One thing I’ve been trying to do this year is to tackle my long, burgeoning backlog. I’m limiting this to mostly current generation stuff like the 360, PS3, PC and Wii. But only because I wasn’t really up to digging out my Xbox to play Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and or play through the gauntlet that is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. If I tried to finish everything I owned, I’d be left with a task that would be impossible to finish in my lifetime.
I’ve been making a slight dent at that backlog in recent months, tackling Borderlands and all its DLC, Saints Row: The Third (which is good timing considering Saints Row IV hits later this year), F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Lots of shootybangs, basically.
So it makes sense my most recent completion was this little-known budget FPS called Chaser. A first-person shooter that was developed by Slovakian developer Cauldron and published by JoWood Productions in 2004. I had heard of the game in the past thanks to owning a PC Gamer demo disc that had a demo of the game’s multiplayer. While the demo wasn’t amazing by any stretch, it did seem like an interesting shooter that I might play someday.
Fast forward to 2012, when I see the game on a Steam daily deal for $2.50, which got reduced even further to $1.24. I have a soft spot for bargains, and when a game hits that “$2 or less” threshold, it’s an instant impulse purchase. Then it sat on my Steam backlog until very recently, when I had decided to try it shortly after beating Redneck Rampage, wanting an “old-school” FPS fix of a different kind.
You play as John Chaser, an amnesiac stuck on a spaceship being hunted down, with no memories of what happened prior. You eventually make it to Earth and become acquaintances with members of “The Family,” as you try to do missions to find out who you are and what happened. Eventually you find the truth, befriend a few people along the way, and find out you were doing a mission on Mars. So you get your ass to Mars, go to the Hilton and flash the Brubaker ID at the desk.
Okay, I know a Total Recall reference sounds dumb here, but Cauldron clearly was looking at the Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic for inspiration: From the amnesiac main character, to befriending people who would later be enemies, being chased through a spaceport, even having to go through murky Mars caves to find the truth. This is the closest we’ll get to a “Total Recall: The Video Game” that isn’t that terrible NES game from many years ago.
Let’s be honest here, shooting a bunch of dudes is better than punching similar-looking monsters and dodging glory holes.
The game is not perfect, though. Being made by a game studio where English is not their primary language, there’s that weird case of “eurojank” to Chaser‘s design. Voice acting is a very mixed bag, leading to awkward line deliveries and unusual word usage. Subtitles don’t always match what’s spoken. Jumping physics seemed a bit off, where I was more likely to miss a platform than land on it. There are many points where it wasn’t clear where I needed to go next, which lead me to walking around a lot and frequently backtracking, among other problems that are common to unpolished shooters.
Chaser is not just a rough unpolished game, it’s also very difficult. On Normal difficulty, it didn’t take much for the bad guys to whittle my full health and armor down to zero pretty quick. Enemies occasionally drop medkits and armor, but I ended up losing that as quickly as I got it. This even applies to fall damage — later stages have you dropping down on pipes, taking off small bits of your health as you descend, making it pretty easy to miss a jump and easily crater, forcing you to quick save repeatedly.
Lately I’ve been trying to avoid playing games on harder difficulties, but Chaser was incredibly difficult to play on Normal, leaving me to go through the remaining 2/3s of the game on Easy just to get through it. Even on Easy difficulty, some of the later stages still kicked my ass, with enemies having grenade launchers that one shot me even with near-full health and armor. The quick save key became my best friend.
Even the game’s ending is especially bleak. I won’t spoil it, but I was honestly expecting a much different outcome, and playing a shooter with a downer ending, especially the long journey it took me to get there, is disappointing. I would preferred a choice, like in Singularity, another game I played fairly recently.
That isn’t to say this game is bad per se, it’s just difficult because it was clearly made in a different mindset than most first-person shooters today. Chaser hearkens back to the late ’90s-early 2000s era of first-person shooter design: reflexes, speed, exploration, backtracking, rationing items, and quick saving often to make progress. The average player today would likely have a very difficult time playing through Chaser if they’re used to the Call of Duty style of game play.
Despite that challenge, I enjoyed the varied level design — from space stations, to cities, to the Russian tundra, even the redness of Mars looked pretty neat. The soundtrack was good, reminding of MOD tracker music that was popular in Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex. There’s a bit of charm to Chaser that I had a soft spot for, despite it’s ridiculous length and punishing difficulty.
It’s on Steam at an affordable price of $5, though it does go on sale occasionally. It’s worth checking out if you want some early 2000s eurojank in your life. Just remember that it’s gonna kick your ass, but stick with it. Despite that eurojank, it’s not a bad shooter. I’ve played worse shooters out there. Much worse.
Some screenshots taken from the Steam store page and Mobygames.
(Update 8/20/2019: Updated the post with a few changes here and there.)