You “only” get a bit over 100 abilities in this early access version?
Developer: Juggernaut Games
Publisher: Juggernaut Games
Release date: 16 Nov, 2021
StarCrawlers Chimera is a weird one. In some ways it bears a lot of similarities to its predecessor, StarCrawlers, in some other ways it’s so different that the two games feel like they’re from completely different series. The original StarCrawlers was a turnbased grid-based “blobber” (that is a first person RPG where you have a party that moves around as a big “blob”), where you explored randomly generated levels and fought enemies in a way reminiscent of the old Wizardry games (combat takes you to a separate screen where the party members and the enemies take turn attacking each other). The randomly generated levels are still here, but the party is gone.
In StarCrawlers Chimera you’re a lone mercenary who needs to venture into the Chimera BioPharma complex in order to find the elusive Dr. Cerberus. That’s pretty much all the story that’s in the game right now. It’s a sci-fi cyberpunk RPG with where faceless (evil) megacorporations have a finger in every pie and you’re just a lone Shadowrunn…. mercenary who’s try to make ends meet by doing someone else’s dirty work.
Chimera is a first person RPG set in a dystopian cyberpunk future. That much is pretty clear just from what’s shown of the setting. Large indoors areas consisting of offices, labs and storage areas, many of the places baked in a dim cold lighting. The offices feel cold and almost sterile, while the labs look messy and dangerous, like there’s no real regard for the people living here. This point is further hammered home by the “motivation” posters that hangs on the walls in the office areas.
Just going by the graphics, you can tell that this is not an AAA game, but neither is it a game that has no budget. Most of the models and level geometry look pretty nice, though not outstanding. Some of the character models, particularly the robot enemies, are inventive and fun though. The lighting can at times look somewhat weird. It looks like it’s using a default unity lighting engine as its basis, which works, but it gives a slightly unnatural sheen to certain things. Still, it’s not bad looking, just not great looking either.
When it comes to the sound it’s in a similar boat to the graphics, it does the job well enough, but it’s not outstanding. Here the early access status of the game probably does not help either, as some of the sound seemed to be a bit buggy, with effects seemingly missing.
StarCrawlers Chimera is a single character first person grid-based turnbased RPG. The RPG genre is so diverse that it’s hard to sum up what kind of an RPG a game is with just one word. You’re playing as a lone mercenary who need to fight their way deep into the Chimera facility. The game can either be played with or without perma-death and playing without it is set as the default.
Being a grid-based RPG everything aligns to a square grid, including your movement. Steps are taken one square at a time, similar to games like Legend of Grimrock, Eye of the Beholder or Vaporum, with no diagonal movement allowed. As the game is turnbased the world only moves when you do, every time you take a step, attack, use an ability or hit spacebar to “wait” all the enemies around you are allowed to make one action.
One of the standout features of the game is the character customization. When the game starts you’re allowed to pick 7 skill trees out of 36 possible, and these will then define your character. Some skill trees focuses on melee, some on ranged combat, some on special abilities, some on mobility and so on. A few also come with serious drawbacks, like no passive healing. While not every combination of skills make sense, this system gives a lot of flexibility when it comes to character customization, and this gives the game a lot of replay value. The individual “trees” are linear though, but whenever you level up you get one point that you can put in any of the trees you have access to, so even if two characters have identical skill trees, they might end up playing in different ways.
Levels are randomly generated, but made up of pre-made rooms. You’ll for an example find quite a few identical walk-in freezers scattered all over the place, but there are at least a fare amount of different room designs, so you rarely go from one room into another identical one. Each floor is also themed, and have their own unique pieces. Enemies are then scattered randomly through the rooms, themed after the floor and sometimes room (kitchens seem to always have some chef bots in them).
Most rooms will have at least one enemy, though regularly more, and combat is pretty straight forward. As long as you’re in range you just click on an enemy to attack it, or if you want to use an ability you simply select the ability and then click on the target. The game then rolls some dice in the background, to see if you hit, if the enemy blocks and to see how much damage you deal.
The actual enemies are varied. Early on you have simple enemies that just shoot at you or try to rush you and hit you in melee. At most they might throw a grenade that will leave some fire burning on the tile they hit. But towards the later parts of the early access version you’ve got enemies that can spawn other enemies or freeze you in spot making you a sitting duck for any ranged enemies. Knowing how these enemies work and how you can minimize incoming damage is really the key to success.
What would an RPG be without loot? StarCrawlers: Chimera has a lot of different things you can find. Many of those things you can find are donuts, but there are also other items, like the typical RPG stuff such as guns, swords, armour, shields, and also a few trinkets. Most items give you a bonus to a couple of stats, some also a penalty (it’s tough to move around in bulky armour after all), and the weapons will determine how you fight. There’s no real surprises here, but everything works more or less how you would expect, although there are a few cute items that might bring a smile to your face (or make you groan) when you see them.
State of Early Access
Despite being in alpha StarCrawlers: Chimera runs remarkably well. Even when a lot of things are happening at once the game does not slow down, nor did it crash at any point while testing it for this review, apart from during its very first launch. There did seem to be some sound bugs though.
This is not a complete game, mind you. Right now there are only three floors, and not everything is implemented, with there being some placeholders in the skill trees that shows where skills are going to be added in the future (luckily these are at the end of the skill trees). Getting through the three floors with a decent character, where you try to explore as much as possible, is probably going to take a little less than 3 hours, but more floors are coming in future patches. The first two floors are also not as fun or interesting as the third (which was added after the game launched into early access), and hopefully later patches can improve them a bit further.
Then there’s the balance. The skill trees offer a lot of options, but right now the balance needs some work, as some skills seem to be a lot better than others, and certain things are hard to live without (like a self heal).
It was brave of the developers of StarCrawlers: Chimera to deviate so much from the previous entry in the series, particularly as that one was pretty well received. But many of the changes have, in my opinion, been for the better. The original StarCrawlers could have combat that dragged a bit, and that never happens in Chimera. That said, Chimera does not quite have the depth of the first game.
Overall StarCrawlers: Chimera is an RPG that any fans of first person grid-based RPGs should keep an eye on. At its current price it might not offer enough to justify buying if you’re on a budget, as 3 floors really isn’t that much, but what is here is mostly good. And with a few bug fixes and a bunch more floors this will likely turn out to be one of the RPG highlights of its year. But as always with early access games, we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.