Chameleon – Forgotten Stealth

Chameleon is a stealth action game made by the guys behind Hidden & Dangerous, Mafia and the Vietcong franchise, they were known as Illusion Softworks. Like many old times game developers, they are no more. The thing with Chameleon is that it was only released in the East, so it didn’t see proper publishing in the West, but thanks to Internet magic it is now playable for us that live here. Somewhat.

You play as a former government agent, I’m not exactly clear what alphabet agency, just like I’m not exactly clear with the details of the story since my sound kept crapping out on me during cut-scenes, taking the subtitles with it for some reason. But the gist is, when you were a child, your parents, being ambassadors in some godforsaken South American country, gets taken out by a sniper. You survive, and well, this brings us to the start of the actual story taking place in current day. In some way you get news about the sniper rifle used in the murder, and it’s a special custom-built one, so not impossible to track down. That will be your mission henceforth – track down the rifle and find your parent’s murderer. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s a glob trotting experience, taking you all over in hopes of finding clues that will eventually lead you right to the killer. From prisons in the amazons to the streets (and sewers) of Baltimore. There are even a few shoot-out segments in Beirut.

The weather is the cherry on top

While the story seems simple enough, it’s a classic way to take us all over the world to experience fantastical places, well, some at least. All these kinds of thriller games, and movies for the matter, seem to rest on this storytelling aspect. I don’t mind it too much, considering my favorite stealth franchise Splinter Cell is the same. As mentioned, I couldn’t take part in all the story sections since my sound kept dying for whatever reason. Yet, I did notice it seems to be linked to the amount of reloads you do… and you will be doing a lot of reloading. This leads me to gameplay.

Everyone knows green means super stealth time

At its heart, it’s a stealth game, similar to Splinter Cell, but with unforgiving AI. Unforgiving, since they will aimbot you from half a kilometer away, but at the same time act rather retarded. Exactly as it was in Hidden and Dangerous 2. Another problem with the AI, besides having a godly aim, is that their reaction time is superhuman. This means any kind of screw-up will punish you severely. They also react very unrealistically, like they don’t react to being shot (getting hit), don’t care that their friends got their brains blown out, and stuff like that. Their only reaction to any hostile action is met with 130% hostility, all the time, every time, it’s like they are robots. This kills the immersion when it comes to the sneaking and stealth murdering aspect – having these machines as stand-ins for people just sucks to joy out.

Otherwise, the stealth system works okay. Some missions have you restricted, for example, mission failure when spotted, often with you having no way to interact with the enemies. It’s strictly an avoidance type of deal. I did find these missions the most boring ones. Because you can’t fail and continue, you are not allowed to do anything, except discover and follow the extremely linear fashion of completing the mission. When you find out where to go, the missions usually go pretty smoothly, but before that – it’s chaos time! You will die and fail repeatedly, like if you got any kind of light on you, the enemies will spot you from miles away. Darkness makes you almost invisible, though. It’s rudimentary, but it works. When it functions best you can have a good time – popping heads with a silenced SIG Sauer 9 mm pistol never gets old. Hey, don’t feel bad for shooting dudes, soldiers, guards, or whatever, the story never actually acknowledges the murdering, so I don’t think you have to either.

Our protagonist looking badass in camo gear

When not skulking about in the darkness and instead having you shoot dudes to progress the story the combat, in general, feels deadly, at least when it comes to incoming bullets. Shooting anything automatically will send your mouse cursor skywards. I did enjoy the difficulty of shooting because it made me more careful with aiming and having to find a good spot to fire from. What I didn’t like with the shooting is how weak all the guns feel, except for headshots. Even a guy in just a thin shirt will tank several 9 mm rounds to his chest before going down – which would be fine if he had any kind of reaction to the damage sustained, but nope. He just stands there, takes it, and returns fire like it was a bunch of mosquitos pinching him. Still, the combat is fine for the most part, mostly due to the nice animations, and the sidestepping action you can do in third-person. You can play in first-person too if you feel inclined. It does make it easier for precision aiming.

All in all, the gameplay is not the greatest, but it’s passable, and worth trying, especially since nowadays, it’s a free game in a genre that is starved of good semi-realistic games, aka the spy stealth genre. What does make it stand out, though, is the engine running it all. It’s the same engine that was used for Hidden and Dangerous 2, a game I have mentioned once or twice in this review already. While I do enjoy H&D2, it does sadden me to see that the same issues from that game are in this title, like the omnipresent but somewhat mentally challenged AI. Because otherwise, this engine, called the LS3D engine, is fantastic. It still looks great today, runs extremely smooth, it got a good animation system, and supports large-scale environments, indoor and outdoor in great detail. It also has this rugged, realistic style to it. I think you know what I mean if you have played any of the games made on the engine, like Mafia, Vietcong, and H&D2. It has a unique look. It’s just a shame that the AI is so underwhelming, which in my opinion breaks much of the enjoyment and immersion. It did it back in the day when I played H&D2 for the first time, and it did it fairly recently as well again when I tried it. Jesus, those long-range desert/Norway missions…

Looks nice, feels nice!

Anyway, if curious, it’s free to pick up from My Abandonware. Just scroll down and get the custom installer made by the user Elemhunter. It includes the English translation as well!

And well, it’s hard not to recommend it, since as mentioned, it’s free, and besides the issues presented it’s a nice little stealth game set in a realistic setting, which is rare nowadays. I had fun with it, and the engine in itself is nice to experience again. Especially since it’s such a treat for the eyes, and ears when the sounds work!

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas


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