“Chaos Gateway Doesn’t Quite Hit The Mark.”
An XboxHornet review by raditts.
Having been a child of the 80s, the games of my youth included many a text adventure (or “interactive fiction” as they’re known in snobbier circles). While not the most technologically advanced genre, they had the unique quality of combining user input with the descriptive detail of a novel to provide the player with a truly immersive experience. Although the genre had all but died off by the time the 90s rolled around, it’s gained new life in the form of “visual novels”, most notably on the Nintendo DS in titles like Hotel Dusk and Phoenix Wright.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered Chaos Gateway, a visual novel by Black Ball that follows a pair of friends with superhuman abilities joining a group of survivors to take refuge in a military bunker following a mysterious disaster. As far as indie games go, it’s always good to see a relatively fresh effort. And it’s clear that a lot of effort went into Chaos Gateway’s creation; the character designs and backgrounds are pretty well done, the music sets an appropriate mood, and while it takes a little while for the narrative to get interesting, it makes for a pretty good short story.
However, there’s a lot left to be desired as well. The biggest problem Chaos Gateway faces is that it takes the term “visual novel” a bit too literally, and there’s not really a whole lot in the way of what you would call “gameplay.” Most of the interactivity is limited to moving between the 15 or so rooms that comprise the bunker, and some of the time the game does even that for you automatically. There are no puzzles to solve, no items to get, and not really anything to analyze that isn’t in the form of the couple of paragraphs of text that accompany each room. Aside from that, there are a couple of optional dialogue trees you can partake in with other characters in the game, and a couple of instances where you play a little minigame to use the main characters’ abilities. On the whole, though, the gameplay is about the equivalent of a digital Choose Your Own Adventure book. I suspect that many people might try the demo for this game and will be left wondering when the actual game starts when the demo timer expires.
The other main problem is that the story leaves a lot of things unexplained. How and why our protagonists have the powers they do, what caused the disaster to occur, the motivations of some of the secondary characters, what the “Chaos Gateway” is – I played through twice to make sure I didn’t miss some scene that went into detail on these points and I still really have no clue. On top of all that, the game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger with little resolution, which is a bad way to end any part of a series but worse to end the first part.
I hate to write such a scathing review since I admire the desire to make a different kind of game for the XBLIG platform, but the two problems listed above are a huge blow against Chaos Gateway. I’d suggest to Black Ball that they try some of the aforementioned DS titles for ideas on how to improve on the interactivity aspect and to build the story around that. A lot of the success of those titles can probably be attributed to their portability as much as their quality, though, which makes the challenge to make a console-based visual novel all the greater. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that Chaos Gateway hits that mark.
Game Score: 5/10.
Download a free demo of the game here.