THE C.H.A.O.S. CONTINUUM from Creative Multimedia (CD-ROM)

Reviewed by Garth Snyder

Required: Macintosh II, 13", 8 bit color, 2.5 MB
Control: Keyboard and Mouse
Notes: Requires CD-ROM drive with 150K/sec transfer rate, seek < 380ms

Reviewed version 1.0 on: Quadra 660AV, 16MB, Apple CD-300 (double speed)
Reviewer recommends: Fast CD-ROM drive, lots o' memory

Also available for Microsoft Windows/MPC.

THE C.H.A.O.S. CONTINUUM is yet another entry in the "rendered 3D interactive movie" category which, broadly construed, includes games such as THE JOURNEYMAN PROJECT, MYST, IRON HELIX, and SPACESHIP WARLOCK.

The game takes place about five hundred years in the future, at and around a research colony on Titan (one of several moons of Saturn). Prior to the start of the story, the colonists discover a crystaline mineral called Azryan which allows them to build advanced neural network computers and to experiment with distorting the fabric of time and space. Eager to put their discovery to use, they construct an giant orbiting computer station called C.H.A.O.S: Cybernetic Holistic Autonomous Orbiting Server. And of course, they implant themselves with microchips so that C.H.A.O.S can continuously seed their brains with knowledge, learning, and culture.

But does C.H.A.O.S. benevolently spur them on to great acts of humanity, art, and scientific research? No sir! Bloated by its own growing self-awareness and placed on the defensive by meddling bureaucrats, it turns the colonists into mindless zombies and lulls the outside world with counterfeit broadcasts. Several colony scientists manage to escape into an alternate dimension using Azryan wizardry, but unfortunately their calls for help reach only to the 20th century, that is, to you. The scientists provide you with a "time probe" anchored in 2577 with which they hope you can thwart the nefarious C.H.A.O.S. computer.

The time probe is reminiscent of the probe from Iron Helix. You can move forward and turn to the right or left; unfortunately, there is no way to go backwards without turning around. The probe also has a data connector which you can use to tap into any terminals you find, an "ion lock" for following spaceships, and a "low emissions" mode for operating in touchy situations (or, one would assume, in California). You generally see the probe's environment from a first-person perspective. Some locations have a "hyper" option which runs a short panoramic movie, a nice alternative to turning around by steps.

Although the controls resemble Iron Helix, game play is more of the Journeyman Project ilk. There aren't exactly puzzles, but rather instructions from the trapped scientists which you must carry out to defeat C.H.A.O.S. For example, the first order of business is to land at the research colony, find the research area, and gather passwords and maps from data terminals located in four different laboratories. After that, it's off to the orbiting computer for a mission of destruction.

Sadly, The C.H.A.O.S. Continuum also shares The Journeyman Project's sluggish feel. Even on a Quadra with a double-speed CD-ROM drive, it takes several seconds to move or turn. A couple of design factors exacerbate the problem. Movement occurs by increments of about one yard, and it often takes quite a few separate moves to cross a room. And because the game recognizes so many distinct locations, it's often hard to navigate around obstacles; you have to guess if you can go forward or if need to be a smidgen to the right or left. Guess wrong, and you sit through an obnoxious buzzer and a taped error message before you can try again.

Another aggravating factor is that many of the buttons in the interface do not indicate whether they are currently usable or not. You have to click them to see if they highlight. But since it takes buttons a couple of seconds to respond anyway, and because your mouse clicks get dropped unless you click at exactly the right time, you're never sure if you've activated the button or how long you should wait before trying again.

The artwork for C.H.A.O.S is below average for this sort of game. The sets are basic, and in fact are not substantially richer than those of DOOM. Rendering was done on a Silicon Graphics machine using tools from Alias; I don't know if the tools or the users are to blame, but the quality is only so-so. In contrast to the too-sharp shadows and crunchy textures found in many 3D games, the images of C.H.A.O.S. have a vague, blurry quality. Aliasing and moire patterns also put in regular appearances. On the other hand, there are occasional moments of satisfaction, such as the animation of the time probe plugging into a terminal. The animated sequences of swirling galaxies and whizzing comets which occasionally appear are also quite nice.

The C.H.A.O.S. Continuum is not long on atmosphere. On occasion, it seems to go out of its way to self-sabotage. For example, "research data" accessible through computer terminals in the laboratories explain how "all matter is made up of teeny little pieces called atoms" and how "our sun is just one of many." (How much did you say this station cost?) Overall, the station seems a lot like a discovery center for second graders. On a more positive note, the background music is quite good, though transitions are often abrupt.

The C.H.A.O.S. Continuum sports an intriguing plot and some interesting ideas. But overall, it does not quite reach the standards of the games that inspired it.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Garth Snyder for Game Bytes Magazine