Chrono Rage Review
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved re-ignited the fervor for arena shooters in 2005. Whether you're into slaughtering zombies or flying through space, there have never been so many options. Alone, the Indie section of Xbox Live is nearing 200 entries, if it hasn't already surpassed that milestone. This also means that every addition to the genre has to work that much harder to justify its existence. Chrono Rage for the PC tries to distinguish itself with numerous modes and a time-altering mechanic, and succeeds.
The situation is immediately familiar, with one analog stick for moving around the 2D arena and one for shooting swarms of enemies (keyboard and mouse controls available). Where Chrono Rage diverges is the scoring system. There are no lives or traditional scores. Everything revolves around a countdown. The goal is to quickly clear the 20 stages, before time runs out, with each hit you take deducting 30 seconds. It's a nice change from the combos and multipliers of other shooters, while still rewarding skillful precision.
Enemies swirl onto the battlefield from a vortex of pixels in the background, offering you a brief moment to anticipate which enemies will appear and where. As a dose of fan-service, many, if not all enemies are culled from classic shmups, including Galaga, Space Invaders, and others whose names escape me. Even the power-ups that give your ship a temporary boost in firepower are taken straight from Gradius/Life Force.
New enemies are steadily introduced all the way up to the final confrontation. They will keep you on your toes with kamikaze attacks, criss-crossing lasers, teleportation maneuvers, and three types of homing shots, to name a few abilities. Oh, and floating heads, because no shmup is complete without them. Time Warps, acquired through successful kills, slow all enemies to a crawl. And, since Time Warps also stall the clock, effective usage is imperative for obtaining top ranks.
Achieving higher ranks on each stage of the campaign, or through individual Time Trials, feeds the replay value by unlocking four Survival modes. Instead of beating the clock, these gauntlets require you to feed time into it by wreaking as much havoc as possible. Normal mode is exactly that, while Revenge swaps your blasters for an intense laser. In truth, I haven't been able to unlock the last two modes, but the fact that I am still trying means that Chrono Rage is doing its job and luring me back for more.
Shmups are typically less intensive to develop than most genres, and fans don't expect grandiose production values, which explains why indie shmups are pouring out of the woodwork. These factors also make me appreciate Chrono Rage that much more, with its crisp and colorful visuals, 21 achievements, and an exciting blend of hard rock and electronic thumping away at all times. Chrono Rage even has the generosity to include a save function; something that almost no shmups bother to include.
Chrono Rage never strays far from conventions, but it is always a joy to play. The lack of multiplayer and selectable difficulties is regrettable, but hardly detrimental in light of the numerous modes offered. In a market becoming crowded with shoddy knockoffs, Chrono Rage stands out as a polished trophy of the genre.