Revisit: Chasm the Rift

I replayed this today for the first time in easily 18 years.

Chasm the Rift is an ‘also ran’ from the late 90s. It came out after Quake and just a few months before Quake 2. It looked dated when it arrived but the models have a lot of detail (for the time) and the textures are interesting enough that the graphics have aged surprisingly well. It’s a good first impression and I like this game a lot but no make mistake, Chasm is not an unfairly ignored cult classic.

Chasm plays like a cross between Wolfenstein 3D and Quake. If you’d thought that would be Doom, you were wrong. It’s Chasm. Polygonal mutants stalk  dark industrial outposts, ancient tombs, and medieval castles… most of which are flat and maze-like like Wolfenstein 3D. It has a 2.5D engine like Doom but with 3D models are used for items, enemies, and decoration.

For the most part, Chasm feels good to play. Enemies take a few shots to kill like in Quake, but they’re not bullet sponges and they’re decently designed even if few of them actually stand out. The guns aren’t original but they feel good to use and the game has a satisfying dismemberment system that was (at the time) revolutionary. Popping off a joker’s head with a well-placed laser bolt feels great.

What doesn’t feel great are at times cheap monster placements (episode 3 is quite bad for this, with poorly placed ambushes and cramped ‘arena’ fights) and confusing level layouts. While episode 1 and episode 4 have an OK flow, episodes 2 and 3 can be very confusing, with almost non-functional platforming thrown in for good measure.

The levels are also really cramped, which limits your weapon choice and makes some fights very frustrating. In episode 4 the hallways widen and there are even some open areas, which hugely improves the gameplay. These sections are great and it’s a shame that as it is, you rarely feel like you can let loose.

Not only are the levels sometimes confusing, they’re also unambitious. This is downright infuriating because the game shows that it’s capable of much more. The game plays with heights in places but for the most part everything is flat like in Wolfenstein 3D. Similarly, lighting effects are used well in some places while other areas stick to a dull default lighting level.

Chasm is extremely short. It is 16 levels long, split into 4 episodes with 4 levels each. It feels like the team ran out of time as some gameplay elements are under utilized. One cutscene mentions an advanced security network with cameras and gun turrets, but I only encountered a single gun turret enemy in the entire game. In the second to last level you’re introduced to an explosive barrel – they’re sitting by a corridor corner and they are never seen again after that (note: some barrels are seen in level 1, but I don’t recall them being destructible). Episode 1 starts with some interesting weather and wind effects, with a flapping window and paper on a desk – very impressive for the time. I didn’t see that flapping paper effect anywhere else.

The ending also leaves a lot to be desired. The final boss is boring, anticlimatic, and gives no closure to the story. It’s straight out of the Quake play book, but at least Shub-Niggurath’s Pit was large enough to walk around.

Chasm does a lot of things right as well. It’s a fun game (mostly). Most enemies are easy to tell apart and are nicely detailed. I’d even say that they look better than the monsters in Quake. The levels are also grouped into distinctive themes, helped by the time travel plot, and the game uses these themes to deliver solid concepts for it’s levels. You feel like you’re making progress. Sound design is also quite decent, the ambient music works well and gives the game a nice creepy atmosphere.

To conclude: I had a blast playing it. I just wish it lasted longer and let itself flex it’s muscles. It’s a shame the devs never made a sequel – with more confidence with their engine and increases in computer power, they could have cut loose a little and made something really awesome. It’s too bad that could never have happened in the post-Quake 2 arms race.

Honestly I had a blast playing Chasm, but it was three hours long and left me feeling like it could have been a lot more.

The game has never been re-released or remade, which is a shame. The company has also disbanded, so there’s no moral dilemma in looking for a download. I recommend the one linked at the bottom, which has all the patches needed to get it running on modern systems already applied.

Wins:
Satisfying combat, varied enemy design, clear themes for each episode, generally good art design, and good ambient sound.

Sins:
Poor level design, poor monster placement, very short length, underwhelming puzzle bosses.

Conclusion:
Decent but flawed shooter.If you are a retro FPS fan, give it a try. If you’re not that invested in the genre, don’t rush to it.

Get it here:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B29kL7cygjVuTWh0LW9XX2xLTlE/view

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