30th Sep 2003 | 15:25
Where I come from, the practice of glue-sniffing, or deliberately concentrating and inhaling domestic solvents for the purpose of getting high, is commonly known as 'chroming'. Chrome, on the other hand, is a tactical first-person shooter from Poland, which has nothing to do with huffing paint till your eyes bleed, but it does have one or two things in common with its sleazy homonym.
You see, while chroming is clearly not an ideal fix, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a fold of Peruvian flake, and a whole lot more intense than a round of beers with your mates. And that's what Chrome is all about. It's not a Class-A shooter by any means, but it works hard to make up for it with a unique repertoire of gun-toting action and a street price of just 20. And it might just get the job done.
Take A Deep Breath
The game kicks off in deep space. You are Bolt Logan, a tough-as-nails mercenary and bounty hunter, on a mission to steal some data from a fortified installation with your heavy-handed partner, Hertz. Touching down on the planet Zorg (yes, Zorg), the first mission sets the pattern for the rest of the game, with a mixture of expansive outdoor environments calculated for long-distance sniping, and claustrophobic indoor sections marked by narrow metallic corridors. It's an uneasy start to the game, as you're hastily introduced to mechanics such as searching bodies, managing your inventory and setting waypoints on a pop-up map. The free-roaming gameplay is initially curtailed by the presence of your annoying partner, but fortunately things soon improve and the game settles in to some serious planet-hopping action.
The plot of the game is pure space opera - evil mining corporations, sinister galactic plots, a love/hate romance between a hardhearted rogue and his sharp-tongued companion. After a narrow escape on Zorg, it's a year-long time lapse, returning to find a tougher, more experienced Logan with a fresh new set of cybernetic implants and a score to settle. It's silly sci-fi stuff, but sets the scene nicely for what is to follow.
Judging from the build of Chrome we've been playing (which is around 90 per cent complete), a few things are immediately apparent. For starters, the broad outdoor environments are clearly going to be this game's strong suit. The freedom to roam across wide-open grasslands, mountains and forests is fantastic, allowing you to approach each target from any angle and with any tactic in mind. The sniper rifle is a hefty one, and combines with the huge draw distance to produce some magnificent headshots, while the long-range combat helps to disguise some fairly basic AI patterns. The Chrome engine is also much better at rendering stunning natural environments - gorgeous sunsets and magnificent tropical forests - than it is man-made ones. And on top of all this, outside is where you get to drive the many vehicles in the game, which range from combat buggies to scout walkers to twitchy hover-speeders.
The basic gung-ho action is also spiced up by the inclusion of a Deus Ex-style implant system that offers you a variety of cyber-enhanced special abilities, such as improved aiming, recoil reduction, speed, strength and heat vision. These must be used sparingly, especially in the early stages, as you risk overloading your neural system, which results in a temporary dizziness/blackout effect. However, using your cyborg skills is essential, and the various abilities add a satisfying layer of interest and strategy to the FPS gameplay.
Inventory management too is all-important. You've got a limited number of inventory slots for weapons and items - only one primary weapon and one handgun can generally be carried, along with an assortment of grenades, health packs and ammo. You have to search dead bodies to keep yourself in supplies, with a basic Diablo-style drag-and-drop system used to organize things. Clearly, you'll drop your standard Uzi, machine gun or shotgun in favour of a sniper rifle the first chance you get, but you'll have to ditch it again for a more appropriate weapon before you enter a building.
Stuck On Glue
Having played several of the near-complete levels, we've been increasingly entertained by Chrome. The indoor bits are currently a bit tedious, but the free-roaming outdoor sections are shaping up excellently. The variety of gameplay also can't be faulted - in addition to the indoor/outdoor dynamic, you've got a smattering of on-rails sequences, vehicles and boss battles, as well as a generous selection of mission objectives. Certainly the whole thing has a very low-budget feel to it - the cut-scenes are bad, the voice acting laughable - but there's plenty of satisfying action to compensate. If the developers can only beef up the repetitive indoor gameplay before the game ships, we could be looking at some hospital-grade stuff here and not just a quick back-alley wheeze on a spray can. Check out the exclusive Chrome demo on our cover discs and judge for yourself.