This game started on a great premise by immediately focusing the plot on the mystery surrounding our character John Chaser. We don't know who he is, but neither does he as he has amnesia. The game begins aboard the starship Majestica with Chaser starting to awaken in the medical bay. It's obvious something serious has transpired, but there is no time to dwell on it as he is targeted for extinction by a unit of unidentified forces. The ship itself is also about to come apart. This first level gets your adrenaline pumping as Chaser must find a weapon and fight his way to an escape pod before the ship explodes. After he does barely escape and his pod crash lands on Earth, Chaser starts to experience memory flashes and sets about to discover what happened to him. Strangely, everywhere he goes, people seem to know who he is except him.
That this game dwindled off into the land of obscurity is quite a mystery to me as it's a pretty good FPS and all I can do is try to guess why it's not much in demand even though many games of this era are still relatively popular. For one thing, the story starts off with a bang raising your expectations pretty high, but unfortunately goes downhill from there and ends with a fizzle. That, in itself, creates a greater disappointment as the game becomes more about the mechanical elements of gameplay and less about the story. It also goes in some pretty odd directions from fighting street gangs, to being implanted by an explosive chip that forces Chaser to work for the Mafia, to escaping from the Chinese Mafia, and to helping Russian mobsters. Finally we get to Mars where he joins a gang of rebels protesting a company called Marscorp, which is headed up by a man named Longwood, who has gained too much power and wealth by tying up the mining rights. He is also suspected of engaging in some shady technology that allows him to clone people and breed an army of enforcers. Cut scenes between levels explain how he gets involved with all of these groups.
It's not that there isn't lots of story, it's just that once we know early on that Chaser wants to return to Mars we get no more memory fragments or advancement on what happened to him previously. Each level then becomes more about him accomplishing the other character's goals so that he in turn can find passage. Granted these missions get him closer to his goal, but this was very disappointing as my hopes were raised on the continuing development of a good mystery that would slowly reveal itself over time.
Aside from that, the graphics and gameplay are good enough to save it and still rank it with a good score. As a FPS, it has all the right elements. There's lots off gunplay, puzzle solving and exploration as the levels are huge. There's also a nice variety in level design. One thing you can't complain about is the length of this game, particularly at the price you can get it at. The environments are very detailed and interesting and the only thing that suffers is full body renditions, which seems to be a mark of many games of this age. The voice acting is also a tad on the crude side.
The choice of weapons is among one of the very good things about this game and each level offers new ones to try out. You may lose some and gain others during level changes. These are rendered very realistically and feel and sound like the real deal. The only complaint here is that changing them out is a little slow. The AI's are a little bit of a mixed bag as they range from dumb to quite expert. You will get killed a lot until you figure out a good strategy for killing them. The game could have used a lean feature, but alas it doesn't have one. You do have adrenaline mode, but it's not a sure way of killing the enemy. It does, however, allow you to see the rocket coming at you right before you die. LOL! At a certain point, you also gain night vision goggles.
One of the things that will likely frustrate you is Chaser's jumping abilities, or lack of them I should say. On visual walkthroughs.com, the author is quoted as saying he couldn't jump higher than his shoelaces and I laughed like crazy because it's so true. Learning how to jump is quite an art. There is a training tutorial at the beginning of the game and it probably took me thirty tries to make what looked like a simple jump. One tip is to double click to get a little more distance. The other irritation is ladders. I hate ladders and there are lots of them. Going up is no problem, but getting back down will have you either losing health or plunging to your death.
My mark of a good FPS is fast movement and easy controls and Chaser has both. The loading screens are also a dream as they are very quick during quick save and load so that you can get right back to getting killed. Even between levels loading times are not too bad.
For some reason, I found the last level of this game to be slightly not up to par although I can't really pinpoint why. It's just a feeling. Perhaps because it relies heavily on the night vision goggles. Whereas they were an occasional nice feature to have, in the last level they are an always on feature. On the whole, though, there really isn't much to complain about and I still don't know why this game isn't more popular. As a FPS fan, I really enjoyed it and thought it quite good. Many of the later games of this genre use similar gameplay, mechanics, and level design techniques. It may just get down to a lack of marketing and support on the developers and publisher's part.
The general consensus is that Chaser could have been one of the greats with a little more polish. If you like old-school shooters, you really can't go wrong with this game at the price. It has its flaws, but there are much, much worse.