William Gibson and great big Chryslers
Chrome is a precious mineral. Although we think of great big Chryslers with tailfins, groovy retro toasters, and old William Gibson short-story collections, the shiny stuff will apparently be worth big bucks in at least one sci-fi version of the future. Fast forward five hundred years and it will be both very hard to find and incredibly valuable. Corporations will be lining up to do anything to acquire and market it. They will kill people. They will spend billions to voyage across the stars. They will willingly eat at Dennyís. Anything.
Chrome the game isnít quite as dear in our dreary non-sci-fi world, but itís still worth a pretty penny. Polish developer Techland has designed an interesting shooter that works both as an unofficial addition to the Unreal series and as a satisfying action game in its own rightÖa valuable thing in the current marketplace, where flashy graphics and six hours of fighting Nazis are supposed to be all you need to hit the bestseller chart. While there are some real drawbacks concerning level design, and an irritating absence of quality control in certain areas, the game is a remarkable effort from a company barely known in North America. It features all the action and varied mission objectives necessary in a contemporary shooter, and even adds unique new tweaks like cyberpunk implants and a splash of strategic and tactical elements like inventory management and terrain that really matters.
In the beginning, though, I couldnít help but compare Chrome to Unreal and its recent successor, Unreal II: The Awakening. The plot is very similar to that featured in Unreal II, and further similarities include the same actor voicing the lead role in each title. Where you played a rough-and-tumble space marshal looking after law and order in Unreal II, here you portray a rough-and-tumble mercenary looking to make a few bucks. Bolt Logan is also a good guy, as evidenced by the prologue mission where he gets betrayed by his partner and the way he takes subsequent assignments that involve fighting bad guys, like space pirates. He also flies around in a spaceship, has a spunky female sidekick much like the boobalicious second-in-command in Unreal II, and visits lots of different planets. So I have to think that Techland is aping the earlier game.
This isnít exactly a bad thing, even if it is awfully derivative. The alien environments here are very well created, giving off the same wondrous feeling of visiting another planet every time you begin a new mission. Part of this is simply the big moons in the sky over most planets, a graphical tweak that the first Unreal introduced to enforce an extraterrestrial mood, and the 14 missions set on huge maps. Part of this involves the obvious sci-fi story ripoffs noted above. Anyway, itís not like Legend invented the space mercenary (Han Solo, anyone?), and Techland has done some nice things with the archetypes here. The plot may be predictable, but Logan has something of a personal crisis that lets you make a big moral choice later in the game, and he never seems like Rambo in Space. Thereís a down-to-earth sensibility about this Joe Average, particularly when heís put in the middle of a war involving major corporations, thatís refreshing in the wake of so many shooters where the lone protagonist seems to win WW II single-handedly.