There are some classic games that are best left alone – take Pac-Man, for example. Pac-Man‘s formula is so perfect that to tinker with it by adding the third dimension (as some have tried with dubious results) or adding extra features would simply ruin it. Meanwhile, there are other games that have a brilliant premise that would undoubtedly benefit from a 7th generation makeover. Chaos is one such game.
One of the earliest games by Julian (X-Com) Gollop, Chaos was originally released way back in 1985 for the ZX Spectrum, and partially due to its appearance as a Your Sinclair magazine cover tape (twice if I’m not mistaken), gradually built up a cult following in the years that followed.
Chaos was a turn-based tactics game where the player controlled one of up to eight warring wizards. Each wizard was provided with a list of spells to choose from, including animals (bears, bats, wolves), mythical beasts (dragons, unicorns, manticores), projectile weapons like lightening bolts, gooey blobs, and many more besides.
The more powerful the spell, the more difficult it was to cast – creating a bat was far less tricky than a dragon, for example. The only way to be 100 per cent sure that a creature spell would be successful was to cast an illusory version that only appeared to exist – this would result in, say, a dragon just as powerful and destructive as a real one, but with one potentially disastrous drawback: if your opponent cast a Disbelieve spell on your creature, it would disappear in a puff of smoke. This apparently simple part of the game actually proved to be its masterstroke, particularly when playing against human opponents – a wizard could often be on the verge of winning, with a seemingly formidable army of animals to protect him, when a single Disbelieve spell could turn the entire game on its head.
This mixture of risk and reward – plus a bit of poker-faced bluffing thrown in – made Chaos a classic of its kind. Battles were brief, fast paced (particularly for a turn based strategy game) and remarkably varied, especially when you consider that the action took place on a miniscule 10 x 15 cell play area.
Julian Gollop returned to the warring wizards theme five years later with the similarly superb Lords of Chaos, which retained the spell casting mechanic from the original game while extending the map and throwing in a fairly lengthy campaign mode.
While both Chaos and its follow-up are classics in their own right – I still play Chaos frequently through a Spectrum emulator – they deserve to be played by a new generation of gamers, and a remake that marries the campaign mode of Lords of Chaos with the (arguably better) multiplayer of its 1985 ancestor would be the perfect blend. The wonders of modern technology could improve the NPC wizard AI enormously, and the ability to play against other wizards online would add a whole extra tactical dimension.
It appears that the turn-based strategy game has fallen out of favour over the last few years (though the genre appears to be alive and well in Japan, with games like Advance Wars flying the flag on the DS), but who knows? Perhaps a remake of Chaos could be a timely reminder of just how sublime the genre can be.