(Review) Chasm

It has been about three years since I’ve last mentioned Chasm on The Videogame Backlog. I found out about Chasm at PAX Prime 2015… you know, back when PAX West was called PAX Prime? Either way, it’s been a while. After having waited for about three years for this Metroidvania (not a Rogue-Like) game to finally grace my computer, was it really worth the wait? Is it everything they looked like they were promising? Is it more? Worse yet… is it less? I am glad to inform you that it does feel like it was worth the wait. Let me break it down for you.

Come on down to Karthas, we’ll get together, have a few laughs they said… first you have to rescue the village people. (Not the ones in the Y.)

First off, let’s talk about procedurally-generated games. I’m not huge into them because I feel at times that method of game development can be used to artificially stretch out a game’s length. Sometimes it’s nice to have more of something, but not when it ends up being like the end of the Lord of the Rings‘ final movie (jeeze that took forever to end). Also, sometimes having an A.I. develop the levels for you can also reduce a feeling of love or intentional-ness to what goes where and why and it grates on me when I notice this. Chasm was described to me as having been designed so that you won’t be able to get stuck due to an upgrade that is unobtainable with your current gear. That’s nice because it would suck to get stuck and not have it be your fault. On a positive note, Chasm does feel pretty good as far as level setups go. Playing through Chasm a second time with a different seed on the same or harder difficulty gave me a relatively different experience than the last. That will keep things fresh for a while, but I think this will mainly be used by speedrunners to run with a specific seed for GDQ.

Nope, nothing creepy or suspicious at all going on here. At the same time… the pixel work in Chasm is beautiful.

That being said, that doesn’t make Chasm empty of frustrating factors. If you’re playing right now, there is a chance that you got stuck at some point or are currently stuck. For a while, I was as well. The only real way to progress in this game is to always double-check your map. Go room by room to make sure that you have always explored what you can (it seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes you’ll look past areas that you’re absolutely sure you’ve double-checked, but haven’t). You will need all of the available tools to get everything. One important thing you’ll take notice of here are the places that will require a double jump. Remember where they are and then leave them alone. A lot of different tools will come easily and that will get you thinking that you can almost get everything and go everywhere. Patience is needed. There will be back-tracking. Also, if you’ve completed the first four areas and can’t figure out where to go next, check out the blue square in the gardens that leads you nowhere.  That’s what had me stuck for a while. (Yes, that’s vague, but I like to not spoil much.)

The story is solid, but really only found in exploring and reading everything. It’s cool to see how the plot unravels as you progress deeper and deeper into the game reading books and talking with Basden.

One of the main complaints towards Chasm (that I feel I needed to address) are the controls. I am a fan of the controls. The A.I. varies from your basic back-and-forth enemies while others will come at you until they’ve bonked you off of a ledge. The weapons all work in specific ways and it’s your mastery of them that will help you succeed. There are slower far-reaching weapons, some that are quick, but short ranged and some that live in the middle. The main character’s movements are smooth and responsive while at the same time constrictive. (What does that even mean? Give me a second!) All these things play together in a well-crafted method of combat and platforming.

With the basic enemies, it’s about knowing how many hits they’ll take because enemies have no knock-back effect and will keep moving at/attacking you. You can evade backwards and attack at the same time which helps if you’ve got a longer weapon like the whip or polearm. If you time it right, you can also jump and attack right before you land and then again as soon as you land if you’re not using a heavy weapon. You’ve got to learn your enemies movements and the limitations of your own. (Years ago, they mentioned something about combos, but that was also when they thought they were going to release Chasm in 2014 sooo… yeh.) To note, once you’ve learned most of the enemies moves, the gameplay could come off as a bit repetitive. However, I enjoyed the combat even as I was back-tracking trying to find all the things that were out of reach for me before while I easily dispatched rooms of enemies that used to cause me grief.

Come at me bro!

Chasm isn’t a Rogue-Like and it’s not super-hard if you take your time to learn your enemies. It’s not super flashy with the graphics. What it does do though, is remind me of my Metroid 2 days. It had all of the exploration and finding of the power-ups… but without the getting utterly lost and wanting to not come back for years. With all of that, it did something that no other Platformer/Metroidvania have done in a long time: not make me hate the experience. (Although I assume the Hard mode will do that for me.) I like a challenge as much as the next guy/gal, but having fun seems to be the focus here, not making it yet another 2D Dark Souls. That is most welcome indeed and I would appreciate it if more developers would build around fun instead of death-grinders.

Further Reading on Chasm: Facebook / Official Page / Steam / Twitter

I’ve been following Chasm for years and I’m happy to say the experience has been worth the wait. The story is enough to make exploring every aspect of the procedurally-generated map worth it. The story, being scattered throughout the levels, is not an excessive amount of exposition, but enough to lure me along. I find the combat rather satisfying with its smooth movement and pattern-based enemies reminiscent of the games of my youth. Newer versions of old enemies with funkier move-sets come along and keep the challenge high enough as you progress to be entertaining bordering on frustrating until you can master the newer patterns. (Except Titan. That giant floating head can suck it; him and the ceiling spiders.) There are some difficult jump puzzles and a fair amount of backtracking, but progress can be made if you keep at it. I also don’t lament this because the world can seem large, but once you’ve unlocked specific short-cuts, the world gets a lot smaller. Chasm looks great, is fun to play, controls smooth, offers a challenge and doesn’t make me want to punch a kitten or crash on me. If you love Metroidvanias or Action/Adventures games, Chasm should be a welcome addition to your library. For me, this is a fair contender for Game of the Year.

Love it or hate it, let me know!