Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate PC Developed by Random Games Released in 1998
There used to be a time when the 40K license for video games was exclusive to Strategic Simulations, a time fondly remembered for the steady supply of varied 40K strategy games. While Final Liberation was a neat adaptation of Epic, offering large-scale battles between large units and machines of war, Chaos Gate opted to go for something more small and personal.
Like moving one figure at a time
Chaos Gate places you in control of a unit of Ultramarines and through its campaign tasks you with waging war against the Word Bearer Chaos Marines under command of your nemesis, Chaos Lord Zymran.
Each mission places you in a different battleground in which you must defeat foes and complete specific objectives. The missions all have their own rules that dictate how many squads and what kind you may take, so some may require that you specifically use the versatile Tactical Marines while another recommends the use of the sturdier Terminators. Prior to starting you can also customize each individual soldier, swapping items in their preset inventory or giving them more specialized weapons.
What I really like about this game is that it somewhat resembles X-Com. You decide the equipment of each of your soldiers and take them out to the field where they gain experience and earn medals for their bravery. There is a real drive to do well because these guys are all named and death is permanent. While the many identical marines aren’t as endearing as the randomized X-Com soldiers who earn nicknames for themselves and whose heroics really stick with you, losing a well-trained sergeant still feels terrible and is a big setback for your unit.
Where the game loses me is in how ponderous it feels to play. Once again, instead of using the phases from the actual wargame, there is an action points system where moving, shooting, and melee are all fused into one turn. However, you need to move each of your soldiers individually or cope with the imprecise formation movement. Trying to keep track of which identical blue guy has already moved each turn gets confusing, especially because the camera tends to teleport around the battlefield when shots are fired, leaving it up to you to scroll back to where you were.
The controls are neither good or bad, they fall somewhat in-between where it’s not really hard to learn how to play, but even when you do it feels less than ideal. You can simply click on a guy and then click where you want him to move or who you want him to shoot, but often my guys would stop moving long before they arrived where I indicated. I guess this is because they established line-of-sight with an enemy, but it just meant more micro-managing and losing track of which soldiers I still had to order around. You can also activate a mode wherein you can shoot freely and for some reason I could never get the game to deactivate this, meaning I often wound up shooting my own soldiers when trying to select them, or wasting ammo repeatedly shooting the ground.
Turns take forever to resolve because of this and become longer the more marines you take into battle. You also have to watch the enemy’s turn and you’ll seriously want to head into the options menu to crank up the movement speed to maximum because watching a dozen ineffective chaos servants marching around gets so boring. On top of that, the random-number generator in this game can be particularly cruel: I had one sergeant die of a single stray bullet while one chaos marine stood around for two turns eating four rockets, five grenades and at least twelve good hits from various guns before going down. Admittedly that was a one-time occurrence, but it sure caused me a lot of frustration.
Did I have fun playing Chaos Gate? No, I can’t really say I did. The combination of long turns, the heavy reliance on chance, and the frankly absurdly large stages really take away from a game with a lot of potential. A strategy game where you level up your soldiers and earn medals sounds great and the 40K universe is filled with cool weaponry to equip your guys with, but with controls like this it’s no fun at all.
Gameplay score: 3/10
They are like toys!
Starting up this game I was a disappointed that the only faction available for the campaign are the Ultramarines,. whereas previous games offered a variety of different chapters to play as, or at the very least restricted us to sensible chapters like the Blood Angels and Dark Angels in Electronic Arts’ Space Hulk games. Regardless I do have to say that the visuals of Chaos Gate have a fun appeal to them, making everything look very toy-like. Marines, when viewed on the equipment screen, have unrealistic proportions and bright colors that, combined with a blocky design, makes them look, well, like toys.
While the cutscenes have aged terribly, the bright colors make for an appealing look that persist even into the actual gameplay, where they pop out against the drab tileset used for the battlefields. Likewise, the bright red of the Word Bearers makes it easy to distinguish man from background. The battlegrounds are terribly presented though and not just because of the dull colors they used. They are so huge that it’s hard to get a good overview, especially since none of the 3 preset camera modes feels good enough. While it’s nice to have a strategy game with some verticality to it, for some bizarre reason it insists on having a fog of war over higher terrain unless you have a unit selected that can see it. This means your own units disappear in the fog of war if you click a different person.
The voice-acting is laudable, though limited to cutscenes and the mission briefings. While rare, they convincingly relay information to you in a style you’d expect from the Imperium’s finest. The music is also suitably epic if a little too loud and, due to the length of the missions, I found that the tracks outstayed their welcome.
Presentation score: 7/10
Customize and share with… somebody?
One of the game’s advertised features is that it has an easy-to-use mission editor with which you can create your own battles and share them with friends. You know, your friends that are playing twenty-year-old strategy games. Sadly, I also couldn’t find any online community specifically sharing custom content for this game, so unless you get a buddy to play this as well you’ll be making missions just for yourself. You can also use that buddy for the competitive multiplayer mode.
Extras score: 5/10
While it was fun to see the Warhammer universe this colorful, Chaos Gate feels like a bother to play and I already found myself getting frustrated with its peculiarities by the time I got to the second mission. Better controls, improved RNG, and smaller maps could have saved this game somewhat, but as it stands you can safely choose to skip this if you have no nostalgia for it.