This year was supposed to be filled with sci-fi-themed first-person shooters. But now that titles like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 have slipped to 2004, similarly themed shooters with less name recognition now have a better chance to gain an audience. Chrome is such a game, and it comes as something of a surprise from publisher Strategy First, a company that you wouldn't expect to release this style of game. All that aside, Chrome could have been an excellent shooter if it wasn't held back by some noticeable problems. It has an interesting premise, even if it isn't entirely original, and most of the game can be fun to play. Unfortunately, it won't pose much of a challenge due to deficiencies in the artificial intelligence, and there isn't too much replay value to be found in the game either.
Chrome takes place in the 22nd century. You play as Bolt Logan, a mercenary in an outer space dominated by a few large corporations looking to mine "chrome." You never really find out what chrome is, what it's used for, and why it's so valuable. You never even really find out anything about the world you live in, either. Who governs the system? Where are these corporations based? You only get a little background about Logan in the manual. Still, you can easily follow the game's story because none of these questions are terribly important, and the plot of the game is actually quite good. The game begins with Logan and his partner, who are on a mission. Logan is promptly betrayed and framed by his fellow mercenary, thus setting the stage for a perfect revenge story. Or so you would think. Logan isn't a superhero or someone who has a lot of connections. He's an average joe and does the most sensible thing when caught in a life-threatening situation: he flees. This is what truly sets the stage. Chrome is a game with somewhat believable characters and environments.
Logan begins a new partnership with a woman named Carrie, whom he meets in the first mission, and begins accepting new missions from a small mining company called SPACON. Your first few missions will have you performing simple tasks, like recovering stolen equipment and rescuing hostages. Logan is a businessman who accepts missions after payment is discussed and never lets emotions get in his way. After you save a colony from bandits, things get messy for Logan, however. The two major corporations, CoreTech and Zetrox, will throw Logan into several plot twists before the game's ending. Your character changes disposition, as well, when he crosses paths with his former colleague and lets revenge cloud his judgment.
The story is pretty good, though you may be able to see some of the plot twists coming. Cutscenes progress the story before and after each mission, and the voice work is done quite well. You don't have control of which missions you pick or how your character develops, but, rest assured, the game doesn't make you go from being a mercenary to a goody-two-shoes savior. Ultimately, you get to make such a choice.
However, in Chrome you aren't going to get anywhere with just words, and what kind of mercenary wouldn't be adept at using weapons? Chrome has a fair selection of weapons to choose from. There are pistols, submachine guns, heavy rifles, and even a rocket launcher. As mentioned, Logan isn't a superhero, so he can only carry a limited number of weapons, dictated by his inventory space. You can carry a pistol, a shotgun, and a submachine gun quite easily, but there's no way you'll be able to take more than a pistol and rocket launcher. That's because your accessories take up inventory space, too, so you'll be limited in the amount of ammo, the number of health kits, and the number of various other items you can carry.
There are certain situations where you'll need to use something specific, like the rocket launcher, but you can use any of the weapons you prefer throughout the rest of the game. You can fire a weapon normally, or you can press the right mouse button to look down the weapon's sights and fire more accurately (or you can use the scope with sniper rifles). You choose your weapon loadout prior to each mission, with the heavier weapons becoming unlocked as the game progresses. You may just find yourself only equipping the pistol and sniper rifle, though. Most of the weapons are inaccurate at long ranges, so you'll just sit there firing until a few lucky shots drop the enemy. Wouldn't it be easier just to use a sniper rifle and make a quick headshot? If you're worried about enemies getting close, you can just use the pistol at shorter ranges. It may not have high stopping power, but it has a fast rate of fire and is an accurate weapon. However, you won't be limited by your choice during a mission because you can scavenge enemy bodies for weapons, ammo, and health kits.
Part of what makes the game relatively easy is the fact that enemies carry so much stuff. You hardly ever have to worry about ammo supplies because you can pick up more from enemies you've killed. You especially never have to worry about running out of health kits because you'll find a lot of them. The health kits work slowly by replenishing your health instead of giving you an instant boost. The health increase occurs for quite a while, allowing you to continue healing damage should you get hurt again after your health has reached maximum capacity. You can also use a few health packs at once because the healing rate increases with multiple health packs. So a viable strategy is to use a couple of health packs before a fight and engage multiple enemies at point-blank range, if you know there are more health packs nearby.
The enemies aren't too challenging, either. They respond to sights and sounds just fine. In fact, sneaking up behind some guards and capping them in the back of the head is quite fun. The problem is that the enemies aren't too smart. If you shoot an enemy who's standing yards away from another enemy, most of the time the other guy won't even notice that his friend dropped to the ground. Enemies who take it upon themselves to attack you will most often run straight toward you without team coordination, or they will even stand out in the open. A select few will dodge your fire and seek cover, which is better, but, in a sense, it's unfortunate and frustrating since, clearly, the AI could have been better overall. Perhaps if more enemies were smarter about attacking you, there would have been a greater need to use a variety of weapons instead of relying on the sniper rifle to plug enemies out in the open.
The enemy AI doesn't get too much better if you bump up the difficulty level. Your foes will become much more accurate, though, so you actually will need to err on the side of caution. The very hard difficulty level also takes away your proximity detector. In the other difficulties, you have a detector that shows where enemies are lurking, much like the colonial marines had in the movie Aliens. It sometimes makes the lower difficulties too easy, but the very hard mode can be too challenging for some people--as you might expect. So you'll have to make a tradeoff between breezing through the levels or cursing every time you have to reload. The save system can be slightly frustrating as well. There are four quick-save slots that automatically alternate, so you don't have to worry about getting yourself stuck in a bad situation. The game doesn't automatically save your progress at the beginning of each level, so, unless you manually save your progress, you can't go back to an older mission if you so desire.
Despite all of this, the missions can be quite fun. The objectives and locations are varied, so you won't become bored. There are a few vehicles you can drive, including dune buggy-like cars and mechanized walkers. One of the more memorable missions has you manning the gun in a buggy as you frantically try to escape from an enemy encampment. You get pinned in corners, trapped in alleys, and assaulted from every direction. Another mission forces you to sneak around an enemy base by using stealth and cloaking shields. There are a few boss battles mixed in with the missions, but they aren't too difficult.
The boss battles are probably the only times you'll use most of your implants in the normal difficulty. Logan has seven implants that enhance some of his abilities. For example, one will improve his accuracy, while another hardens his skin. Speed is probably the only real useful ability you'll use consistently because you can move through the terrain a lot faster. Implants do become more useful in the very hard difficulty, but they are sometimes more gimmicky than effective.
Chrome certainly looks very good and runs fine on midrange machines. It is able to render beautiful environments and detailed models. You'll find yourself on tropical islands, dense forests, and frozen landscapes. The environments are complete with lush vegetation and bright sunlight. Actually, these environments are sometimes so large that you may get bored by having to run across so much terrain. The engine also has seamless transitions when you enter buildings. The building design is rather interesting because, unlike most shooters, you can enter almost every room. You'll often find dead ends and storage rooms if you don't read the signs above the doors, though. It seems like the levels were designed around something functional, like an actual blueprint, rather than around what the game designers would want you to do. There really aren't too many ambient sounds, though, so the world that was meant to be lived-in still feels pretty empty. The music tracks are pretty forgettable as well.
Chrome suffers from the same problem as other modern shooters: The more realistic games become, the more noticeable their unrealistic elements tend to stick out. For example, the forests in Chrome look great and really look alive. However, when you move through the dense foliage, you make the same noise as when walking on grass. So if you're trying to sneak up on a guard, you won't actually create sounds like rustling bushes or snapping twigs. Also, you can't interact with most of the environment, which is too bad, considering the game at least looks like a believable setting.
The multiplayer mode could have been really good, but it just doesn't end up being worth the bother. There are several gameplay modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, domination, and assault. The game only ships with a few maps of each game type, and some of these are either replicas of single-player missions or are very small. Even though the game has been out in Europe for a while now, there are hardly any servers running. If you happen to find one, it may be the wrong version number. It seems that the US release is v184.108.40.206, while Europe is stuck on 220.127.116.11, so you can't even join these servers. Even if you're lucky enough to join a server, latency is most likely going to be very bad. That's unfortunate, because when you do manage to join a map, you get a short description that ties it into the Chrome universe. Instead of being something that fleshes out the longevity of the game, Chrome's multiplayer just ends up falling flat.
Chrome is full of surprises, as well as some disappointments. There's a lot going on in the single-player mode that merits a look, but it won't be a completely rewarding experience. The multiplayer mode has a lot of promise, but it's DOA. If you're itching for a new FPS to play, then Chrome would make a good addition to your collection, especially considering how every major sci-fi-themed shooter that was going to be released this holiday season has been pushed back. If you can't bear the thought of playing a shooter that isn't stellar, then you should pass on Chrome.