Chasm: The Rift - TimeQuake

Chasm: The Rift - TimeQuake

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*Chasm: The Rift Track 03* *TV buzzing* [hammy GENERAL DOGSTONE] Oh my god, it's a baby! A human baby! *TV buzzing* [CIVVIE] You guys remember Vivisector? Because that game… you all see slavjank on this show, but very rarely is slavjank actually good. Thinking about the ones that have been featured on this show, You Are Empty, not quite as fun but it still comfortably rests in the category of "it works as a video game," and then you get into stuff like Alpha Prime, or Kreed, which are irredeemable trash, but Vivisector, with its mind-bendingly strange approximation of a narrative, had some fun gameplay, and since then I've been meaning to get back to the company that made Vivisector, Action Forms, the Ukrainian studio known mostly for the Carnivores series and Chasm: The Rift, a cult game if I've ever seen one. I've never actually played all the way through it, I usually got distracted or something turned me off of it. Which is strange because of how many games I've played that took obvious inspiration from Chasm, and I spent so much time wondering why people loved this little game so much, it looks like someone tried to de-make Quake on some computers they found in an abandoned Soviet missile base.

And then they found something else down there. Something deep, dark, and unearthly. Among Chasm's disciples are the people behind Perilous Warp, maybe the developer of HROT, certainly one of the most vocal being Dusk developer David Szymanski. This particular version of Chasm I found, obviously not a boxed copy but one I found at some point on the Internet, packaged and optimized for DOSBox, yeah, this game from 1997 was DOS-only, software rendered, and as much as I'd like to use PanzerChasm, the source port, I'm told it's not the same, that it's unfinished and not the true experience. This package I found includes ludicrous tweaks to improve the mouse aiming, the visuals, the Read-Me calls it: "Chasm Portable, version 1.1. Compiled by David Szymanski."

What kind of game commands this level of devotion? I've tried a few times to get through this game only to get sidetracked with other projects, losing interest in the second episode, in the Egypt levels, yeah, this game goes to Egypt in its time travel shenanigans, so I've never seen the end of it. I jump in to capture some footage of it every now and then, never fully taking the plunge. I'm a little afraid of what I might find down there. *Chasm: The Rift Track 01* Chasm is like the granddaddy of slavjank. Now I know that I've been overusing the term "jank" on this channel, and honest to god, I've been trying not to. But this is not just jank in execution, but in conception, as part of its DNA, separating the jank from the rest is like… Well, it's like taking one of the limbs off.

Looks like Quake, right? Brown, crunchy from the software rendering, 320x240 resolution, because using DOSBox to play it in anything higher makes the frame-rate not unplayable, but certainly not good enough for me to use in a video. 3D models, with dismemberment, in 1997, and skeletal animations, no warpy vertices here. This shotgun might look familiar to you, the pump-action double barrel, which looks cool I guess, although the way it ends in a cone… where the stock is… I don't..

That really bothers me and I can't explain why… This is just the demo, the little taste they give you, which happens to be my least favorite level in the entire game, but we'll get back to that. Chasm makes one hell of an introduction with its story. [COMMANDER] [CIVVIE] Okay, stop, right there, what is this? That's a very Quake-y person model, and considering the number of polygons on him, I have a feeling that nothing on that model exists below his elbows. He's blinking at me, while talking, his lips are moving, like, seriously, nice model guys. Maybe you guys don't understand how impressive this is for 1997, in a DOS Game, from the Ukraine, whose system requirements still listed a fucking 486. I do have some issues here though, like the camera panning up and down a little bit like it's hand-held or something, what uh… what's going on with that? Can't say I'm too interested in what he's saying.

Not exactly the best story hook to throw a bunch of techno-babble about power stations and "electric energy" at us. I'm glad they specified that it was electric energy because I was over here thinking it might have been quantum chromodynamic binding energy and that would be an embarrassing mistake for this game to make. [COMMANDER] however, a careful investigation revealed that all the components of the system were functioning normally. [CIVVIE] Yeah, that's interesting, that's fucking interesting, man. Ah, c'mon, that's only like a 2/10 for dumb shit in Star Wars.

[COMMANDER] [CIVVIE] The… Hold on, you can't run all that boring bullshit past me and then drop in that kids' comic book sounding… "The TimeStrikers!" You can't do this to me, Chasm, it's been a rough couple of years in this century, I don't need the last one fucking with me like this. [COMMANDER] [CIVVIE] Are you sending me to the I.T. guy? He's sending me to the I.T. guy. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Yeah, I can see the big brain on him, been slinging back that Brain and Nerve tonic, have you? You thought it was gonna be a King of the Hill joke because his name is Strickland but it's a Simpsons joke because I'm uncomfortable with change. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] My guy over here really trying to give a canonical explanation to the game teleporting enemies in? [STRICKLAND] [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Yeah, I get it, monsters, military base, this ain't my first rodeo, I can guess that the station is going to be "poorly lit". [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] You mean fans? [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] THAT is a slavjank line, "try to pay maximum attention" is like a skin-walker sentence, it's like English in the uncanny valley, there's just something slightly off about it even though it technically makes sense.

[STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Oh yeah, I'm gonna find out what happens when they get hit with bullets. In their brain. I gotta say after the completely unnecessary intro cutscene, the game does make a hell of a first impression. The browns and greys, not so much, the weather effects? You won't see them much but like wow… The art itself is well drawn, the 3D models are great for the tech they were working with, I'm already being attacked by this scorpion, not much of a threat so let's move on. I'm a little confused about this completely flat surface that's blending into the sky. The game sounds pretty good, the music is atmospheric and cool.

Like Quake, we've got no use key, unlike Quake we've got some really cool environmental details, this paper moving in the wind and this window too. The rest of the game doesn't have this kind of attention to detail, but if you're going to do it, having it be the first thing the player sees is a smart move. I just came up on that rustling paper and I said, "Oh, Chasm, that's adorable." For those of you who commented on that Vivisector video all those years ago about the moth and the light… I get it now. The game's more cryptic sections have hints like this here.

So far, so good, the shotgun here is weak and not very punchy, the animation on this soldier is good though and he's satisfying to shoot. We've got these props in the environment like this ceiling light swinging around, this is weird, maybe it's because this game looks like it came out in 1996 but actually came out in 1997, it occupies this strange place where certain things feel like they don't belong. Certain technological advancements feel out of place, like it's one of the new retro throwback games, except made in the past. Strangely, the game is introducing new enemies pretty quickly. Round a corner into the next hallway and there's a flying enemy guarding the shotgun. I like this shotgun more than I expected.

It sounds a little weak to me on the firing, but the pump sound is nice, and the actual detail on the model is kind of extraordinary. It looks kinda great, actually, like it has the same kind of chunky muzzle flash as the Quake weapons, then it has the actual passable human hand part during the pumping animation, and then you've got shells on the side of it here, and the texture work and animations are really nice. For some goddamned reason it never at any point fires from both barrels. This level is awfully flat, and I can kinda tell that the details you see aren't part of the map, but they're 3D models that they slapped in there to look like map geometry. I get why they'd do that, it's like, you know, more detail than you'd get from brushes.

Map details are meshes, switches are meshes, still I'm getting weird HeXen vibes from these moving walls, like in this secret where I get a big health pickup, in this "restricted area". Something here is off. This game is trying to pull one over on me, there's no way that… Oh… wait a minute. The map is lines. The level is flat. All of the fancy geometric details are 3D models.

There's… There's no… up. Oh… *Earth Appears by Brian Bolger starts* [PAST CIVVIE] Which is a really, really, really, really bad idea when your engine isn't true 3D. [CIVVIE] My god. [PAST CIVVIE] When your engine isn't true 3D. True 3D. True 3D.

[bit-crushed] True 3D. [bit-crushed] 3D. [bit-crushed] 3D. When your engine isn't true 3D. *Earth Appears by Brian Bolger ends* [CIVVIE] My god. What have they done? *Chasm: The Rift Track 09* This is a dark kind of genius.

They didn't have it in them to make a fancy 3D engine to compete with Quake, so they didn't! This is like a fancy Doom engine with 3D models shoved into it, skeletal 3D models, a monster born in past and future tech, how do any of these lights work?! What is happening?! When you look up and down, in a 2.5D game engine, like in Heretic, or in a Build game… It looks like this! In Chasm, it is only barely noticeable, and I don't know how they did that. With all the flying enemies, the dismemberment, the models, there isn't any real verticality in the level design.

Aside from that the game doesn't give it away at any point, it is hacked to oblivion to deliver this to us, through arcane code that may never be used again because after 1997, who was making software rendered DOS FPS games that weren't true 3D? Brazil!? This is the exact opposite of the last episode, with this awful poorly-coded trash. How is this spinning light happening? Is it like what they do in Build? I DON'T KNOW! [COMMANDER] *jump cut* [COMMANDER] [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] "They… can be… considered… winners?" Like I consider myself a winner but I'm a fat nerd who was just impressed by a spinning light in a quarter-century-old video game. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] If they can travel through time, I don't think splitting the atom is outside of their comprehension. I'm probably over-thinking this but I gotta fill time somehow. This is pretty basic stuff, right? Hallways in a military base, shotguns, machine guns, cargo bays where I'm not using the frankly embarrassing one-foot jump but instead doing the Doom thing of running so fast that you move over gaps in the floor, possibly Mario 2 Luigi rules, the combat itself isn't bad, right, it's okay, sometimes feeling nice, frantic, weighty, and I think that has a lot to do with the sounds and animation. Got me a laser crossbow, nice, aiming for the head-shot and I'm kinda doing it.

Here are those nukes I was warned about. The Timestrikers set up a portal in a vent near one of the missiles so they were just… right there. That's not good… I have questions. OH GOD NO WHAT WHY?! Cool, uh… Event Horizon hallway here, let me just… This guy with the rocket launcher, called a "Faust" in the manual, so we know he got a deal for that rocket launcher.

*dead silence* You guys stopped doing the laugh track from last time? *dead silence* It wasn't good? *dead silence* Okay, moving on, he shows up fairly early in the game for such a difficult enemy. [reading] *silence* Sure, let me look up the… Nope, there's no crouching in this game. It's a turn of phrase, Civvie, you hack! It says that because on Hard mode, they have homing missiles.

The rocket launcher will give you some sweet karmic revenge against them. It's another nicely animated weapon. It's really weird to me that all the Chasm weapons are way better than the ripoff Chasm weapons in Perilous Warp. This is a rough start, but don't worry, it's the first boss level.

That's… not possible, really, what you have to do is not get murdered until one of these doors opens, and then hit some switches until you can lead the monster towards a hallway where you activate a fan that will suck him in. All the boss fights in Chasm are puzzles, and some of them are a little weirder than others. This one is called the Sarcophagus because that's exactly what that word means. "Surgically implanted chainsaw and rocket launcher." "You can shoot him all day, but eventually you'll blow him away!" Oh, Chasm, that's adorable.

[STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] WOAH! Don't time-stand in front of that time-fan, I just time-diced the time-boss in it. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] I think that's what they did with Quake to make this game. Hey, what happened to the commander? [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Oh. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] I mean I didn't know him personally, didn't even catch his name, and I'm going to be doing all the "going on", yeah? [STRICKLAND] This is a great loss for our platoon. *Chasm: The Rift Track 05* [CIVVIE] It's a little different, it's LESS flat I guess, with some destructible walls, new monsters whose head I can shoot off with a satisfying little blood spurt out of their necks.

This enemy, according to the manual, is called… Gross. Why do I even need to be here if you got names like that? Zombies who are best dealt with via explosives, like Quake zombies, except they have deadly screams. This is giving me retail flashbacks. This whole section of the game is taking great pains to cover up how flat the levels are with 3D models like pillars, palm trees, obelisks, arches, really cool looking for the time, can't substitute them for good level design. This ceiling with the rocks and stuff looks far beyond what this game should be capable of.

This section is a flat maze full of zombies still. *rock falling* Oh, Chasm, that's adorable. Time to get into "The Underdune", the level from the demo in the menu, and the most confusing one of the whole game, I'm gonna do all of you a solid and let you know this now: the top of this box can be shot off.

And the ankh you find in the level gets placed there. You're welcome. Once the Egypt section is over, you get to the next boss, and this level makes me think they were learning this engine as they went along.

It keeps looking more and more advanced as time goes on. It keeps hitting me with these things that I didn't expect the game to be able to do, like shooting a rock that will drop and activate a lever. It's fucking 1997 and this isn't a LucasArts adventure game, why would I have ever thought of that? Are you ready for the game to troll you? Because in Chasm, you better pay attention to these messages, and their EXACT WORDS! "Destroy the Sphinx completely." Yeah, shoot at it until it dies, I got it.

I don't got it- That's not what they mean, they mean the Sphinx, the boss isn't the sphinx, unless you look at the manual, and then it is. [reading] Yeah, there is, he's got homing projectiles that will kill you real quick. So I'm destroying the sphinx with these spinning blades which are actually really cool, Perilous Warp made them seem shittier, anyway, when they say "DESTROY THE SPHINX", they mean the statue that he burst out of.

And then the boss you're fighting explodes into lava squares, and I guess I got too close to one of them because then I exploded. Time vortex is over here somewhere. Yeah, there it is. You might be wondering why I keep exploding.

I don't know, exactly, there seems to be a time limit to your ability to exist between beating the boss and entering the time portal, it is one of the few mysteries they don't hint at with the in-game text or in the manual. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Cool, but the Egypt levels are over. [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Of course they were! They have a time machine! How is this even a fight? Humans should never have evolved from the fish that crawled onto land.

[STRICKLAND] *jump cut* [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Okay… but hear me out! What if we go back a little bit more to before they come out of the time portal, and so it's easier to contain them because they're all coming out of one portal, you know, and then it's easier, I didn't realize before that we could pick and choose where this time portal was going so we can go to any point in time, we could engage in time warfare, on the same level as the enemy, we could go save the commander! [STRICKLAND] This is a great loss for our platoon. [CIVVIE] But no, let's go to the castles and look at the fucking tapestries! Dick! *Chasm: The Rift Track 05* I do like this episode better with its bizarre enemies and more open but less confusing design. Because all of the episodes introduce new enemies that only appear in those episodes, your medieval episode has vikings, yeah, cool, killer Werehogs, I don't know why he's a "werehog", let me do a quick search and… Oh, come on! Let's not undersell the other enemy in this episode, the Joker.

Listen, I understand that Sega hadn't ruined Werehog yet but you guys had to know the Joker was being used. This enemy, this jester, with a fucking saw blade for an arm is really cool! They knew that, it's why he's on the box! At this point in the game, I think the combat is as good as it's gonna get, the enemy animations and their feedback is pretty fun and dynamic, only occasionally dipping its toe into being fucking bullshit. Say what you will, that is some beautiful low-poly artwork. I don't remember exactly when I picked up the Mega Destroyer, a weapon so powerful its name had to be less subtle than "Big Fucking Gun". I held off using it for a long time thinking I didn't need it but sometimes you really need to waste an enemy quickly. Of course it doesn't work on the boss because that's a puzzle.

Okay, it's not exactly a puzzle, it's a thing where you have to hit three switches in a specific order to turn a light on and lead the Phantom into this light. This is oddly familiar, didn't I kill Count Orlok this way? Let's see what the manual says about it: [reading and emphasizing the last part] Is it considered a spoiler if the manual basically tells you how to beat the boss? [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] I don't know anything more about them then I did when I started, and I read the manual! [STRICKLAND] [CIVVIE] Okay, but… hear me out! What if we built a super-tough robot and sent it back in time instead? Something that's a little less likely to being killed by wild boars- [ZARDOZ] THE GUN IS GOOD. THE PENIS IS EVIL. GO FORTH AND KILL. *weird and distorted mechanical sound* [CIVVIE] That's what the level is called! We're back to basics, which is fine, I've never made it nearly this far into this game before but so much is familiar because I've played Perilous Warp, like these enemies, and all of the alien enemies, even the chunky laser-blasting boy.

This is my favorite part of the game so far because of how fast and frantic it becomes. Much tougher. There is something uniquely satisfying about blowing both the alien's arms off, and then its head. Of the few power-ups in this game, there's a reflection power-up that I really enjoy. Ammo can be a little tight for anything but the shotgun. I ended up even using the land mines, which I haven't even mentioned in this video yet.

Having foresight from tripping into this room, fucking up, activating the spawner, and then dying in a humiliating way, I try out some land mines. Could've gone worse. Imagine what I could do to these Timestrikers if I had the ability to like… time travel! I'm having a blast in this episode. The flatness of the levels offset nicely with the arenas opening up, this calls for a combat montage! *funky and techno-thingy music (Chasm: The Rift Track 09)* Look, I'm trying to transition out of this 90's techno-bullshit and I'm… I'm not seeing it opening, you know, it just keeps going and going- *music stops dead* The final boss, this big worm coming out of the ground, The final boss, this big worm coming out of the ground, called the Time Judge in the manual… Okay. "The final act!" I don't know if that's a hint or not. This is a weird one.

I have a feeling they were trying to outdo Quake a little bit with this one, which is weird since Quake's boss fights were trash. You have to get onto a platform and jump into the worm, sort of like how you have to get into Shub-Niggurath, and I figure the best way to deal with this isn't rockets, what's a Mega destroyer for if not mega-destroying things! *worm screeching in agony* [reading] …dot…dot…dot… It's the end. Okay, mostly. They patched in some extra maps later that are kinda cool, I guess. There's only 3, you know, sometimes I want to play the extra levels and sometimes I don't, ya know, because fuck HeXen.

A snowy level with polygonal trees and… Okay, I wasn't expecting that big metal castle in the middle of a Scandinavian tundra but hey, it's certainly cool-looking. Just like most architecture, it's a lie and the inside doesn't look anything like that. In fact the inside looks a lot like a Quake level from Episode 3, one of those American McGee joints, it's cool! The last level is- *Quake zombie sound* The last level is- Kept me waiting, Chasm, didn't ya? There's even a new boss that requires an ingenious use of the reflection power-up. And then it's over, quick and easy. [reading] *tries in vain to pronounce Bonifaciy* No! [reads the rest] Chasm, the Rift, a cult classic, the cleanest, most impressive slavjank I've ever witnessed, from the masters of enjoyable weirdness over at Action Forms. One day I hope to get myself a copy of another game of theirs I've heard good things about: Cryostasis, the last game of theirs before they were sent to the mobile gaming gulag, and you know what, Raven might be set free, why not Action Forms? I've joined the Chasm cult, kids, where do I find a time-knife to sacrifice a time-goat to Time-Moloch? *end credits*

2022-02-20 00:40

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