Auroch Games' Chainsaw Warrior is a digital reworking of the solo board game version of the same name, a lesser-known Games Workshop offering from 1987. Set in a New York of the future, where zombies, mutant rats and other creatures hell bent on destroying humanity, have entered Old Manhattan through a “warp”.
You play a warrior (equipped, fittingly, with a chainsaw) who has just 60 minutes to save the city. Battling through booby-trapped buildings, you must kill off these monsters before eventually encountering their “leader”; a malevolent entity named Darkness, who plans to destroy New York.
Graphically the game is pretty simple, although to some extent that adds to the game's awesome retro feel. The artwork fuses the colours and styles of late-80s graphic novels with a hefty helping of classic action hero; think Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles meet Arnold Schwarzenegger (fewer turtles, but giant mutant rats aplenty). Where the original hand illustrated artwork couldn't be preserved, the development team have recreated it, updating it, whilst keeping the endearing '80s vibe.
There's a hefty degree of luck involved in your race through the virtual card deck to find “Darkness”, but luck will only get you so far. Having the right pieces of equipment is paramount to success, although knowing which of the aforementioned you'll need is rather a case of trial-and-error. By the third time you find yourself beset by razor wire or blown up by mines you learn that next time you might want to take a metal detector with you, or rope is valuable in preventing you from running out of time, and that the epistolic “chainsaw” is an invaluable addition to your weapons stock.
I've never been the biggest fan of board games, and as such I was rather sceptical about what this digital update could bring to those players who were not great aficionados of the original 1987 game. The game preserves that board game feeling, at least initially, as you still roll dice, turn cards (and then kill whatever is on those cards).
And yet, fifteen minutes in, muttering obscenities under my breath as I failed to kill off a radioactive Chaos Agent, and sighing with relief as I evaded a spiked pit, I found myself forgetting that the enemies were cards and my chance of killing them was determined by two dice rolls and got genuinely involved. Chainsaw Warrior manages to keep the board game concept without its digital rework feeling arbitrary.
With the difficulty set to “hard”, the game becomes even more of a … ahem … “minefield”. Bearing in mind that the “hard” setting merely makes the game exactly the same difficulty as the original board game, and you might be forced to question received wisdom that “everything was easier in the old days”. Removing the option to choose your own cards, you are instead forced to pick them at random, and enter the game with much more punishing health and endurance stats.
At this level, the game seems infuriatingly impossible, but the popularity of Roguelikes on the indie scene in the last couple of years (Faster Than Light and Spelunky spring to mind) suggests that infeasible odds aren't necessarily a deterrent to gamers, and this defiantly tricky setting certainly adds mileage to the game in terms of replayability.
When games like Chainsaw Warrior come to market its all about quick fire gameplay, being accessible to all gamers, while still offering a level of depth to sink your teeth into.
Well Auroch Games know their audience, as CW releases today for just £3/$4.99, and is playable on pretty much any PC or laptop, with intuitive pick-up-and-play mechanics, making it an easy purchase for any gamer looking for their next solid roguelike fix.
Chainsaw Warrior offers excellent value for money, and delivers a faithful reworking of a classic board game. Those that take to it, have hours of fun (or perhaps “challenging frustration”) ahead of them.