Mention stabbing someone in the back and Andy Smith's eyes light up. He's erm, 'mad' for it. Or something.
Total competition, that's what this is all about. You versus the other person (who could be the computer if you so desire) in a frantic battle to reach each level's objectives. None of this co-operation nonsense. Just stab 'em in the back and stab 'em good. They're going to do the same to you as soon as they get the chance, so get in there first.
But back to the basics. You and a mate (or the computer) each control one of four characters who must run around a small area, attempting to collect things and complete small puzzles in order to reveal the exit.
Let's take the characters first. The main differences between them are their speed and their level of intelligence. Some will rush around the place getting to all the objects before you, while others are more concerned with trudging around desperately trying to kill you at each and every opportunity.
Basically, which ever one you pick as your adversary should dictate what kind of game you're going to have. The differences between the characters though is not marked as we'd hoped, certainly in the levels at least, it seems to make very little difference who you choose as your opponent.
Obey the Baron
Onto the game tasks. Before each level starts you're told what you have to achieve in order to open the exit. These tasks range from pushing things from one place to another (never very far), to throwing switches, to destroying specific baddies. Points are awarded of your opponent and it's these points around which the game resolves.
In order to progress through the game you have to amass more points on each level than your opponent. Points are won by destroying baddies (including your opponent) and completing tasks. Points are lost when you are killed. And you will often be killed as all it takes is a couple of shots to polish you off. Even if your enemy has run out of ammo (each character is armed with a different weapons, but none of the weapons can fire more than a couple of shots before running out) if they manage to stand next to you and smack you in the mouth a couple of times you'll bite the dust.
The good thing about dying is that you're never dead for long and you can be dead as many times as you like during a level – all you're losing is points. The very bad thing about dying is that you drop all the items you've collected through the level and when they're on the floor your enemy can run over 'em and scoop 'em up. And yes, this does mean that in two player mode especially you can spend bloody ages stuck in the same room with your opponent as you each take it in turns killing and being killed over one key!
The two player mode is significantly different in that you pick a set number of levels to play (4, 8, 12 or 16) and these levels are selected from each of the game's three worlds: Medieval, Aztec and Chaos. Although you're still competing, you don't have to restart a level if your opponent reaches the exit with more points than you (which obviously means you do have to restart a level in one player mode), you simply move onto the next level. The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the set number of levels. It's much easier for your chosen character to be 'upgraded' as well and this means you can take more hits and your weapon can fire more shots before running out.
In one player mode it's a laff. It's not a rip-roaring belter of a gaming experience, but it's satisfying. In two player mode however, things are much better. Not simply because you're playing against an unpredictable human, but because the game works better. In one player mode you'll be lamenting the fact that when you kill your enemy they only stay dead for a few short seconds - not usually long enough to gain a decent advantage over them. This doesn't matter quite so much in two player mode because the emphasis is slightly different and you get much more of a chance to do the old fave sneaky things (standing next to the exit when you know your opponent has the key and blowing 'em away just as they get to you!).
Double the fun
In one play mode Chaos Engine is very, very tough. That means plenty of challenge for you, but unfortunately I found the enjoyment dissipating sooner than I expected, simply because the computer seemed to have way too much of an unfair advantage. Two player mode? Great fun.
Amiga Format, Issue 90, January 1997, p.p.38-39