Insert Disk collects The Chaos Engine for the Commodore Amiga.
Today’s retro game review is The Chaos Engine for the Commodore Amiga. This retro gaming classic is one of the Bitmap Brothers titles from their golden age of gaming. The Chaos Engine combined the elements of dungeon crawling that were popular in games such as Gauntlet and combined them with the run ‘n gun style of other games. The result was a well-polished and well-loved Bitmap Brothers classic. With slick graphics, great soundtrack and a fair difficulty curve The Chaos Engine remains a relevant to games even today.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today we’re taking a look back at a genuine class act of a game. A game that had great music, positive reviews and is an absolutely stunning physical collector’s piece. Welcome, to the chaos Engine. Considering I’m a huge fan of the Commodore Amiga it may come as a surprise that this is the first time I’ve revisited a game by the Bitmap Brothers. I’m purposely choosing not to cover the history of the team in this episode as the developer and then later a publisher, really deserves its own episode. To cut a very long story short the Bitmap Brothers were a driving force of high quality games back in the late 80’s and early to mid-90’s. They are still in business but most of their better known works were from this earlier period. Personally the Bitmap Brothers are a bit of an inspiration to me. They were a studio that made me want to learn to create my own games. Almost everything they released I now consider a true classic.
For anyone that ever…
Soaked up the hip-hop soundtrack of the Xenon Series, opened a chest in Cadaver, managed the Brutal Deluxe team to victory in Speedball, emptied your Magic Pockets or blew the world apart in Z. You’ve all been touched by the genius of Bitmap Brothers pixelated magic. The Speedball and Xenon series had already paved the way for a new major release from the team. It came in the form of a top down run and gun known as the Chaos Engine. If I had to sum it up, it shares a lot in common with the Gauntlet series, combined with added elements of reaching checkpoints and a healthy dose of collecting cash and blowing up anything that moves.
The back story explains that a machine experimenting with space time has gone rogue and turned against its inventor. The land fall in to chaos as animals and humans were turned in to ravenous beasts. Here’s where the plot gets fun. To clean up the situation six mercenaries step in to offer their services. The Mercenary, The Brigand, The Gentleman, The Navvie, The Thug, The Preacher. Each have their own set of attributes. Some are slower but more powerful, others have more adept skills with weaponry and speed. At the start of the game you’ll select your mercenary and then hit the open world. As a bonus a second player will also join you to complement the chaos. It’s clear from the very start that the game is in really solid territory. It just works. The weapons are well powered, the action fast paced, the levels well thought out and a really effective pulsing soundtrack. If you spent your youth with a Commodore Amiga you’ll definitely be feeling waves of nostalgia if you haven’t played this one in a while.
One element that really sets the Chaos Engine apart is the collectable nature of the physical release. This wasn’t just a budget release, care and attention was really put in to the product. The box is really solid, it’s constructed of a thick cardboard and feels like you could do some damage with it if you threw it at someone in a rage quit. The cover design is as iconic as it gets, simple, effective and completely in tone with the game. Inside the box you get a whole library of goodies that explain the weight of the package. You’ll get the registration card and two branded floppy game disks. There’s the brilliantly complete manual which is a collectable in itself. Interestingly there’s also a manual addendum sheet. It explains: In order to continue in time-honoured Bitmap Brothers traditions of mucking around with the password system at the last minute. The Chaos Engine now only awards passwords at the end of every world rather than after every equipment screen. Sorry.
It’s great to see notes like these in games. As smooth and polished as the execution of both the game and packaging are there’s a really personal message to explain last minute changes. The game materials then ramp up a notch. You’ll find a mysterious wallet, in side of which you will find 6 character cards and 2 general information cards. These cards act as a quick reference for the player to choose their mercenary. Their attributes of speed, stamina, intelligence, power, weaponry and more are all here at glance. There’s also a helpful play advice card. Of course all of these added extras such as detailed manual, art cards and high quality print box would have eaten in to the profit margins of the studio. The Bitmap Brothers could have just released the game in a smaller box, shorter manual and the game disks. Fans would have been just as happy. That wasn’t the Bitmap Brother’s way though. A strong work ethic of delivering a complete experience to the end user was something that they did very well. Not to sound like too much like someone stuck in the past but I do miss the days when this was more common place. This is not a special edition, this is just the way that the game was taken to market as standard. It’s just an indicator that games were made by people that really cared about the final product. There’s a sense of ownership, even a sense of community that has meant that decades later collectors still care about the studio.
In terms of game play the Chaos Engine is likely to keep fans of the genre coming back for more time and time again. The game is easy enough to pick up as a novice and have that instant gratification of blowing stuff up. It’s also complex enough in its level design to ensure you don’t always have an easy ride. You’ll need a bit of puzzle solving skill to find the keys and locks and navigate the maps but this never overshadows what the game does best. and that’s wholesale carnage.
Games such as Loaded for the 32-bit generation tried to reimagine the genre but no-one ever quite matched what made the Chaos Engine series resonate with gamers. For those of you wondering, yes, there was a Chaos Engine 2. It’s also excellent. If you’re looking to get your hands on an edition of the Chaos Engine you are in luck. Although the Amiga version was the original it was ported to a with range of the of consoles of the day. However, it’s only in the initial Amiga edition that you can find all of the goodies that I’ve covered today. For this Amiga big box release expect to pay up to £20 or around $25. For a genuine Bitmap Brothers collectable I would at least expect this value to hold over time. Releases on other platforms vary quite widely by console. Mint boxed PAL Super Nintendo issues being perhaps the most collectable in the current climate.
Recently this unopened Acorn Archimedes version sold for just £40 here in the UK. I don’t doubt that this buyer just walked away with their retro gaming bargain of the season. For you crazy kids that are in to more modern gaming it’s also worth heading over to http://www.bitmap-brothers.co.uk/ where you can see the latest from the Bitmap Brothers. Interestingly the Chaos Engine is available through Steam in a reimagined enhanced version but also packed with the original graphics as a download only game. I must say it does look even more polished than the original but I’m happy enough with my first edition (even if I do have to swap disks like a card dealer to boot the game up).
Hopefully there’s a few gamers out there still with a love of the Chaos Engine. In general it’s well balanced but challenging in the later stages. There’s the freedom to upgrade your character at regular intervals but never enough customization to overpower the character. You’ll still need good old fashioned skill to complete this one. For those new to the series I think that you’ll really have fun with this one. It’s simple and honest fun. For those that grew up with an Amiga, well you good folks already know how great this game and the rest of the Bitmap Brothers back catalogue is. Until next time, happy collecting.