Replay Value: 4.1
When I first learned about Chaotic: Shadow Warriors, I heard something about “card battling,” at which I winced and almost prayed I’d never see the game in the mail. However, upon starting the game, I quickly realized that such a description was erroneous and this adventure blended action/adventure elements with a turn-based role-playing mechanic. Theoretically, I should love such a concept, especially if the RPG element was deep enough and the platforming and action elements were physically sound. Sadly, the erratic and unreliable nature of the combat coupled with the horrendous platforming and action aspects caused me to play with a growing level of disgust. Being a huge fan of the now-dead turn-based system in RPGs, I really thought I could get into this, regardless of any drawbacks. But the drawbacks are so severe; there just aren’t much in the way of redeeming qualities. Oh, and a note to the devs: would you please stop using the damn motion controls when they’re unnecessary?
When I first laid eyes on Chaotic, I was actually quite encouraged. The colorful, vivid environment, full of beautifully flowering plants and other wildlife, really boosted my expectations. The first comparison that popped into my head involved Kameo, a pretty launch title for the Xbox 360. …of course, the latter title is far more visually accomplished, as the lack of clarity, jarring frame rate, and ridiculous pop-in put a serious crimp in Chaotic’s presentation. Some of the characters and creatures boast decent design but the backdrops became increasingly less impressive (the forest, where you start, is the best of the environments), and the combat graphics are just plain old-fashioned. I do appreciate the effort put towards an appealing atmosphere but it falls well short of the goal. This needed several more coats of polish and a definite overhaul concerning solidarity; either the bush is there or it isn’t. Pick one.
Detestably frenetic voiceovers mar the mediocre sound; I just can’t understand why every last character in a kid-oriented game has to sound frantic, overly excited, and just plain hyper. Do stop feeding the increasing attention deficit issues, game makers. The soundtrack and sound effects suffer from definite balance issues – when I have to reach for the remote several times during battle, that isn’t a good sign – and although the effects are okay, the music is repetitive and even annoying. The cut-scenes are always an octave higher in volume than the actual gameplay, and for some bizarre reason, particular skills and abilities during battle come out muffled. I did enjoy some of the simpler effects when running around, like the fiery burst of the Pyroblaster and the ensuing injured squeak of the insects attacking me. There’s also a mystical, natural quality included in each locale, as the ambient background effects prove helpful. But beyond that, much like the graphics, the sound needed a lot more work.
Like I hinted at in the intro, the basic premise of the game held a lot of promise. Not only is there what appears to be a fairly intricate and well-designed turn-based RPG mechanic, there’s also some standard exploration gameplay. Tom is the main character, and he will run around somewhat sizable environments, capable of jumping over obstacles and gaps and always equipped with his handy Pyroblaster, with which he roasts oncoming pests. This is only a sidebar to the core gameplay, though, which kicks in whenever you encounter a real battle. This is when the RPG aspect makes itself known and you bring the holographic images of your acquired creatures into play. I suppose in this way it can be considered a “card” game but it certainly doesn’t play like one. It plays like an old-school Final Fantasy, only it’s nowhere near as well done or as enjoyable. But let’s start with the issues pertaining to the simple platforming.
I really haven’t seen this level of incompetence since the last generation…early in the last generation. The frame rate is horrible and jerks constantly; Tom once froze in place after landing a jump (with one leg extended behind him in a halted run pose), and the collision detection between his body and the environmental objects is equally terrible, as you’ll never really know what you can jump on. The only remotely good aspect of the entire ordeal is the Pyroblaster, which works relatively well. All you do is hold down the R2 button when an enemy is targeted and release after a few seconds, thereby roasting the offending creature. The less amount of time you hold down R2, the less powerful the blast will be. Tom will even turn and run away from nasties that are chasing him, all the while firing behind him. This doesn’t work too bad, although the troublesome camera almost always poses problems during such encounters. The bottom line is that just wandering about became a chore; I really felt like I was playing an early PS2 title.
But of course, I suppose all this is forgivable if the main focus of the gameplay remains fun and engaging. Well, that doesn’t really happen despite the seemingly solid foundation, where characters each have stats like Bravery, Power, and Speed, Tribe and Elemental affiliations, and a wide variety of equippable enhancements. You can assemble your party however you see fit before a battle, and attach any number of cool items you’ve snagged when wandering about the landscape. There are abilities and “Mugic” (no, that’s not a typo) skills that will bolster your strength during combat so all in all, it sounds pretty damn fun. Unfortunately, the addition of those ridiculous motion sensing maneuvers takes away from the strategy a bit, even though it’s not particularly difficult. When performing an action, either on offense or defense (you can Scan or Block on defense), you will need to execute a variety of motions with your controller, and it just doesn’t fit. I don’t like it in this format and furthermore, it’s hardly reliable.
Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. And it felt downright silly to be flinging the controller all over the place during battle. On top of which, none of it really seemed to have a drastic impact on the challenge, and even some of the upgrades you can snag don’t seem to do much. This led to a great deal of repetitiveness in the combat and because of the major lack of solidity and refinement, it stopped being fun as soon as I became comfortable with the mechanic. Combine this with the bad platforming, irritating sound, boring and almost senseless story, and “faux” depth that is misleading due to the inherent surface intricacy. It just boils down to doing much of the same things over and over, especially because there aren’t many different types of enemies, and finally, the balance issues in battle really start to chafe. Chaotic: Shadow Warriors is one of those games that boasted an excellent concept but bungled most of the implementation, so all we end up with are dashed expectations. It could’ve been unique and fun but instead, it’s just downright disappointing.