The Chaos Engine (Renegade) Review | ST Format - Everygamegoing

ST Format

The Chaos Engine
By Renegade
Atari ST

Published in ST Format #48

The Chaos Engine

Disorder and confusion reign supreme in the latest offering from the Bitmap Brothers. Rob Mead tries to make sense of it all...

The Bitmap Brothers' name is synonymous with quality software. They've produced some phenomenal games for the ST - Speedball, Speedball II, Xenon, Xenon II, Magic Pockets, Gods and The Bitmap Kid, so it's no surprise to discover people have been whipping themselves up into a frenzy over what could be the Bitmap's greatest game yet.

The Chaos Engine tells the tale of a dotty inventor who creates a powerful machine only for it to turn on him and unleash the malevolent forces of darkness upon the world. It's your job to hire and guide a pair of trained assassins towards Fortesque Mansion where the engine is buried and destroy it before it threatens the survival of the planet. However, between you and the mansion are hundreds of crazed beings and psychotic machines prepared to do anything to stop you reaching your objective and completing the game.

The Chaos Engine

At the start of the game you're presented with six hired guns to choose from - the Brigand, the Gentleman, the Mercenary, the Navvie, the Preacher and the Thug. Each character has various attributes associated with him, including wisdom, skill, spped and stamina. They also come armed with a wide variety of weapons of differing strengths - see the Characteristics of Chaos box for more information. The key to choosing which pair of chaps to hire is the degree to which they complement each other's abilities - it's no use picking the Navvie and the Thug because of their high stamina and powerful weaponry only to be let down by their lack of speed and mental agility. Stick a more sophisticated character in - like the Gentleman - and you find they get on like a house on fire.

In single-player mode you control one of the chosen pair, while your ST controls the other. How well you and your ST operate as a team is determined by the level of wisdom the ST-controlled player has - a low level of wisdom means he wanders around aimlessly and becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Wisdom levels can be boosted on the Character Attributes screen - see the When The Going Gets Tough box above. In two-player mode, Chaos Engine enables you and a pal to work co-operatively if you're to complete a level - a refreshing change from the adversarial combat found in most other shoot-'em-ups.

The Four Worlds

Once you've chosen your characters, it's time to enter the land of The Chaos Engine. The action takes place over four different worlds - The Forest, The Workshops, Fortesque Mansion and the Cellars, each with a further four sub-levels. Every world has different hazards and opportunities associated with it. The Forest world finds you under attack from rock monsters, leaping rocks and bullet-spitting gun emplacements, while the Workshop world sets you against swarthy giants, lizards and exploding blobs.

The Chaos Engine

Once you get into Fortesque Mansion and the Cellars you find yourself overwhelmed by disembodied hands, boulder-throwing hulks, whirlwinds and berserk robots. As you expect, the nasties get progressively harder to kill the further through the game you get. This is where your hired assassin's weapons, special abilities and collectibles come in.

As you progress through the game your character's various attributes enable him to handle more and more powerful weapons. Specifically, the increases in his skill level enables a character to take advantage of the special weapons at his disposal. For example, the Brigand can use a Repel Monsters weapon, while the Navvie operates a ground mine. There are also various collectibles lying around each level which enable you to boost your team's abilities - for example, food icons increase your stamina, while weapon collectibles increase your firepower.

Other collectibles include treasure - so you can buy power-ups for your team - and quantities of gold or silver keys which create access routes or reveal hidden goodies. However, the most crucial collectible is the Death Zone Token - it saves your game position, so you don't have to start a level again if you die. Finally, you must also ensure you activate the set number of nodes on each level, so you can find the level exit gate.

What's It Like, Then?

The Chaos Engine

Right from the word go, The Chaos Engine looks and plays like a dream. Your characters move slickly and swiftly over the 2D backdrop and there's never a hint of jerkiness in the gameplay. The diagonal moves are sometimes difficult to get the hang of, but this is more likely to be because of your joystick than any unresponsiveness in the eight way scrolling.

The great thing about this game is all the surprises it plays on you. Doors open and close without warning, previously accessible rooms suddenly seal up when you get near them and nasties leap out at you from every conceivable direction. Despite its strictly linear structure, the game never actually repeats itself - there's always something different lurking around the next corner.

The one and two player modes also work really well. When you play with your ST, you can safely send its character into those impossible situations you're too cowardly to get into and then nick all the goodies before it does. However, the best way of ensuring your survival is by forming a team with one of your pals - that way both of you can make the most of each character's strengths and get a lot further through the game than you could on your own - selfishness is rewarded with death.

The Chaos Engine

Everything in The Chaos Engine is controlled largely by joystick, including the various menu screens, so moving your characters around is simply a case of pointing the joystick in the direction you want them to go. However, diagonal moves can be difficult to achieve, although this can be attributed to the quality of the joystick you're using rather than any unresponsiveness in the gameplay. Using your special weapons couldn't be easier - simply hold down the Fire button for a couple of seconds until the icon on the menu bar flashes, then release.

Graphically the game covers the same kind of Victorian/Jules Verne territory explored in Transarctica. The characters and weapons look curiously old-fashioned, lending a familiar, but distant atmosphere to the game - it's a bit like putting on your grandad's old suit and strutting your stuff down the local nightclub - it looks weird, but somehow seems to work. The sprites are large and well animated - especially the creepy dismembered hands, while the backdrops are filled with the kind of incidental detail which turns a good game into a great one. In the Sewer world, for example, water gushes realistically from pipes and splashes into green pools below.

Wherever you find yourself, there's always something happening on-screen - the world of The Chaos Engine feels like a real world, not an ST-generated one.

The Chaos Engine

The sound effects are sparse, but well thought-out with realistic gunfire and explosion effects. There's a slice of sampled noise from rave band Joi at the start of the game, although the remainder consists of chip music bleeps.

If you play on an STE, The Chaos Engine automatically detects its advanced features and runs an enhanced version of the game with faster, smoother scrolling and an increased colour palette. With 1MByte of RAM on board, the game requires fewer disk accesses and you get background screens on the selection menus so it's worthwhile getting that upgrade you always promised yourself.


The Chaos Engine is brilliant. Superb graphics and sound effects combine with incredibly addictive gameplay to produce a playing experience like no other.

The Chaos Engine

You're gripped right from the start and - as the tension mounts - you know there's no way this is going to be a short-term love affair. The Chaos Engine is wild, sprawling and packed with atmosphere, but most of all it's original - a rare thing for a shoot-'em-up to be.

There's no doubt, the Bitmap Brothers have done it again. Quite simply, The Chaos Engine is one of the best shoot-'em-ups you can get your hands on for your ST.


The Chaos Engine is a brilliant, sprawling game which looks and plays like a dream.


It can take a while to get used to the controls, and the game is perilously addictive.

Rob Mead

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