After receiving a light remastering effort for a PC re-release last year, 1997’s Chasm: The Rift – an early 3D FPS from Ukrainian developers Action Forms – has been ported to all current- and last-gen consoles, the Nintendo Switch included.
As someone who primarily gamed on PC through the late ‘90s, I’m partial to both remastered classics FPS and modern “retro-inspired” FPS that draw inspiration from them – but despite a passionate and vocal fanbase, this console port of Chasm: The Rift is great for preservation but difficult to recommend above other iconic games from the same period that received the same treatment.
The closest point of comparison is clearly Quake (1996) but with more detailed enemy models, smoother animations, an abundance of pixelated particles and gore, and a longer time-to-kill, it feels a little closer to Quake II, which was released a few months after it. Sadly, it never feels as consistent or compelling as those games despite several novel mechanics for the time.
Dismembering your through time
Starting with the good, Chasm: The Rift has both an interesting premise and an intelligible story, all told through unexpectedly verbose mission briefings. They feature truly awful voice acting but it just edges into “so-bad-it’s-good” territory and feels like a step up from the simple text blocks in DOOM or Quake.
You play as a commando defending Earth from the “Timestrikers” – time-travelling mutants intent on invading the planet across multiple periods in history. After defending a modern military facility and preventing them from claiming a nuclear arsenal, you travel to ancient Egypt to discover more about their plans, jump forward to the Middle Ages to thwart another attempt, and finally take the battle to their home dimension.
The structure is familiar but the premise allows for a decent mix of environments and enemy types, and the idea pre-dates more recognisable time-travelling FPS like Daikatana and Time Splitters in 2000, or Serious Sam in 2001. There are four episodes, each containing four levels and a boss, plus a three-level expansion pack to wrap up the story. It’s a brisk experience but, like many games from that period, you’re encouraged to hunt for secrets or tackle higher difficulty levels that boost the enemy count and incoming damage.
Chasm: The Rift also has many of the basics in place you’d want from a classic FPS: movement and strafing are blisteringly fast by default; jumping is less useful than simply running between gaps at full speed; and most guns – aside from the starting single-barrel shotgun – look and sound reasonably powerful when you pull the trigger; something helped no end by the pixelated but wonderfully exaggerated particle and gore system.
Chasm: The Rift has bullet-sponge enemies – something I normally dislike – but this pushes you to master the dismemberment system. Heads can almost always be taken off with a few well-placed shots, but the most dangerous enemies are best dealt with by first blasting off their weapon-bearing limbs to reduce their damage output and leave them stumbling around trying to bludgeon or bite you. An equally thoughtful approach is needed to defeat bosses in puzzle-like sequences, rather than by just pumping hundreds of rounds into them.
Given its age, the console versions handle Chasm: The Rift‘s upscaled visuals and remastered audio with ease and deliver a solid 60fps frame rate – though the updated HUD is prone to bugging out at times, forcing you to switch to the classic version until the next level loads. More impressive was the gamepad support as the default controls felt good and it took me only a minute of tweaking sensitivities and acceleration to find a sweet spot. I’m not sure I’d want to tackle the highest difficulty, but with auto-aim engaged, Chasm: The Rift struck a good balance between assisting me and rewarding my skill on gamepad.
Too many ambushes and defensive gunplay
Now despite some great ideas and solid foundations, Chasm: The Rift just doesn’t feel as consistent, balanced, or dynamic as its contemporaries were.
After a somewhat generic opening episode, I enjoyed the increased focus on traps and puzzle-like obstacles in the ancient Egypt and Middle Ages episodes, but all too often Chasm: The Rift resorts to maze-like levels with switches or keys to find – often with no clear indication of where to use a key or what the switch you activated just did – and constant ambushes.
Ambushes are problematic as many enemies either have hit-scan weapons, or fire projectiles that move so fast they might as well be. On normal and above, it’s all too easy to turn a corner and have half your health shredded before you can react. This design leads to slow advances, frequent retreats, constant abuse of the quick-save/quick-load function, and corner-hugging firefights – baiting attack animations, dashing behind cover, then stepping out to return fire.
The knock-on effect of playing cautiously is the time you have to realise how limited the enemy roster is and how interchangeable many of the weapons feel. With the exception of the crowd-clearing grenade launcher and whatever the BFG-equivalent is called, other weapons – including the “Blade Gun” that featured so heavily in the marketing – are just as effective at removing heads or limbs as any other.
Sure, weapons have different firing rates and per-shot damage, but it feels like they have the same overall DPS, bullet spread is negligible, and optimal range feels irrelevant in cramped environments. At almost any point, you can remove limbs and heads just as effectively with the double-barrel shotgun, blade gun, crowbow, or mini-gun; making for increasingly mundane combat when no matter the weapon, you’re holding down the trigger for the same amount of time to achieve the same result.
Great ideas, inconsistent execution
If you’re one of the long-time fans of the original, and you’ve been looking to play this on the couch or on the go with a Switch, this console release of Chasm: The Rift is easy to recommend. It’s feature-complete; looks, sounds, and runs about as good as it could without a complete overhaul of the engines or assets; and the gamepad support is solid right out of the gate.
If, on the other hand, you’re simply curious about a classic FPS from a fledgling Eastern European developer before the region became the powerhouse they are today, Chasm: The Rift has some neat ideas but it doesn’t come together as well as it should, and it can’t stand toe-to-toe with early 3D juggernauts like Quake or Unreal.
An Xbox Series code for Chasm: The Rift was provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, PS4/5, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.