Platform: Steam (reviewed on)/Android/iOS
Release date: Now
Videogame adaptations of board and card games are I think, well, a weird beast. The type only let out of the basement rarely, dressed up and then let loose on the general public like a rabid Rottweiler at Crufts. Despite being prettied up with animations, they will still feel pretty raw and overt with their mechanics. Although this is usually only a problem for those who get that filthy feeling seeing games that are a bit rough around the edges. I believe where it gets REALLY concerning is usually in the process, despite the opportunity arising, an adaptation will keep faithful to the point of including the warts and boils of the source material. Which I guess really sums up Chainsaw Warrior, for better and for ill.
Chainsaw Warrior is a videogame adaptation of the one-player board game of the same name from the 80s. Originally published by Games Workshop (yes, those Warhammer 40k guys, we’ll get back to that), the electronic form is currently developed and published by Auroch Digital. In it, you play as a burnt-out marine who is brought in to deal with a super-natural force that seeks to bring the spirit chaotic world onto Earth, and if not stopped within an hour will turn it into a feeding ground for demented creatures. Which how else to deal with it, except to shoot it in its face?
So you start off building your character, and thus the clunkiness of the original Chainsaw Warrior begins to climb in through the windows. Depending on the difficulty you’ll get to roll different amounts of dice, with you usually taking the best dice number to determine your ability score. Your ability scores are rolled in order, with no way to assign numbers to what build you want. So you get what you’re given. The only moment of choice is what equipment you buckle yourself up with as you leap into the tower towards The Darkness, who is neither Jackie Estacado or a cheesy 00s English band.
Which for all the good of preparation, it all comes down to the dice. Every moment of combat, every trap, every luck moment of if you’ll stumble into the walking dead, is based purely on chucking two six-sided dice onto the board to see what comes up. All that preparation though can be for absolute naught if the dice are not in your favour, as it is possible to be killed or crippled to the point of your journey to be doomed from that point on in one card. One bad dice roll, and you can lose most of your gear. A run of a bad luck, and you’re dead.
If it seems like I’m over-emphasising luck in a game, that should be about choice, I’m not sure if I am. You’re on a tight schedule in-game, even on the easy difficulty, so every moment not spent turning over the next card to deal with what grizzly fate lies next is your already small pool of currency dwindling quicker than the savings of a gambling addict lost in Las Vegas. You need to press on, and every choice that isn’t flicking over a card (besides picking the starting equipment) is usually not worth it. They have made a game where deviating from the narrow path that is the repetitive action of getting a card and rolling those cubes is foolhardy if you’re not about to die.
That, in its self, makes the game hard to review. You will play, and you will die, but it’ll never feel like something you did. The various options are, well, usually not options so you’re taking the same choices hoping for a different outcome (cue “definition of insanity” Vaas speech). The game, if you can call it that at this point, plays its self against luck.
Which I know Games Workshop took this idea, when making the original game, as perhaps a reflection of having good or bad luck in a cruel and uncaring universe. They did the exact same damn roll-ability-scores-in-order thing with the Warhammer 40k pen-and-paper RPGs, and one of the most common house rules of Dark Heresy is to allow to assign the points as you wish. After all, if you’re against a force that is as brutal as it is never-ending, it is incredibly frustrating to be knee-capped further by being told “Oh, you want to be a sniper? Well, you have more weapon skill than ballistic skill, so tough shit, you’re a melee user now.” The universes created by Games Workshop are hard enough as it is without having tactics lifted from your hands and instead letting the game play its self against luck.
Keeping in mind the price (£3.99), Chainsaw Warrior gets 5/10. For the last five years, there have been talks about what is and what isn’t a game (with Gone Home as everyone’s favourite one to fling shit at) with regards to fail states and levels of interactivity. However, a game that plays its self is more of a frustrating force of apathy that I believe more challenges the distinction of if it even is a game or just a film you have to slap on the back of the head when it randomly pauses.
I don’t even really blame Auroch Digital for this, as a lot of the errors are born from the original game. Although I still wish they had deviated from the source, to present a game you have greater self-efficacy to prevent your fate with than being told to tread down a linear road. As after all, even if we are walking down a narrow path from the cradle to the grave, I’d rather not games try to induce a learned-helplessness in me so much.