The Bitmap brothers are two of the most respected software producers of all time. Their releases include such triumphs of programming as Speedball and Magic Pockets and their latest - The Chaos Engine - looks to be no different. I liked the look of The Chaos Engine before I'd even clapped eyes on the game. The adverts in the press sporting the six psychotic looking weirdos sorted that out.
The story behind a game has always been very important to me. If the storyline is weak then the game becomes just that - a game. But if there is a good tale to get your teeth into, you're prompted to think about the game and become more involved in it that you usually would.
CE is set in a world similar to our own - not exactly free from trouble and strife. In a castle near to a town there lives a mad professor type. As per usual the experiments he is conducting are far from your average medical research.
Even so there is nothing that the locals can do, mainly because they are too scared and none of the experiments have really done any damage until now.
Everything went quiet at the castle for a while and the professor was rumoured to be dead. Some people in the surrounding area did know what was going on and the talk of something called the Chaos Engine, a weapon of massive proportions.
People in the village started being attacked by horrible mutations and eventually began to realise that it was the Chaos Engine which was warping space and time causing these freaks of nature. The machine, naturally, had to be stopped before it destroyed the world.
The players must battle through the four worlds, each of which contain four levels. To shut down the Chaos Engine you have to choose two reckless psychopaths to go in and kill hundreds of dribblling beasties.
Of course there are loads of people lining up to do this sort of job, but you have a shortlist of six nutters from all walks of life - a preacher, a navvy, a mercenary, a gentleman and a thug. Each character has different attributes and a special power (this is starting to sound like Street Fighter 2) but more about that later. Every two levels there is a shop. This is where you choose your local friendly psychopath. When you select one of the volunteers, measurement bars show health, intelligence, skill and speed.
On these measurement bars is shown the potential maximum of that particular aspect and the actual level. The potential level of the navvy's intelligence, for instance, will be relative low but this can be increased by "buying" him some intelligence when you have the option to go shopping.
Also on this shopping screen are facilities to buy extra lives, increase any of your attributes and buy other special skills like monster repellent and the like.
After you have chosen the character you want you have to choose one for the computer, assuming that you aren't playing with a friend. The amount of intelligence the character you choose has dictates how much he gets involved. If he is relatively thick then he will tend just to protect himself and ignore you. However, as the game wears on he will begin to get a little more involved.
You view the game from a slightly offset plan view. To progress through the level you must find silver sets of keys which will open doors and passageways. Just because there is a natural progression through the game with the existence of the silver keys, this doesn't mean it becomes uninteresting. Gold keys open up different sections on the games revealing money and special powers.
At the end of the level you are shown an appraisal screen which tells you how much of the level you discovered, what percentage of the gold you picked up and who did the most work. How much you do on your particular level decides how much of the treasure you get.
There are all manner of beasties from trolls to gigantic hands which follow you around but on the whole they are pretty easy to dispatch. Remember to hang around after you have bumped them off, though, because they always leave a bit of money lying around.
Graphically Chaos Engine is pretty flawless - no matter what all the other magazines say about it looking typically Bitmap-
If you leave your partner well behind he will materialise next to you after a couple of seconds. This doesn't apply if he is a human character - if he wands off-screen, you have to wait for him to catch up.
To get through the levels, not only do you have to find all the silver keys ut you have to activate the nodes. These are large monolith-
You have to activate all of these to get the exit open to the next level. On later levels there is more than one exit so it can get a little confusing, but this doesn't detract from the fun.