Day 224: Chalked

Posted: 2011/06/21 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #224, and today’s game is “Chalked”.

“Save the city… or destroy it!” So begins Chalked’s description, and perhaps not since Jurassic Park on the Sega Genesis gave you the option to “play as the raptor” have gamers been given such a stark choice. Stark also describes the graphics which, rather than looking like a 2D chalkboard, look like a 3D world rendered in chalk. It took me several plays through the 8 minute trial to “get” the game, which involved discovering a few things about the game the instructions didn’t tell me, but once I was in the flow of the game I played it repeatedly and found it to be a unique and engaging experience.

First, from the developer (rece):

“Save the city… or destroy it! Play as the hero and save the city by calling in tips, surrounding suspect buildings, and running down the bad guys. Or choose to destroy the city by avoiding the patrolling heroes and setting bombs inside the buildings – leveling the city building by building. http://iamrece.com/chalked”

The game has you playing both sides of the fence, either setting bombs to destroy buildings or acting as (what appears to be) a vigilante squad out to stop the neighbourhood’s mad bomber. Gameplay as the bomber has you entering buildings, rigging them to blow, then leaving the building before exploding it. The actual setting up of the bomb is done through a quick-time event (and as a big fan of Shenmue, I don’t object to that, especially since you get unlimited tries until you get it right, though additional tries will slow you down and possibly increase the risk of capture). As the team trying to catch the bomber, you play as the leader of the team who is both personally trying to catch the culprit while simultaneously positioning the rest of your team to be the places you can’t be (they will engage if the bomber enters an unspecified radius of their position).

At first the game seems impossibly hard, even on “Easy”. Play as the bomber and you seem to get caught at every turn; play as the heroes, and you can’t seem to stop a single building from exploding. Reading the instructions gave me the basics but failed to impart to me a few key concepts that are important to know: when playing as the bomber, you may enter and exit buildings to evade capture, without setting them to explode; when playing as the bomber, you are given a top down view where, if you look closely, you can see the local anti-bomb team running around trying to find you; as the mad bomber, you can be anywhere on the map when you explode the building and use that to divert attention. The converse of these things are true, as the bomb squad don’t immediately run towards every exploding building as the mad bomber may have already moved on, and if you see the bomber enter a building don’t necessarily wait there for the bomb to be set, check the other sides of the building to see if he immediately left through another door.

The cat and mouse gameplay, as you get a feel of it, becomes habit forming quickly. The game tracks how many buildings you destroyed as the bomber, and in what time frame; as the anti-bomb team, it counts how many criminals you caught and how long it took you. In both cases there’s a winning condition, destroying all buildings as the bomber, or catching all bombers as the neighbourhood watch team. As the bomber, I found myself using the right analogue stick to slowly peer around corners to see where the bomb squad was, in something that reminded me a bit of playing “Prisoner of War”, an avoid-’em-up on the original Xbox.

Graphical presentation is engaging, but the audio could use work. It’s serviceable, as the bomber you hear the bomb squad members talking to each other when they’re close; as the anti-bombers, you hear your teammates when they’ve caught and are tangling with a bomber. I did find the music irritating at first, but I did eventually become desensitised to it. It’s the only black mark on a game that I otherwise couldn’t stop playing.

Some will say it’s expensive at 240 points compared to some other indie games, but given that’s what a single song in Dance Central costs I don’t find that to be an unreasonable sum given I enjoyed the hell out of it. This is not a well known title online, I could only find a single other review of it (and that reviewer appears not to have discovered a few of the key points that I mentioned above), but it deserves a trial. Actually, it deserves several trials because I played it a few times before I was sure I was getting the hang of it. If you really want a different experience, Chalked is it.

Click here to download “Chalked”, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.



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Comments
  1. I think some additional notes about Chalked must be made, given a statment by Kobun. He’s an XBLIG reviewer that I have a great deal of respect for, and has been an inspiration for me, but in a thread on Kotaku went so far as to say that he felt that Chalked was undeniably, full-stop, a bad game.

    Now I freely admit that Chalked is a “love it, or hate it” experience, no question. Furthermore, I freely acknowledge that Chalked is not gaming perfection. In my review I took issue with inadequate documentation that left me discovering certain key concepts (ones that significantly improved my play experience) on my own, and with music that barely deserves the name.

    What Chalked is, though, is a game that for me I have really enjoyed, and have come back to. I enjoyed it despite its flaws, and found in it a unique experience that I enjoyed. Would I have enjoyed it had I not discovered that you could enter buildings and exit them from another side, without rigging them to blow? Probably not. Ditto on the point that if you look carefully you can see the anti-bomb team running around when you’re in the bomb set-up mode, to name just two examples of things that should have been documented better.

    Don’t expect the polish of a radiangames release, or the length and depth of Breath of Death VII, but it is something that after a few play throughs of the trial (and I do recommend a few, not just one) that you might find curiously enjoyable. I certainly did.

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