Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chalked Review


You ever order a nice big steak, and the waiter comes over with it, and it's sizzling with goodness, and you're drooling - then you take that first big bite and you're met with bland chewiness? That was my Chalked experience. Only instead of steak...it was a video game. I wasn't eating the game but...okay you get it I hope.

This game is busting at the seams with style and builds you up with a really cool indie look and feel. The 3D graphics are simple but attractive, with a gray palette that reflects the game's name. The soundtrack is a catchy rhythmic 'a cappella' which was a risky choice but it really gels well with the style. The title screen is pretty slick too and when I jumped in to the game I really thought I had a 'sleeper' in my hands.

Even the concept is strong and could really work with some tweaking and polish. There are tall fellas and short fellas. The tall ones have to bomb the buildings, and the short ones have to stop the tall ones from doing so - you can play on either side. You spawn in to a chalky city and the elaborate game of tag begins.

But somewhere after you take you first couple steps, Chalked goes up in dust. As the bombers, you just have to avoid the short guys and bomb the buildings. But brutal camera controls and awkward movement are mostly frustrating and getting clipped by a short fella with no way to avoid or dodge is just plain annoying. As the 'diffusers' you spend time trying to find the bombers and tagging them, which is an exercise in awkwardly running around after guys who are running in the opposite direction at a very similar speed. That's it.

Because the run speeds are preset and static and all you can really do is run, the intensity and fun level are quickly diminished. No powerups, no speed boosts, no leaping, no attacking, shooting, or dodging. Just running. The short fellas do have the ability to place 'flags' which essentially calls for some help from AI teamates who will patrol that area to stop bombers - but this is a very passive mechanic with a low satisfaction level. I think most players would prefer to be lone hero with more abilities, and baddy-stopping power, rather than calling for aid with the press of a button and watching the basic AI interact.

With the main mechanic being "tag" and "avoid getting tagged" the developers would be wise to add some strategy around that element. Adding an expendable speed boost, some powerups, or a dive animation (or all of the above maybe) would allow for strategic and skilled gameplay. What if the tall guys can dodge, but the short guys can throw chalk spears? What if the camera could be quickly positioned in a top-down view for better scoping of the area? Granted, this is all easier said than done, but a couple months of testing and polishing could do wonders.

With so much going for it in the art and presentation categories, I honestly hope the devs take a crack at going back to the drawing board to add some gameplay features. Lot's of potential here. At 400MP, I'd suggesting having a crack at the demo to see if the gameplay strikes you differently, and making a call from there.

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