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Chasm Review: The battle below

Although Chasm offers a rare process-generated spin on the classic Metroid formula, the demanding battle is the one that makes it stand out from the ocean of imitators. Monsters roam among the twisted constraints of an underground army, demanding failure and weak will to survive. And it's in the deadly dance to throw up zombies, shaking rats and all kinds of crazy crawlies that Chasm really shines. The strained fighting gives you sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate that keeps you glued to the action while daring you even deeper underground.

As a recruitment stationed in a castle far away from civilization, Chasm claims in a larger world just waiting to be explored. But after you are chosen to investigate the disturbances of a small village, it will soon become clear that the world's mysteries must take a backseat to more urgent dangers. The journals that were revealed as you explore the mines, temples and jungles explain why evil beings are called, but the story does not give an interesting spin on a ho-hum premise. The little narrative appeal comes from the inhabitants you escape from the cages. Every person has his own story to tell and the honor for you to run, which gives you some to fight for exterminating enemies.

Fortunately, battle is the most important drawing of Chasm. Melee is the predominant attack menu, and there is a wide range of swords, hamsters, knives and other short-lived weapons to find through the adventure. Fighting is dependent on timing, as you must learn each enemy's behavior to get a chance to survive. Wights, for example, lung on you with a sweeping sword that can be avoided if you know what to expect but can spell your judgment if you are too slow.

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When you learn the enemy's attack patterns, patience is often your toughest enemy. Monsters can take half a dozen strikes or more to die, but only one mistake can let the life bar to nothing. Trying to get another hit on a jumping grilla or boomerang throwing skeleton can be a suicide strategy. Enemies exploit even the slightest mistake, and there is no worse feeling than to die because of your own hubris.

The first half of Chasm gives a tough but fair challenge that is as intense as you expect when there are demons and ghosts fresher. Save points are few and far between. Trekking across unknown places with little health makes each meeting painful in all the right ways. Even a bat – among the weakest of all video game foes – can hit terror in the heart. I died several times than I would like to admit from a swarm of flies when I became angry that no insect would be the end of me. When I crossed a junction, I would put my nose in the middle of each new area, hoping that a rescue spot would relieve me from the pressure. More often than not, there was an undead knight or green slime as expected, and I had to call my nerves while preparing for another life or death stroke.

Bosses pose a formidable threat in the early hours when you are still weak and inexperienced. As regular enemies, bosses telegraph every attack, so it's up to you if you take too many hits. The first boss in the game – a Wendigo who can be invisible and clinging to the roof – killed me over and over before I master his attack pattern. Finally, successful victory was incredibly satisfactory because I knew I was winning and I was eager to see what new challenges were expected.

Chasm emphasizes "vania" in Metroidvania, giving you experience points for every enemy you kill. There are dozens of weapons to collect and share equipment to carry, so you can tailor your character to your style. Like slow but powerful weapons? Take an ax Prefer more with less selection? Go for a practical knife instead. In addition to melee weapons, there are also varied items that use your magic meter. Hurl the shuriken on distant enemies or throw a Molotov cocktail to put the ground off. None of these are as satisfying to use as a sword, but they can be powerful handsome when things get overwhelming and you need some help to develop. There are also food and potions to fill up if you feel acutely affected by a particular enemy.

All these extra elements lead to an unbalanced difficulty as you get deeper into the adventure. Although I never sat out, I often pulled back and killed every enemy I met when I directed the underground world. By the end of the game I was so powerful and enemies were so easy, I never felt threatened. I defeated the last two bosses on my first try, which would have seemed impossible after I fought for several hours to kill the early bosses. The last boss was so easy it was almost comical. I just stood under it and never bothered to avoid his many attacks when I hacked and slashed at the glowing weak spot. I had more than half of my health again when it died and felt the sad pain that only an anti-climax can produce while I looked at the credits.

I started again from the beginning, this time at hard times, but could not. I did not find the sweet place I had hoped for. Hard as you expect is difficult. Not unnecessarily, or even unfair, but more difficult than I could have experienced as a beginner. It is a shame that the difficulty balance is so steep. I enjoyed playing every second of this game, even when I killed enemies without sweating, mainly because the combat mechanics are so satisfying. But I missed the crazy danger from the beginning when I could die at any time.

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The randomly generated levels also sound more impressive in theory than they are in practice. Yes, the layouts in the scenes were different the second and the third time I started, but not so different that it felt like a whole new adventure – the rooms were basically the same, only placed in slightly different positions. This is not to say that the random element is bad – my first time through was so funny that any extra incentive to start over is appreciated – it's just not as noticeable a change as I hoped.

I am a sucker for beautiful pixel art, and Chasm fails with rich backgrounds and reputable enemies. These are the small details that make all the difference. The rats eagerly await their tails like their sprint against you, so they seem almost cute as you hit them hard on the back with a hammer. The human medium Meatman is as gross as his name implies and it almost felt like a mercy kill when I hit it through his muscular heart with my sword. Each new creature brought their own glories, so I was glad that there are almost 90 different enemies to meet and kill.

Even when the errors are obvious, Chasm is a well-designed adventure, and in more than 12 hours I used to play through my first time, I was lost only once. It's a big bonus in a genre where to get lost, is often the most frustrating aspect. Even after I finished, I was eager to move on to a new adventure to test my fighting environment against harder enemies and find the one secret that failed me for the first time. It's a pity that the randomization of the world is not so big of an agreement and the challenge can be better balanced, but the amazing match and visual design ensure your time with Chasm will be used well.

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