After awakening with amnesia in a space station's medical laboratory, John Chaser is soon running for his life from mysterious soldiers while dealing with the possible destruction of the space station. Though playing as a protagonist who can't remember a thing while being hunted on a space station about to explode may sound like something you've heard before, Chaser's many divergent plotlines separate it from the rest of the pack.
Chaser starts with a bang and the action rarely slows down until the end. After leaving the space station, Chaser crashes his escape pod in the slums of a city on Earth, does battle with the local gang, gets mixed up with the Mafia, swaps gunfire with the Yakuza, and helps out a shifty smuggler, all in an effort to get himself to Mars. Players can catch their breath between levels, as lengthy cut-scenes are inserted between almost every level. While the cut-scenes are typically the only place you'll see development of the storyline, they really are a bit too long.
Many levels in the first half of the game follow a straightforward path and feature constant gun battles. Levels set within city blocks often have streets and alleyways blocked off, which makes choosing a direction not too difficult. Inside buildings there may be a large number of doors, but almost all of them are locked, so users often just seek out the single open door on each floor. Some outdoor sections also contain invisible walls that make a level appear larger than it is. The gun battles are fun, though, so you likely won't worry about being too confined.
Enemy artificial intelligence isn't brilliant, but computer opponents are accurate shots. They usually group together, and almost always have a location advantage. There are also a few instances where enemies will magically spawn behind you. Chaser can get torn up quickly when going against multiple enemies, so players can't just run headfirst into every battle. Without any option to peek around corners, users must fire then find some cover. While some enemies will also duck and hide behind objects, other will just stand in place waiting for you to show yourself. One advantage that users do have over the computer is the ability to slow down the action by activating Adrenaline mode, which is exactly like Max Payne's "Bullet Time."
As the setting shifts to Mars in the latter half of the game, the action keeps up, with Chaser once again running for his life -- this time from spaceport security. After completing the first few Mars levels things get a bit more complicated, especially in the last area of the game, as many passages needed to progress are small and blend in with the background (especially when using night vision in areas that feature Martian rocks). There are also jumps that can be a challenge to make, which may leave a number of players wondering if not only can they make the jump, but also if they are they going in the right direction?
A challenge isn't a bad thing, of course, but the frustration with jumping comes from more than just having to make a difficult jump. One problem with Chaser is that there are too many objects that players can get stuck between or inside, either while jumping between them or dropping on them from above. The only way to get unstuck is to reload from the last saved game. Fortunately, the game can be saved at any time via the Quick Save key.
The Quick Save key keeps the game from becoming overly difficult. Players will die often, due to the accurate enemy gunfire and the jumping mishaps. Along with the Quick Save feature, the developers were generous in the number of health packs and armor they spread throughout each level (on "Normal" difficulty, at least). Aside from the pure run-and-shoot levels, there are a few other types, all of which are quite a bit easier. There is a standard "stealth" level, where you are not allowed to be seen, a "sniper" level, where you protect a truck while viewing the action from a lighthouse, and another level that places John Chaser inside an exoskeleton suit that he must use to guard a doorway. One other unusual level has players maneuvering underwater through a ship graveyard.
Chaser's biggest weakness is the last area of the game. It isn't as exciting as the other levels, featuring too much precision jumping and fights with automated weapon systems. Plus, it comes to a conclusion after a run through a small maze. After all of the great action, there really needs to be a large firefight, with NPC rebels by your side, before the final cut-scene runs. As is, the final level feels abrupt, not allowing the surprising end to have as much of an impact as it should. However, despite some frustrating moments and the somewhat disappointing later levels, Chaser is an enjoyable shooter with an interesting story that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Graphics: Most of the levels look good -- perfect for the futuristic setting. Few background items are interactive though -- mostly just explosive barrels. Some areas could use some cleaning up, as there are noticeable seams and jagged surfaces, and player models in cut-scenes that are too square.
Sound: Music often sets the mood right before gunfire breaks out and there is a lot of dialog, most of it in the cut-scenes. Some of the voice acting is fine, while some of it is spoken without emotion. Enemies shout various lines, but many voices are the same, as are some of the lines, from different enemies. Gangs in the slums of a city on Earth shouldn't have the same voice and speaking lines as a soldier on Mars.
Enjoyment: Chaser is paced well through much of the game with interesting levels set on two planets. The action is exciting, featuring a balanced mix of real world and fictional firearms. However, a few events that occur in the cut-scenes still don't make sense, even after you see the ending.
Replay Value: On the normal difficulty setting Chaser takes around 18-20 hours to complete. There is a multi-player mode with basic game types: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Shocktroops (won by completing an objective or elminating all of the enemies). However, at the time of the game's release there are only about a dozen game servers running and very few users populating those servers.
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