Chasm: The Rift is the first game from Ukrainian developers Action Forms, who are perhaps best known for the still-sold Carnivores series. With a budget price-point and a style that so obviously compares to Quake, can it stand up to that seminal shooter? Or does it deserve the relative obscurity it has ultimately received?
Released a year after Quake and a few short months before its sequel, Chasm certainly shows its budget origins in the graphics department. It's by no means a slouch, but the custom 2.5D engine can't match the true polygonal environments of id's masterpiece. While the enemies and some details such as trees are rendered in 3D, the levels are displayed in a similar way to the original Doom. It's a very complex technique to explain so let's just say it uses 2D imagery to simulate a 3D environment.
That being said, the way Chasm uses this method is very commendable. At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking this actually uses the Quake engine it's so similar. Well, the first clue that tells us this isn't the case is that levels are structured on a single plane. Sure, there are slopes, stairs and the like, but a walkway can never be placed on top of another. The levels are mostly steeped in a real-world plausibility (or as much as the engine can imply). Where the environments of Doom and Quake are obviously structured to be playable levels first and foremost, Chasm sees you wondering towns, power plants and tombs complete with decent weather effects. It's no true open virtual world - and exploration is not a focus here - but for 1997 I'd say it was pretty good.
There are moments which do take you out of the ambience and it mainly concerns the gameplay itself. Every single trope of the first-person shooter up until that point is included, be it key-cards, hidden rooms are some deviously placed enemies. Yet it's not entirely a bullet-fest. There are many moments where using your own brain matter is just as important as covering walls with your enemies'. For example, the first of such moments happens within the first few minutes. All of the doors appear to be stubbornly locked, leaving you at an impasse. One of the doors is slightly ajar giving you just enough sight to peep through and see the door switch. Shoot it to continue.
The bosses also require a bit of strategy to defeat. Some aren't even defeated by bullets alone, but by a keen observation of environmental hazards. It shakes things up quite nicely and jolts your brain out of the shooty-shooty mode these types of games are often limited to.
While there's a lot to commend about Chasm, it also has many flaws. For starters, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Booting up the game goes straight to the rolling demo; no main menu, no splash screens, no opening cinematic - nothing. You start the game by pressing ESC to get to an in-game menu in a similar fashion to Doom or Duke Nukem 3D. Before each level, a couple of badly acted characters stare directly at you and prattle on about what little story there is in the game (as if it matters). You could say it's stripped away any non-essential fluff but in truth it makes it look a little amateurish and unfinished which is at odds with most of the actual game.
The other major negative is the AI of the enemies. They have none. While the goons are varied and well designed, they've been given the IQ of a rabid insect. They shoot (or run if they're without a gun) straight for you if you enter their line of sight. Leave their viewpoint and it's as if you had never existed. A lot of them also have an inane inability to cross doorways meaning the next room will more than likely be safe. It appears the time that could've been spent on AI went on their character models and animation. The polygonal enemies are well designed (if a little drab) and even look better than Quake's menagerie of monsters. Add to that the ability to shoot off limbs - a first for FPS's at the time - and you have an enemy roster equivalent of the cast of TOWIE (all looks, no brains). It takes a fair few hits to down an enemy no matter where they're struck, perhaps as a counter measure to their actions which ups the difficulty. No matter what body part is severed, it appears to make no difference to how he acts. He'll still come for you. It's a nice gimmick nevertheless.
So is Chasm: The Rift worth your time? I'd say it's a resounding 'yes', even back in 1997. Looking back, it's an interesting and still playable stepping stone to the refined genre behemoth of today. It's a well-structured and atmospheric game limited only slightly by its small budget and an unfortunately timed release that meant its reputation was destroyed by its competition. It looked dated back then, but all retro games do to current gamers. It's a criticism that becomes less relevant as time goes by.
As of October 2022, Chasm: The Rift is now available to buy on Steam.
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Chasm: The Rift is © Action Forms Ltd
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me