CHAOS OVERLORDS / New World Computing / PC

Chaos Overlords is a really simple strategy game, really almost more like a board game than a proper combat-based game. It doesn't seem very simple at first, though, mostly because the menus are not very intuitive! If you don't have a manual, it takes a minute to figure the game out, but it's worth the effort as it's really not complicated at all and quite addictive once you get into it.

You play in a cyberpunk-themed dystopian city. The setting is that world governments have largely gone bankrupt by the year 2050, and giant corpos have bought them up and taken control. The largest of the corpos institutes a crackdown on everything fun in life - guns, drugs and pornography. So gangs called the Chaos Overlords arise to distribute these necessary goods to the masses. You take control of a Chaos Overlord and fight it out for turf against other criminal kingpins.

There's absolutely no story, no characters, no Campaign Mode, etc. Basically each game takes place on a randomized city map, with the only difference being the settings you put into play and the overall size of the map. The objective could be to kill all the other gangs off completely, or take over everyone's HQ, or take over a certain amount of turf, or be the first to reach a certain amount of money. It's just pure tabletop-style gaming.

The game runs in Windows and has a simple drag-and-drop system for the most part. Usually you start out with one square of turf. Each square contains three structures that are randomized with each play. These structures have to be "influenced" by one of your goons to fall under your sway, which takes a certain amount of turns dependent upon its resistance level and the particular goon's "influence" ability. Once under your grasp, they confer benefits like increased income, increased public support, and some allow you to research and buy better armaments. To expand into unclaimed turf, you similarly send a goon there to "Control" it. If you want enemy turf, you have to send a goon in to create "Chaos" until it destabilizes and becomes neutral again, then you can Control (each unit type has Chaos and Control levels as well.) You can only hire one goon type per turn per square of terrain that you own, and each square has a random pool of three goons available.

And then of course, there's combat. When opposing units occupy the same square of turf, they can take one crack at each other per turn. Of course, each unit has a basic Attack and Defense rating, but there's several layers of complexity beyond that. Some units are good with a particular weapon type, like guns or knives, and not so good with others, so equipping a cheap unit properly can boost them considerably. You start out with a really basic list of weaponry and armor you can buy, but to get the advanced stuff, you have to hire a unit good in Research and have them sit in a quiet zone with a Science Center that you control for a few turns to come up with new weapon and armor types. Also, each unit has a Stealth and Detect rating. That squad of shock troopers with the plasma rifles might be able to totally wipe out a group of Bike Messengers in one turn ... but not if they can't see them! Environmental factors of what buildings you control in a square of turf also influence all of these ratings.

The game was designed for Windows 95, but still runs in flavors beyond that, albeit a bit hinky. In XP, the mouse cursor twitches between the loading hourglass and the pointer constantly. It doesn't disrupt gameplay but it is a little annoying. The biggest downer is that the game seems to have a lot of trouble playing the CD audio tracks, which were actually a huge selling point of the game. It's this ambient industrial electronica music done in a real hardcore cyberpunk dystopian style and it sounds fantastic, worth checking out even if you don't get into the game. Most "abandonware" games come with the tracks stripped out, but even when they are included there's no way to play them except having them on in the background in Windows, but that's tough because this game doesn't like multiple windows very much. I just put them on an iPod playlist, the game randomly shuffles them as you play anyway, so same effect really, and the sound effects are nothing worth even bothering with.

Links :

* Demo Version
* Dem Tunes
* Chaos Overlords 2 development on Facebook

Videos :

* Introduction Video
* Gameplay Video
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