Chaos Strikes Back review by Al Giovetti
By Al Giovetti
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Chaos Strikes Back
Combining arcade action with role-playing effectively enough to satisfy enthusiasts in both camps, Dungeon Master redefined the role-playing game. Many gamers call it the greatest computer RPG of all time, and I think this one-of-a-kind game is clearly the best.
In Chaos Strikes Back, the original game system is continued in a quest packed with the finest heads-up-display (first person perspective), real-time role-playing. The award-winning artwork was carried over, and there are ten levels of beautiful graphics, bone-chilling action and the same kinds of puzzles that we love to hate.
Graphics and Animation are very detailed, lending a realistic "you are there" feel. Encounter squares and menu options are replaced by click-on buttons and actual pictures of the monsters as you approach them, or they approach you, from a distance. To run, you merely turn your character around and move away from the monster.
Items and spells actually fly through the air and can be dodged. And objects stay put when you drop them on the floor or place them on shelves, another realistic touch. You can run to the other side of a door and close it on the pursuing monster, so doors can be very defensive tools. When you damage a monster, it runs from you, and you can pursue it to finish it off, or it can go away rest up and return to threaten you when healed.
In Dungeon Master you led a quest to reunite the White Wizard with his other half, the Lord of Chaos, to form the Grey Lord (your master and mentor). In the sequel, the aging Grey Lord has been severely beaten and Lord Chaos is one again separated from the Grey Lord. Lord Order, the White Wizard half of Grey Lord's being, still resides within him.
Before Lord Chaos was fused (at the conclusion of Dungeon Master), he built a secret dungeon under the valley of Viborg and created a Forge of Fulya to produce for large chunks of corbum. The corbum's power shakes the foundations of the Grey Lord's castle and will eventually kill him. Hidden in a pillar surrounded by a sea of death pits, each piece can be accessed only by completing four dangeous mazes based upon the four ways: Warrior, Ninja, Wizard and Priest. The only way to destroy the corbum is to find the Ful Ya Pit and throw it in.
The plot is an old one, but the presentation is spectacular. I have always preferred the first-person, heads-up display to any other because, when done correctly, it yields the most true-to-life gaming experience. Chaos has that feel.
The screen presentation is exactly the same as in Dungeon Master, split into several panels. A heads-up display of the dungeon, treasures, and inhabitants takes up two-thirds of the display, with a message panel below. Above the display, bar graphs reflect your character's Health, Stamina and Man (magic) levels.
To the right are the keys for movement, weapon-handling, and spellcasting. The right-hand display has three basic views: Spellcasting (an enlarged book of spells), a paper-doll-like inventory (the hands, chest, shield and backpack) and a display showing which way characters face in combat.
The mouse delivers the precision and speed required for making selections during a real-time encounter. It's also important for doors with buttons to push, items to pick up and put down, and small action controls that must be clicked on with the mouse-controlled-hand. "Hand" manipulation makes all this more realistic.
I prefer a keyboard-based interface with optional mouse or joystick control, but the mouse-based interface was not a detriment to my play. (The only active keys on the key board are insert, clr-home and arrow cursor keys that are used for movement.)
Separate Character inventory and statistics screens can be activated to show food, treasure, clothing, armor, and weapons, which is worn or carried in a semi-paper doll fashion on a silhouette of the character. The characters have two hands, a pouch for holding small objects, a quiver for holding arrows or rocks for slings, and a second hand weapon such as a sword.
The backpack can hold up to seventeen objects of any size. One the body can be worn boots, mail stockings, breast plate and other clothing. Each character has an eye for reading and examining objects, and a mouth for eating and drinking.
Weight is a factor. If a character doesn't have enough undamaged Strength and Stamina to carry his load, he becomes exhausted and hungry and moves slower. Stronger characters can carry chest to increase their carrying capacity. Bar graphs change color to show how much food and water are left. Run low, and you might starve to death or die of thirst. Many types of food are available, including edible monsters that you either hack up or broal and prepare into transportable edibel items such as Shreeker Slices and Worm Rounds.
Chaos Strikes Back vs Dungeon Master
Chaos is smaller than Dungeon Master, with only ten levels instead of fourteen. The size of twelve levels in Dungeon Master is 31 x 31 squares, while the smallest level is 17 x 18 squares, and Chaos levels vary from 22 x 28 to 30 x 30.
Puzzles are similar in both games. There are physical puzzles involving wall switches, floor pressure plates, invisable doors (or insubstantial walls), pits, teleporters, spell generators, locked doors with keys, and teleporters with gem slots.
But the puzzles in Chaos are more difficult. In addition to using the correct keys in one case, you must also press multiple buttons on different levels. Keys disappear when used in some locks; in others, they don't, so you can use them again.
Many pits and switches can be activated only by monster, not extra party equipment or rubble. (You must maneuber the monster onto the switch to activate it.) Monsters are more powerful, more intelligent and less predictable, making the old Dungeon Master box-step less efficient and more dangerous.
The locations of artifacts and items are randomized when the game is loaded, making some almost impossible to find, even with hints. Some walls are also shuffled, making it difficult to follow directions and maps made by other players (but I have heard of people who completed it without maping at all.
One of the greatest aspects of the game system is that it lets you train all four charactes in all four types of skills: Warror, Ninja, Wizard and Priest. They can advance in levels in four character classes (Fighter, Ninja, Priest, and Wizard) that have various advantages in the quest.
The Ninja has a unique ability to throw most anything found in dungeons from treasure to food. (It would be neat to pick up a small monster and throw it at a larger one, but alas, you cannot do so.) Each level has six grades of proficiency, from Neophyte to Master level has six sub-levels -- "lo, um, on, ee, pal an dmon" -- which are, incidentally, the first or power syllable of all spells for Priests and Wizards.
One great difference between Chaos and RPGs from the old days is that levels can be gained by practice, so a character does not have to kill monsters to progress to hight levels. He can simply cast spells or thow things, or instance. This takes some of the hack and slash edge of the game and resolves one of my pet peeves: practice has its place in real life, so why not in role-playing games?
Spells are composed by reciting spell syllables or words in the proper order, which is done by selecting symbols from the corresponding panel. Potions require the character to have an empty flask in his hands, and he must drink the potions with his mouth.
A spell is formed with two to four syllables or words from the four different levels of six spell syllables or words. Each syllable has a cost in "mana" points, and each character can attain up to 36 such points. Mana is restored by resting, sleeping, or the mere passage of time. Lack of mana can be overcome with magical items found later in the quest.
All classes can use magic. Any spell can be given six increasingly powerful levels of power, but the caster's power determines its effect. Spellcasting rewards the caster with experience points and a variety of other benefits such as increasing the mana acquisition and higher levels of Priest an Wizard proficiency.
The World of Chaos Strikes Back
Everything takes place in Lord Chaos' dungeon fortress, where four major paths or ways correspond to the four arts: Ku (Fighter), Ros (Ninja), Dain (Priest) and Neta (Wizard). These levels are not initially interconnected and you must run the gauntlet from one end of each of these sub-mazes to the other until all four pieces of corbum are destroyed. There are several distinct locations, from the Entrance Room to the Diabolical Demon Director Room and the Ful Ya Pit.
One of the most important qualities in the enjoyment of an RPG is riding the cutting edge of excitement, somewhere between life and death. The suspense of "will I survive?" has to be ever present on the adventurer's mind. Dungeon Master keeps you on that cutting edge--in battle after battle, 'round corner after corner, you will find yourself poised for action that switches from running away to wading into the fray with spells blazing.
Combat is fast and furious, and the monsters are awesome, another step forward in computer gaming. There are only 25 different types, but they are all tough and beautiful. Standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out with monsters can be fatal. Hit and run tactics are often the only thing that works. Some situations require careful and thoughtful planning, and things that worked in Dungeon Master will not necessarily work here.
The Utility Disk
This disk includes separate two-level maze so players without characters from Dungeon Master can select party members. (Many people say the characters here are far too weak to survive in Chaos, which forced them to import Dungeon Master character that were masters in at least one discipline.) It also has the Hint Oracle, which provides hints ranging from the sufficiently vague to the very detailed.
Almost a game in itself, the Portrait Painter, lets you edit your characters' pictures and names. My children spent hours creating their own picture gallery of characters. Faster than Light has given us a small window into the life of the computer artist, and by allowing us to customize characters has provided a means of establishing a greater bond with our alter egos.
The game does not support a hard disk, which is a major flaw. At least you can now use two floppy drives rather than only one as with Dungeon Master. And there is still no way to communicate with intelligent beings like Men and Dragons. Alternatives to the "hack an slash" and "kill or be killed" plot line should be found. Several games, such as Ultima VI and Bloodwych, offer more substantial stories as well as adequate ways of talking with non-player characters. Unfortunately, they lack some of Chaos' innovations.
Assuming that everyone who bought Chaos would already own Dungeon Master, Faster Than Light (FTL) omitted the excellent detailed 26-page manual. You get 23 pages, nine of which are devoted to the Utility Disk with Chaos. And only one page offers instructions on how to actually play the game.
An addictive game, Chaos will tear 40-60 hours out of your life. You will be totally immersed in the quest, which will draw you out of the home or office. But you will enjoy it more if you play Dungeon Master first.
Cheats, Hints, Walkthrough
JournalistsA vetran adventurer, Al Giovetti has playtested games for Muse Software, SSI, and SirTech and has written for Current Notes and other magazines. A CPA in Maryland, he owns Computer Wizards and part of Joppa Computer Products there, and goes questing regularly on ST, MSDOS and Apple Computers.
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