who he is, neither do we, and there is no reason to care. Plot twists of the friend-turned-foe variety abound, adding both to the pointlessness of bonding with the characters and to the sense of the game's unoriginality. Absurd plot details confound believability, as when gang members attack Chaser - because his space station escape pod crashed into their turf. Think Space Shuttle astronauts having to fight their way through South Central LA. Not even.

So, I'm left with the sad duty of scoring this title with an honest two stars. If you've already played everything in the near-future sci-fi FPS genre, really love playing as a sniper, highly value stable code, find a strong framerate essential, but don't care about story quality or creative level design, then Chaser might be worth your time. Everyone else should pick up one of today's other excellent titles.

- Last Update 6/14/08