Review: Chasm – The Rift (16-Bit DOS)

In this review, we go back in time in the first person shooter game Chasm: The Rift. We find out how this DOS game played.

This game was released in 1997.

The story is that you are a soldier. Your mission is to investigate the many attacks conducted by the Timestrikers. Guided by two superiors, you travel not only to different regions, but also to different times trying to stop the Timestrikers at their source.

You start off with a shotgun. While a rather weak weapon, it has unlimited ammo. As you work your way through the game, you’ll gain access to more weapons such as the super shotgun, saw gun, and grenader.

Also helping you out is a few items. The most common item is the small health box. Most of them will replenish 20 health for a maximum of 100 health. The best health box, while rare, will max out your health at 200.

The next most common item pickup is ammo. Each weapon has its own ammo and ammo limit.

Another kind of item you can pick up are armor upgrades. The most common ones will replenish 2 armor. These are mainly dropped by many of the enemies that you can kill (though smaller insect enemies wouldn’t drop these). The helmet item will get your armor to 100. The rare, but most useful armor pickup is the armor jacket. This will max out your armor to 200. Armor generally absorbs some of the damage you take from enemies and the environment.

Weapons are also something you pickup. As soon as you collect your first weapon, that weapon will remain available to you for the entire game. You can accumulate ammo for a weapon you do not have, but you won’t be able to access this ammo until you pick up that weapon. There are no weapon upgrades in this game to make weapons stronger.

There are two other items you can pickup. The first is the reflecting shield. This shield, while temporary, will reflect enemy fire, possibly killing these enemies with their own shots. The other item is the invisibility item. This will make you temporarily invisible to enemies. While this offers a great advantage in combat, it has its limitations. It won’t mask your weapon fire. Enemies will also detect you by walking into them. So, being careful is still critical with this item.

Finally, this game contains keys. While the keys are all varied, they all unlock doors. Unless you are cheating, collecting these keys is mandatory to continue on in the game.

The game consists of 16 levels split over 4 episodes. Each episode takes place in a different location and time. The last level of each episode also contains a boss level.

Impeding your progress is the number of enemies found in every level. Each episode more or less has a completely different set of enemies. Still, the enemies can be divided into categories. These are smaller melee enemies (such as insects and mutants hoping to sting or bash your face in), weaker enemies that utilize an actual weapon, and stronger enemies that shoot powerful weapons and/or take more effort to take down due to better armor. There are a few extra enemies unique to the level that does make things more interesting.

While enemies are generally the most dangerous things to find in an FPS shooter most of the time, in this game, the traps are likely what is going to stop your progress. These include moving spikes, crushing walls, enemy teleportation triggered switches, or even whole rooms that will kill you in some way if you don’t make your escape.

Also found in this game are switches. These switches, besides triggering traps, can unlock doors or open secret doors to allow you to progress through the game. On occasion, you’ll also encounter switches that you shoot. While they don’t occur that often, some of these switches are critical as well.

One thing that does appear, though they only make brief appearances, are teleporters. Most of the earlier ones are there to just teleport you to the next level. A few, however, teleport you from one part of the level to another. These are most often found in the 4th episode.

As mentioned, there are bosses in this game. Each boss is at the end of each episode, so there are 4 bosses in total in this game. This is one element that makes this game a bit more unique. You cannot defeat these enemies simply by shooting them. At best, you can temporarily stun them, but that’s about it. The way you go about defeating these bosses is utilizing the environment in an effort to trap and kill them so you can advance further into the game.

The one thing to keep in mind is the fact that this game is not for those who don’t have a whole lot of experience with FPS game. This one is clearly meant for those who have beaten numerous other FPS games and are looking for a challenge that goes beyond simply being able to blast away your enemies. This game starts off moderately difficult and only proceeds to get more difficult. At some point, this game will get mercilessly difficult well beyond the point where you have to at least be familiar with the level in order to beat it. The game, on the more difficult levels, requires strict memorization and, in a few cases, a little luck just to be able to survive the game.

The only redeeming feature in this game is the save feature. You can save anywhere at any time. This save feature ultimately becomes the one thing that makes this game even remotely possible. You end up saving in steps so you can tackle each puzzle individually. For me, I got to the point where I finally clear out a room with a reasonable amount of health left over, save the game, scout ahead to the next room, die horribly, load the game, make a few attempts, complete the room, save, and repeat. The game becomes that difficult. If people call some of these levels unfair, I completely understand. There are cases where you see a switch you absolutely have to trigger. It’s located in a corner. The second you pull that switch, three powerful enemies warp behind you and instantly corner you. You have no room to strafe, let alone find an escape rout in the heat of the moment. The only way to survive it is if you knew that was going to happen. Forget pulling out the volcano machine gun and blasting away. You may take one out, but by the time you get to the second enemy, you are already almost completely hacked to bits and dead. The game can be quite creative in finding many different ways of figuring out out to rip you to shreds before you even knew what hit you.

Another irritant in this game is the fact that the grenader is quite glitchy at times. Sometimes, this works in your favor when faced with enemies that shoot these weapons at you, but that is about the only redeeming factor in all of this. Often, you’ll encounter scenery with small gaps (especially so in episode 2). You may be tempted to shoot through the gap at the enemy on the other side only to find that the weapon just blew up in your face because the game thinks you simply shot a wall.

Windows are also problematic in this game. This is especially noticeable in episode 3 where you can see enemies through long windows. You can jump up and shoot them, thinking you are able to pick them off easily while conserving ammo. Then, the enemies fire back at you and you discover that they are literally shooting through the wall just below the window.

The ways enemies can also push you around are especially annoying in this game. With the exception of the scorpion bug in the first few levels, every enemy is strong enough to push you around. This may not sound like a big deal at first until you realize that once you are cornered, the chances of your survival are pretty nil. To add to this, if an enemy manages to clip you while on a ledge, the enemy can actually shove you down where it can attack you.

Walls are sometimes glitchy as well. Sometimes, when a wall is thin enough, an enemy can simply attack right through it. This leads to situations where you are trying to decide what weapon you want to use in the next area only to suddenly die for seemingly no reason. This is ridiculously annoying and just makes the game frustrating. There was even an instance or two where an enemy falls just below the floor and gets stuck. Yes, they were all killable, but it was an odd thing to see.

One thing I found particularly annoying in this game (and it’s something some other players found as well), is how much damage you actually take in this game from any hit. With full health, an enemy can take you out in 4 hits. 4 is all that is needed. While that sounds mildly difficult, this is the weakest enemy in the entire game we are talking about. A small scorpion can crawl up to you and stab you four times. If that happens, you are dead. This isn’t even getting into some of the more powerful enemies in the game. I can understand one hit kills from rocket launcher attacks. A small stab? Come on.

One final complaint I have with this game is the limited abilities of looking around. If you are cornered by a scorpion, you’ll quickly realize that you can only look down far enough to shoot at its tail. I would have liked the ability to look further down just so you can more effectively shoot at something that is right in front of your feet.

The storyline was something I was 50/50 on. On the one hand, it’s nice that a developer was able to try and make some sort of comprehensible story out of an FPS game. The fact that it ran throughout the game (though to diminishing effect) was at least commendable. Unfortunately, I found the story to be a bit melodramatic for my tastes. It could have done without the almost cliche “save the world” thing. So, while the storyline wasn’t a bad feature, there were weaknesses found in it.

Having said that, there were complaints I read about that I’ll disagree with. One complaint I read about was the enemy AI. Yes, many enemies have not so bright moments in this game. This includes running into a pit of acid trying to get at me or simply running around in circles trying to figure out how to get over a 6 inch step. Does it look a little silly at times? Yes. However, I don’t think this is a negative attribute of the game. The thing is, this game is plenty difficult as it is. If enemies are running around unable to hit me and staying in the open, I’ll take whatever advantage I can get my hands on. So, I’ll say this was a feature, not a bug.

Another complaint about this game I’ve read about was the fact that this game wasn’t true 3D. Instead, it is merely a 2.5D game. A 2.5D game is essentially a game that looks 3D, but has largely a 2 dimensional play and is not true 3D (hence the name). In this case, there are no sectors sitting over top of sectors to be had in this game. Some thought it was a major detracting feature, but I personally didn’t notice it too much since just about everything else in this game was 3D. As far as I’m concerned, it didn’t affect the gameplay.

Having said all of the above, this game does have some positive aspects to it. For one, there was actually a nice large number of enemies you can encounter. The fact that each episode has its own set was actually a very good thing to see. In most games, each “episode” only adds to the enemy set by a few characters. Contrast it to this game, there are few, if any, enemies that are found in multiple episodes that I noticed.

Some of the weapons found in this game are quite creative. The saw gun was probably the most unique gun in the game. While some of the weapons are pretty standard, there was at least some creativity found in this game with its arsenal.

While a vast majority of the ideas aren’t unique in this game, it did, at least, take concepts from other games that do work. This includes mouse look, shootable switches, and combustible/moveable objects if you shoot them. This did add a lot to the game overall.

Perhaps where this game really shined was detachable limbs. You actually have the ability to shoot the arms and, critically, the head. If you shoot off the limb of an enemy that is holding a gun, the enemy can actually no longer fire at you. If you shoot off both limbs, the enemy can still headbutt you (to annoying effect, actually). The limbs actually stay on the ground as well for added realism. These effects really helped to make this game stand out and was great to see (if gruesome).

Graphically, this game was actually weak. All the colors and textures were quite muddied. I get that the idea is that the environment is dark and creepy, but there are some colors that can be sharp (like lava, acid, or even the blood). Even the shining light and the teleporters seemed washed out. The heat waves, however subtle they were, were nice to see, though. The effects, however, did leave a bit to be desired. For the sake of comparison, this game was released in the same year as Goldeneye 007 and Turok – Dinosaur Hunter. The differences in color alone are night and day. There was an effort to include cut scenes in this game. It wasn’t a bad effort here, though it could have been better. For instance, why not include a specific background for the talking characters instead of including a still from the scenery of the level? One good thing about this game, however, is the fact that virtually everything is 3D. Items, weapon, ammo, and enemies are all 3D. Save for the odd fence here and there, there were very few 2D sprites to be found in this game. For that reason, I am giving this game a passable score.

The audio wasn’t bad. The music (if you can get it running under certain circumstances), was not bad. It added to the ambiance of the whole game, but I can’t say it was all that memorable. The sound effects of the weapons were very nicely done. Some of the enemies (and even your own character dying) were a little iffy, though.

Overall, this game, for me, was hit and miss. The hits included a nice variety of enemies, object physics of enemies, some creativity with the weapons, and an effort to at least include a reasonable storyline in the game. The misses were the mercilessly difficult gameplay, the damage you take from enemies, the unfair traps, the glitches in the environment, the somewhat buggy grenader weapon, and the muddy graphics. This game is definitely for those who find many other FPS games boringly easy and demand a real challenge. While the difficulty option is buried in the options, the difficulty doesn’t affect the difficulty of the environment. If you’re not an avid FPS gamer, you’ll probably find this one to be a frustrating play. So, for all of the above reasons, I would say that there were a lot of better FPS games on the market at the time. This one is to be played if you played the bigger hits already and are bored and want something new to play from this era.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Beat the game.

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 5/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 56%

Special thanks to Signa for recommending this game.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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