Soldiers of Fortune

aka: The Chaos Engine
Moby ID: 933

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 78% (based on 58 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.7 out of 5 (based on 87 ratings with 7 reviews)

A Steam-powered, Victorian Age Run-n-gun.

The Good
"Soldiers of Fortune"/"The Chaos Engine", is top-view run-and-gun style shooter - a game along the lines of "Gauntlet". Immediately, players will notice that this game has quite a dark mood - the introductory sequence speaks of the corruption of "time and matter", as well as a descending "cloud of chaos". Our enemy in this title is the eccentrically titled "Baron Fortesque", the self-claimed grand-inventor of the games title: The Chaos Engine. So, the stakes are very high from the outset of this largely unknown shooter.

Who would you send on this mission? Who could possibly take down the Baron and his Chaos Engine and make it out alive? Well, thankfully, the player is given a fairly generous choice of protagonists. Suitably designed (we are in the Victorian Era, by the way) and well-imaged sprites of a band of mercenaries are the game's heroes. A choice of two of the following is available:

The Mercenary. The Brigand. The Gentleman. The Navvie. The Thug. The Scientist.

So, for a 16-bit third-party shooter, this was an impressive choice of characters.

Players are then thrown into the deep-end. The first level, a muddy swamp riddled with strange looking ogres and giant toads, is quite a challenge. You will notice that the fire-power you are equipped with, although quite weak, shows some pretty good potential, (in fact, if you save your money well, the shop, which can be visited every two levels, will let you power-up your gun very extensively). This is one of the main draw-cards of the game - the collection of money from killing enemies is great to collect for buying various upgrades for your character. It's always a hard decision as to what to spend your cash on. What's more important, more lives, or health/weapon upgrades? Aside from this, the core gameplay of powering through the levels, busting up the "Nodes" (electrically charged piston-type dealies that power-up the exit), is exciting enough.

The overall mood of the game is very unusual. As mentioned, it is fairly gloomy, and the washed-out and dark palettes reinforce a kind of decaying atmosphere - the busted up walls and columns throughout the game add to this sense of ruin. (Be sure to shoot at anything that looks suspicious, as there are many hidden items and shortcuts). Oh, and treasures, too.

Adding to the stand-out mood is the great (albeit repetitive) soundtrack. The music (by Richard Joseph), adds that futuristic touch to the game, which come to think of it, is quite anachronistic. The digital voice samples like "Food!", and "Player Saved!" are nice touches, nevertheless it is not quite clear who is announcing these events. This effect seemed more like a "Super Smash T.V." addition rather than a Victorian-age game's - but anyway.

The Bad
The eight-direction movement of the gameplay works OK at first - lining up your enemies and letting rip is fairly satisfying. I did notice however that during the later levels, things got a bit cramped. And the collision-detection is quite unforgiving. Getting around those corners AND wiping out the hordes of groaning monster-guys can be, well, near impossible. And, in retrospect, the general blocky-like control of the characters does seem a little crude. You are sometimes forced to move forward to turn, and that gets frustrating.

One thing that should be noted is that this game gets very difficult. Power-up all you want my friend, but it won't do much good against these insanely bullet-resistant enemies - they really do spawn much too suddenly for my tastes. Walking along a corridor innocently enough? Too bad. Let's have a mob of enemies spawn super-fast, just to have them fly at you much quicker than your rate of fire can handle. Not to mention the sluggish speed of most of your mercenaries.

The Bottom Line
At the end of a good session with this game, I feel that there is something missing in it's design. I must say that it is difficult to control, and the gameplay is quite repetitive. It's best points are in it's mood - the drab scenery (strangely enough) and progressive soundtrack really do stand out in my mind. The enemy content of the game is really quite extensive, tough and menacing. Beginners may find themselves switching this one off - it's not a very kid-friendly game, but as an adult now, I see it's aesthetic as something quite unique.

SNES · by So Hai (261) · 2008

The Bitmaps' latest classic in 16 bits.

The Good
The Bitmap Brothers once had a real nag for making first-class action games at a somewhat slow but regular interval, and The Chaos Engine was the last of these achievements during the 16-bit era. As was common practice, the ST version hit the shelfs shortly after the Amiga release and came with a number of small confinements to make the game fit the ST's more limited hardware capabilities. Those will be mentioned in the second part of this review. What sets The Chaos Engine apart from most action games is its focus on the individualities of each of the six mercenaries you can choose from. You get everything from the brainless bully to the smart but fragile thinker, whose attributes are sorted into the usual set of categories such as weapons power, speed, size of the health bar and intelligence. At the beginning of a new game you will have to pick two characters, one to be controlled by the player, the other by the computer. Except, of course, you play with a friend, in which case both players get their own character. In multiplayer, the game is significantly more fun, especially since what would later be known as co-op mode was still something of a novelty until the early nineties. All the characters carry different weapons, including a gun plus an extra weapon. Basically, however, every standard gun is one out of two basic types; they either shoot one to four straight and parallel bullets or an increasing number of spreading bullets, the impact being depended on the upgrade level. Were they differ, apart from the fact that none looks like another, is the initial value of their penetrating power. This alone will leave you thinking for a while about which of the characters you want to play with and which one you will trust as your AI companion. It also gives the game some considerable replay value, since the difficulty of the game is set rather high and you will have to come up a slightly different strategy for every combination of mercenaries you send into the field. This is also were the intelligence level comes into effect. The more stupid the AI-players get, the more you will have your hands full fighting off your foe. The more intelligent they get, the more help they will give you, but as the smarter ones also are more vulnerable, you will have to take good care of them in return. More tactical finesse is required when having to be quick at deciding on whether you or your comrade-in-arms should pick up one of the precious power-ups. He might have little health left, but so do you. And can you still save him when you forfeit that huge green drink in the lower corner? The same holds true for the distribution of extra weapon pick-ups. Those secondary weapons range from huge medikits to powerful special shots and such that eradicate every non-human sprite on screen. Most interestingly, The Chaos Engine offers a genre-mix with RPG elements of the kind that you find in many of the more recent games. That is, every second level you are given the chance to upgrade your character according to the amount of money, which is left by some of the monsters after you have killed them. You can increase every of the four main abilities of both players as well as spend an extra life saver or two on every one of them. If all the strategy and tactics and thinking that these features bring about make you wonder where the action comes in, make no mistake; the Chaos Engine never strays from its premise to be a first-class action-packed arcade-style game. Once in a level you will be constantly pushed by monsters and defense installations to move on, look for power-ups along the way and decide which path to take. The latter again increases the replay value, since most of the levels offer slightly different paths that you can take. At the very least they often have various valuable extras, which you can reach only by blocking off the way to another. All of the above is being rendered in state-of-the-art quality. The Bitmap Brothers induced their unique, comic-like style into every byte of the game. And although four worlds, each offering four levels with almost exactly the same graphical appearance, might be considered a rather minimal approach as far as creating a game world goes, the strength of The Chaos Engine is not so much the expanse of the playing field as it is the emphasis on detail. Particularly impressive are the characters designs and animations of friend and foe. They almost appear to be 3-dimensional puppets - no exaggeration here.

The Bad
In comparison to the Amiga version, the ST release offers a little less colorful experience. In terms of what an ST can do, though, The Chaos Engine could not be better looking. The same holds true for the sound department. Although impressive for ST standards, one crucial aspect, namely the voice acting, is missing in this version. All the other sounds are well done and add to the impelling atmosphere, but since characters play such an important role in the game, having their voices been cut is something of a disappointment. Other than that one more thing needs mentioning. Fortunately, though, it does not overly distract from the fun the game delivers, but serves merely as a small annoyance for first-time players. What I am talking about is the fact that you get the code, which includes all the progress you made in the game as well as the upgrade status of your players, only every four levels. Since the code system was changed from a two-level to the four-level interval during the last days of the game development, my guess would be that The Bitmap Brothers realized only late along the road that their game would in fact be rather short. However huge the levels may be, there are only 16 of them. So instead of making you learn two stages at a time and then have a new starting point for the following ones, we are now being left with having to master four levels, including all their secrets and shortcuts, to advance further.

The Bottom Line
Overall, The Chaos Engine is one of the most enjoyable action games ever made. It comes with six nice character profile cards, an intro tune that stays in the ear for years and one of the most intoxicating, if a bit short-lived, gameplay experiences ever.

Atari ST · by G'Kyl (50) · 2004

A great game

The Good
The Bitmap Brothers, a well-known game company based in the UK, produced good quality action games like Xenon 2: Megablast, Magic Pockets, Cadaver: The Payoff, and Gods, as well as this game, The Chaos Engine.

The story is self-explanatory enough. An experimenter with time space and early computers made a huge mistake of creating a bizarre machine, which he called “The Chaos Engine”. Soon the machine became very powerful and turned against its creator, causing a cloud of chaos to descend over the land and turning all humans and animals into beasts. And now The Chaos Engine must be destroyed in order to restore peace and beauty to the land.

Six mercenaries are offered the job: Mercenary, Brigand, Gentleman, Navvie, Thug, and Preacher. Each mercenary has their own advantages and disadvantages, and their own firepower. When players start the game, they have the choice of playing against the CPU or another player.

Once done, each player choose their mercenary. Whether that mercenary is good or not will depend on how much speed, wisdom, skill, health, and firepower they have got. Also each character has their own special attacks. For example, Gentleman can use maps to navigate his way through each level, while Navvie uses dynamite to blast enemies in a direction he is facing.

Once done, the game begins. Each player has low firepower and less speed, wisdom, health, and skill at the start, but can upgrade these after every second level, or obtain an extra life (with the maximum of 30). There are four worlds to complete with each world consisting of four levels, and each world has players navigating through forests, workshops, mansions, sewers, and cellars, and blasting beasts in the process. A password is given at the end of each world, which players can input that allows them to start at the beginning of a world.

The main objective of the game is to find and activate several nodes that are scattered through each level, and collect gold and silver keys that will cause bridges, a set of stairs, or secret passages to appear so that you can explore other parts of the level. The number of nodes you have to activate is listed in the middle of the status bar. Once all the nodes have been activated, the level exit is opened. In several levels, there is more than one exit, and players will end up at a different place in the next level, depending on the path they take through the level.

Normally, when players kill an enemy, the enemy will leave behind gold or silver coins, which can be used to upgrade both mercenaries. The number of coins that each player collects is displayed next to the number of nodes. Also there are more items that players can collect rather than just coins. If players collect a yin-yang at a point in the level, for example, they restart at that point if they die. There’s also food to collect that will award extra health, power-ups that will upgrade firepower, special attacks, and of course, extra lives. When a level is complete, a screen of statistics comes up telling how many enemies they’ve destroyed, the number of nodes activated, how many coins the party collected, how many gold and silver keys that were collected, and so on.

The graphics are great, and the sound effects in this game are awesome. The music in the Amiga version is much better than the DOS version. I like the fact that the music changes whenever you explore different areas of a level, because this way you don’t get sick and tired of hearing the same music over and over again.

The Bad
This game can be difficult if neither of the mercenaries that were selected have the right firepower to take enemies down, especially the final boss. It isn’t easy to beat him, and may take you several hours to figure out how to beat him. It took me two days to find a tactic on how to beat him, and stick to it.

The Bottom Line
Overall, great game with excellent sound and graphics. If you finished this game already, it may not be over for you. There are other characters to choose from, and different firepower to equip them with. Also this game has different paths and alternative exits that you could take. Followed by a sequel. ***½

Amiga · by Katakis | カタキス (43093) · 2002

Pumping with action and keeps you amused for ages.

The Good
This game was one of the best Bitmap games, a well thought out storyline for an Action game. Play with the computer or with a friend and you are set on blasting baddies and collecting as many extra powers as you can. Once you have completed the game, the task becomes one on using different characters and finding the maximum amount of treasure for each level.

The Bad
First played this game on the Amiga where the music is far better than that of the DOS version that seems to have been rewritten, the RISC OS version has been converted better. It appears the music is the only bad tiding as the rest of the game is brilliant. It's age is showing in that the graphics are only 16 colours but they are done in a Amiga-esque way to hide that.

The Bottom Line
If you like an action game with a bit more brain-power to put behind and like collecting various tokens and listening to cool effects then this is the game for you. Now starting to show what real games were like moons ago.

DOS · by Nathan Walker (4) · 2000

If you enjoy games like Metal Slug and Contra, you'll love The Chaos Engine.

The Good
This is a Bitmaps Brothers game, so the look and feel is awesome.

The game mechanics is a mix between Gauntlet and Ikari Warriors, yet I like it more than I ever liked those other two and for a good reason. It's better.

There are always enough baddies to keep you on the edge of your seat, but not enough to make you feel overwhelmed. Some look crazy but they're all cool and each world sports its own set of them, so you only get the giant frogs on the first world, the black blobs on the second one, the walking hands on the next one and so on.

While there are no secret levels, there are several ways of entering, exiting and going through some levels. That makes the game very replayable. When you take one route, the other is blocked and the only way to know what's over there is to play again. Each route is filled with goodies, so whatever you choose, you're not going to regret it.

Having six characters to mix and match also makes the game very replayable. And your sidekick, while not always useful (read below), at least doesn't get in the way. If he's left behind, he'll be teleported to the current screen, and you can always pass through him.

The Bad
The music is good, but there's only one background track for sixteen levels. Why they couldn't hire some guy to add more music? Same thing with the sound effects. Why so few of them?

Eight-way scrolling games have never been a favorite genre of mine, but the few I've played at least let the player shoot and move at the same time. On this game, the player can do one thing or another, but not both. It's no deal breaker, but it's not the best way to play neither.

The eight-way scrolling also makes your CPU-controlled sidekick very unreliable. If there's no angle for him to shoot, he just stand there until the monster reach a place he can shoot at or he moves accidentally to a better position when he follows you. This limitation makes some levels harder than they already are.

If you're one of the few who are still playing on a console, there's one more thing. Instead of getting a password after every level, you get one every other level. That means that dying on even-numbered levels forces you to replay not one but two levels. That's not fun.

The Bottom Line
Like Contra, The Chaos Engine is hard but not unbeatable, and like Metal Slug, it offers plenty of reasons to play it again and again and again.

SNES · by Tashtego (142) · 2009

Fortune for soldiers

The Good
The Chaos engine is a Roaming shooter that is both challenging and fun to play. Viewed from a top down perspective you must blast your way through several levels to put a stop to the Chaos Engine which has populated the lands with vicious monsters.

Playing as one of 6 characters you shoot, collect keys, items and money to get to the portal of each level. In between levels you would get the chance to spend the money you have collected in a shop to purchase power-ups. These were essential as the game got tougher & tougher.

In parts this game could be very testing, but that isn't to say that is wasn't beatable. In multiplayer though you really must work together otherwise you've no chance.

TCE was a very likeable game that was easy enough to pick up and play at any time and is recommended to those who like a meaty shooter with a bit of challenge.

The Bad
There were elements of the game that irritated. Like not being able to see where exactly the path was or getting trapped behind several enemies when trying to get that precious Life power-up.

The Bottom Line
Got some time to kill? Then the Chaos Engine is what you need.

Genesis · by Liam Dowds (39) · 2003

Bitmap Brothers - the recyclers

The Good
everything

The Bad
can't see anything except Bitmap Brothers being hibernating or something.

The Bottom Line
Bitmap brothers definitely are, or were, I don't know, one of the first teams that deposited real passion, art, and the concept of recycling making homage to (as Tarantino does in movies), on videogames. They were definitely mature indie game constructors, and they presented that on fluidity marrying graphics in an organic playable sense. The Chaos Engine is another game that demonstrates that. An inspirational classic game with direct passport to the hall of fame of Artistic games.

Windows · by ZeTomes (36301) · 2014

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Parf, Joakim Kihlman, Picard, Alsy, Jo ST, Tim Janssen, S Olafsson, mailmanppa, Patrick Bregger, Игги Друге, RetroArchives.fr, Cantillon, ti00rki, chirinea, Big John WV, Martin Smith, Yearman, SlyDante, Dietmar Uschkoreit, RhYnoECfnW, Alaedrain, Mr Creosote, Kabushi, Cameron Cawley, shphhd, firefang9212, Wizo, sayewonn wisseh, Alaka, Mr Almond, Thomas Helsing, Cavalary, Jeanne, RetroGamesAmateur.