Sunday, February 17, 2008


Another of those genres I don't really play much, Chromium is a vertical-scrolling top-down shooter. As far as arcade genres go, this is one of the classics styles of play.

Chromium plays like they all do, basically. You control a ship, and you have to destroy objects by shooting them to earn points. They add a level of complexity by justifying your extra lives: the ship you're actually in is never shown; that ship has an escort of fighters which it controls, who are supposed to protect it.

This means that, unlike in other games (like, say, 1943) where you are rewarded for killing a higher percentage of the enemy with points, but not punished for missing them, you virtually have to kill every enemy on the screen. If they get by your active fighter, they destroy one of your inactive fighters (read: extra lives).

This makes suicide a viable option, among other things. If four dudes are about to get by you, you're better off hitting your self-destruct button. They'll die in the explosion, and you'll only lose one life; if you let them all by, you lose four. Noticing and responding to situations like that in the heat of a frenzied multi-coloured battle elevates the game to slightly more cerebral than your average shooter.

But only slightly. Mostly it just plays like a shooter. The mouse controls your ship; move the mouse to move the ship, left-click to shoot, and double-right-click to self-destruct. Movement is smooth and precise - I never thought I'd think the mouse superior to the joystick for shooters, but this is the second time I've found it so.

The one constant in the realm of shooters is the upgrades: improvements to your guns or armor and/or other little perks that change the game in some way. Here, Chromium disappoints a bit - there aren't a bunch of them. There are only two types: gun upgrades, and ship repairs. Each has three items.

The three gun upgrades are alright, but you never get a spread-shot or anything like that, just a blue gun and a green gun to augment your beginning machine gun, along with a double-fire for the machine gun, and they are temporary (they fire differently shaped 'bullets' in different patterns, so they're differentiate well, they're just not super-interesting). Picking up additional copies of a gun upgrade you've already picked up just adds to the amount of ammo, rather than adding an additional skill.

The ship repairs are equally limited, but with a fun twist. The first two are simple: one repairs your shields, and one repairs your ship itself. The third gives you a super-shield, which is useful but if you don't pick it up, you get an extra man. If you're like me, you end up suiciding as a tactic relatively regularly, and the extra dudes are more useful. If you're actually skilled at shooters, you may find the shield more useful. It's nice to have a meaningful choice in how one will play the game.

Graphically, it's up to par with the games it was inspired by. The graphics are clearly delineated and nicely colored but they have the sort of fuzziness you got with old-school arcade games. It adds a nice retro touch. The enemies are simple but well realized, and they have different types of fire, and shapes that suggest the way they move, all nicely rendered.

The sound is decent enough, but nothing really special. You can set the game to use an audio CD from a CD-ROM drive as the background music, or have it play WAV, MP3, or Ogg/Vorbis files from a playlist. The default background music is typical techno-metal type stuff; you know it from 3/4ths of the action-game soundtracks of the past ten years. It's solid but stereotypical. The bleeps n' bloops n' explosions are at the same level.

If you're into shooters, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It's sure to provide amusement and joyful frustration for a while, at least. If you don't like shooters, Chromium does nothing new with the genre and is highly unlikely to change your mind.

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