“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
― Zadie Smith
As some of you may know, one of the golden rules for journalists writing reviews is “never pass a judgement in the opening paragraph“. Well, I am about to do exactly the opposite, and I have two reasons: First, I’m not a journalist; And second – I’m rather allergic to rules.
That been said, I warn you: I liked StarCrawlers Chimera very much! It was able to satisfy my thirst for dungeon-crawling for quite some time, even if it may lack in content at the moment.
But let’s do things in order.
CHIMERA: SEQUEL OR SPIN-OFF?
Well, this is the first and maybe the most important question to ask. The original StarCrawlers came out in 2017, and had an incredibly positive reception. Over the time, the original game has achieved an almost classic status, due to its unique mix of dungeon-crawling gameplay and “spacepunk” aesthetics. At first glance, Chimera looks just like the first chapter. However, after a few minutes, you might notice at least two big differences between them.
The first difference is somewhat related to the setting, more specifically to the game’s atmosphere. The first chapter reminds of movies like Alien or Terminator: with its dark spaceships, narrow corridors and clouds of fog. The new game is set in a somewhat Shadowrun-ish universe of ruthless corporations and high-rises, full of wide corridors immersed in cold blue light.
The second big difference is that you’ve got no team anymore; You’re all alone this time! But, mind you, this isn’t necessarily a downside. Instead, the developers used this as an opportunity to perfect character customization. As such, the latter is currently one of the strongest features in Chimera.
MY NAME IS NOBODY
So, what is the story of Chimera? First, keep in mind that we are talking about a game still in the early stage of the development. Because of that, we can’t know much about what’ll happen to the narrative in the future. What we do know, at this moment, is that we play as a lone mercenary who must venture into the Chimera BioPharma complex to find the enigmatic Dr. Cerberus and well… that’s it.
At the start of the game, we must create our character. Here we have a wide range of choices, with many options, skills and traits. Just remember that you can only pick 7 skill trees – out of 36 with over 100 abilities! Some focus on melee combat, others on ranged; And there are even those that focus just on special abilities. The choice is rather strategic, as many skills come with drawbacks.
Overall, the creation and the development of your character is deep and complex. Not at all bad, for such a small project! Of course, in the current state, the game still requires some balancing. Some skills are too strong, and others feel completely insignificant. However, I’m sure that, along the way, the developers will be able to fix all those problems.
After character creation, the game presents us with some other useful settings. Those include the difficulty level (one of them is ironically called “2020: just want to crack some skulls because it has been a f*cking day/year“!) and the fearsome permadeath, which you can turn on and off at your leisure.
I’M IN YOUR HEAD!
As we enter the Chimera complex, we find ourselves wandering through wide areas, full of desks and monitors. Everything is so clean and ordered, that you immediately feel the compulsive need to dirty everything around.
By the way, even though the game is a turn-based RPG, with grid-based movement, I can assure you that its “free-look view” is surprisingly immersive. Not exactly Skyrim, but almost as good!
Speaking about the visual style: For an indie project with a limited budget, the game has rather impressive graphics. Far better, even, than what we saw in the first chapter. Obviously, we aren’t talking about a new Cyberpunk 2077. Still, most models are quite detailed, and there are nice visual effects too. Besides, each level has its own theme to it. If the developers manage to keep up the good work, we can certainly expect a winner – at least from this point of view.
Now, about the gameplay: Chimera is presented as a “classic” sci-fi turn-based grid-based dungeon crawler. Like many other games out there, it also has a lot of randomly generated content. However, it doesn’t just randomize its levels, but also other gameplay elements, like enemies and items.
To be honest, I’m not a great fan of randomness. True, it can greatly increase the replayability. However, when it’s not well implemented, this can come at the cost of entertainment. Maybe this is the reason behind the Chimera developers’ decision to implement a “mild” version of this approach. Although the levels are randomly generated – they are constructed of pre-made rooms, with a good variety in designs. This allows the game to preserve coherence and realism, with its areas (e.g. large spaces, offices, labs and storage places) always exactly where they should be.
All in all, the game plays like a classic dungeon crawler – where you must explore, gather loot, and fight your way forward. While your main quest seems to be finding the mysterious Dr. Cerberus (nomen omen, Latins used to say…), you can also receive side-quest along the way, through your ChimeraLink.
Besides, thanks to the game’s many items and skills – each with its pros and cons – the turn-based combat is very engaging. It can also be quite challenging, even at the “normal” difficulty. I actually died quite a lot, during my first playthroughs; Until I began thinking about my every single move (but, you have to consider that I’m not the smartest guy in the world!).
There is also a good variety to the combat in Chimera. This is mostly due to a reasonable number of enemies with different behavior: Some just shoot at you or try to rush you in melee; While others will employ more sophisticated strategies. There are many tricks at your opponents’ disposal: Throwing grenades, spawning other enemies, or stunning you with electrical shots.
STOP THE CHIT-CHAT AND TELL US WHETHER THE GAME IS GOOD OR BAD!
As I said in the introduction, I really enjoyed Chimera – even if it’s still in an early stage of development. It’s true that my positive judgement could be influenced by my “abstinence from dungeon crawlers“. However, even with that, we are undoubtedly in front of a charming and very funny game, realized by people who certainly know how to make a true dungeon crawler.
Well done, Juggernaut Games, well done!