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Chaos Field (Dreamcast) artwork

Chaos Field (Dreamcast) review

"From your very first encounter with a narrow warship to the nondescript battle station that kicks off your last hurrah, there's a distinct lack of anything noteworthy, let alone inspired."

Humor me, if you will, and think back to one of Lightening Force's first stages, the level that placed you above an ocean and in front of a cloudy mountain range. What's the first thing that comes to mind? The tiny flying orbs that shot missiles at you? The waterbound bastards that... well, do you even remember those things at all? Not bloody likely. If you're anything like me, you remember the boss, an enormous battleship that burst forth from the water and tried to fry you with the gun turrets on its underbelly before launching a sea-skimming, laser-blasting armored mech--one also sporting a slinky appendage that whipped about its vulnerable power orb while launching fireballs in your general direction.

Milestone's idea to pack Chaos Field's five stages with just a trio of boss encounters each was a good one, then; the game eschews the often boring and at best amusing cannon fodder foes that pervade too many of today's vertical shooters in favor of some BULLET HELL. While things might not seem too rough at the onset, even the second level will have you weaving maniacally through vicious flurries of death, praising the miniscule hit-box every time you graze eight bullets at once. Your stylish wing blades can slash through some of the enemy attacks, sure, but certainly not all of them. In fact, worrying about the difference between the two types of bullets in a complicated effort to save your hide only supplements the game's manic pace.

And if that's not enough for you, there's always the chaos field. More or less on a whim, your ship can switch back and forth from the game's namesake, an alternate dimension where the skies run red and all the rules change. Have fun managing BULLET HELL x2, the majority of whose additions beef up the original patterns such that the margin for error becomes nearly nonexistant. Why bother, you ask? Well, you also inherit that x2, making even your normal blaster a foe-ripping powerhouse. You won't be limited to but a pathetic peashooter, though; rounding out your arsenal is a powerful pair of extravagant special attacks, a stationary shield and a tremendous volley of lock-on missiles. They sure are great for smashing things, but even more important is the fact that they (and they alone) are able to add to your combo meter.

Initial impressions may reveal combos to be trivial, though; in the order field, the shield is ridiculously small, while the lock-on can only target the bosses themselves. This leads to unimpressive combo numbers like twelve. The chaos field, on the other hand, fixes that. The shield grows to be four times the size of your girthy cruiser, and the lock-on missiles can suddenly target not only your enemy but also most of its projectiles. This leads to impressive combo numbers like twelve-fucking-hundred. On the flipside, only the order field will provide you with enough powerups to keep your limited special meter up--you won't be able to leave it behind for long even if you've got the skills to. It makes playing Chaos Field for score an exhilarating juggle of the two worlds, as you'll have to make frequent pit stops in the more subdued one before unleashing your fury on the madness of BULLET HELL x2. You'll need to be quick about it, too; that combo timer runs out fast.

A constant rush of bosses featuring an excellent scoring system and a brutal challenge; what can go wrong? A lot of things, unfortunately, most notably the fact that the bosses themselves just aren't that great. Excluding a scarab-like assault jet that lurks inside of an outlandish space elevator, I didn't find a single one of them to be at all interesting. From your very first encounter with a narrow warship to the nondescript battle station that kicks off your last hurrah, there's a distinct lack of anything noteworthy, let alone inspired or memorable. They're certainly not atrocious--you'll find no ridiculous "Destroy the core!" shenanigans herein--but Chaos Field's baddies as bland as can be, to the point where I'd find the game insufferably boring were it not for its difficulty.

Plus, a handful of them just don't fit into the game very well. Situated above the mundane metropolis of stage two, for instance, is a floating sphere of doom (creativity!) with a pair of monstrous foes attached to its sides. While your battle with its dull gun turret goes off without any design hiccups except, of course, for the fact that you're battling a dull gun turret, your subsequent duel with a similarly attached robotic structure doesn't go quite as smoothly. See, at one point, the bastard will arbitrarily decide to rotate out of sight juuust long enough for the combo timer to run out. Should you fail to lance him with a homing missile the nanosecond he leaves (and even with the idea in mind I've never succeeded in doing so), you'll lose whatever combo you've worked so hard to build up... and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

Chaos Field's got an aggravating lack technical prowess going against it, too. The amount of slowdown in it is unacceptable by Dreamcast standards, for instance: lock on to more than twenty bullets at a time (as you frequently will) and hilarity not-so-quickly ensues. The game's aversion to saving your high scores is equally annoying, especially in light of its decision to waste your VMU space with crap like total play time. Compared to the rotten graphics, though, these annoyances are nothing. I've seen the insult egregiously thrown about time and time again, but in this case it truly applies: Chaos Field looks like an N64 game, and even that's almost giving it too much credit in light of the beautiful Perfect Dark. The textures are all blurry, and obscenely undetailed to boot; each hazy, metallic surface appearing just like the last serves only to highlight the utter absence of creativity.

At least it fares better aurally; Chaos Field's got an impressive variety of clamorous electronica that can, at least temporarily, take your mind off of the artistic banality. There's a little bit of everything, from an energetic techno beat accompanying the aforementioned death star to a sublime drum-based song that might just knock you off your chair if you've got a good enough subwoofer. My favorite track, though, is the penultimate level's BGM. Its lively intro segues into an ethereal trance segment that perfectly complements the outer-space nothingness in the background, and it only gets better as isounds ranging from shrill blares to a pulsating bass line are layered onto it.

Sadly, the game's ear-party inducing tunes aren't enough to make me forget about its glaring inadequacies. Fighting bland boss after bland boss grates quickly, and an underwhelming show of technology is a brother-in-arms of the game's lackluster artistic design. This is anything but a bad game; its complex scoring system is an interesting if occasionally unfocused gimmick, and I'm a sucker for BULLET HELL. It's just unfortunate (not to mention ironic) that Chaos Field forgoes the dull cannon fodder dragging down its contemporaries only to end up with a cast of monstrosities that's equally prosaic.

bluberry's avatar
Staff review by John L (April 29, 2005)

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