Welcome to Nostalgia Obscura, the series that shines a spotlight on the hidden gems from gaming’s past…
On this edition, we take a look at Chaos Break, a survival horror game that’s seemingly been lost to time. With copies of the PS1 title now fetching up to £100, we dive into why this cult favourite should be considered in the same regard as the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
The late 90s were a scary time. The X-Files made us afraid of looking at the sky, The Undertaker was committing attempted murder on national TV and even the wide open arms of Creed couldn’t keep us safe from the terrors of ska punk. But if you ever owned one of these, this period will always be known as the era in which survival horror hit it big.
The advent of polygonal 3D graphics gave us a level of immersion never seen before, and for the first time you couldn’t just shoot or jump your way out of trouble, you’d have to run, hide and hope the things that go bump in the night wouldn’t find you.
But while franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are still held in high acclaim both among fans and critics, they weren’t the only players to throw their hat in the spooky ring.
This is the story of Chaos Break, the best horror game you’ve never played…
Hey how’s it going guys! This is Tom from UDS with another edition of Nostalgia Obscura, our series where we uncover the gems of gaming’s past and find out why they’re worth a second look. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe for more videos on games new and old every week, and considering we’re looking at a scary game today, why not drop a spooky skull emoji in the comments.
And while we wait for the skeleton army to grow its ranks, let’s get on with the show…
I came across Chaos Break when I bought a stack of PS1 games off a friend about 8 years ago. While games like Crash Bandicoot and Metal Gear got played until I lost the discs, Chaos Break essentially gathered dust on a shelf. And I’m not quite sure why; I remember that creepy box art having an immediate impact on me, a lone eye staring at you among a stringy maze of viscera. It’s the sort of thing you’d see hanging up in a sketchy Camden bar.
Anyway, for years I forgot I even owned this game, until I was perusing my local second hand game shop and saw that same eye staring back at me, only this time it had a £70 price tag printed underneath it. I immediately went on eBay to make sure this wasn’t a misprint, and sure enough mint condition copies were, and presumably still are, selling for over £100.
This got me thinking. Why is Chaos Break so expensive? Is it so good it can justify a price tag over three times its original RRP? Well this is what I found.
Chaos Break is actually a sequel to Taito’s 1998 arcade exclusive Chaos Heat, so it’s probably worth briefly starting here. To put it kindly, it follows the tried and tested trope of an elite group of soldiers infiltrating a hidden base full of genetically engineered monsters.
Never heard that one before.
But instead of survival horror, it plays more like a beat ‘em up, only you use guns instead of fists. I know that sounds like it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but trust me, find a decent ROM of it and you’ll see what I mean.
Fast forward to the year 2000, and Chaos Break, or Chaos Break: Episode From Chaos Heat to give it its full title, releases for the PS1. But for anyone put off by the sequel label, don’t be. This is much more of a soft reboot, meaning you don’t need to have played the arcade original to have an idea of what’s going on.
So what is going on?
Well, you get a heck of a lot of exposition at the start so make sure to bring a pen and paper. But let’s go over the sparknotes. There’s been some sort of contamination in the shady Fluxus Biomaterial Industries Lab 7, a civilian research facility set on an isolated island. When another agent goes radio silent, it’s your job as either Mitsuki or Rick, our two heroes from the D.E.F, to investigate and find out what the heck has gone wrong.
Depending on who you go with, you’ll follow slightly different paths but with the same rough structure. Once you’re in, you’ll have to fight your way through the facility, avoiding alien parasitic life forms, mutated staff members and the laboratory’s robotic security drones, including a cameo from the monster from the movie Tremors.
While you struggle to survive, you’ll have to find key codes, solve puzzles and access computer terminals to piece together the story and uncover the mystery.
Now on a surface level, this might all sound very familiar. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, and it actually does some pretty neat things that have been picked up in modern day classics.
One of the main ones that stuck out to me was the addition of a dodge roll. This adds a whole different element to gameplay. While the likes of the early Resident Evil can be pretty slow by today’s standards, Chaos Break feels much more fluid and responsive by comparison. In both games you’re meant to be playing as a well trained special agent, but Chaos Break definitely offers a better demonstration of this.
But what’s less accurate is the hilariously bad voice acting. It might not be ‘Jill Sandwich’ bad, but it’s not far off. Take a listen to the battle ready Mituki chatting to her fellow agents.
If they’d been hired to save me from all manner of paranormal beasties, I’d probably start writing my will. But much like the notorious voice acting in its contemporaries, it eventually becomes part of the charm, and adds to the whole experience. Not the spooks, but the charm.
But the story, for the most part, is actually pretty good. My favourite games don’t force narrative down your throat, rather they let you discover it organically. Think the likes of Breath of the Wild or Doom; it’s there if you want it, but it’s not necessary for enjoying the raw gameplay. Chaos Break is very similar, letting you piece things together through computer logs and environmental exposition. This helps you feel like you’ve really been dropped into an unknown situation, left to figure out what’s going on around you.
And what you’ll find around you is very typical graphics for a late era PS1 game. Things might look pretty blocky by today’s standards, but the actual monster, alien and general enemy design is pretty good. It all has a much brighter, more saturated colour palette, compared to the more subdued visuals of similar titles. I think this vibrancy means Chaos Break has aged better than a lot of others, but let me know what you think in the comments.
But running, hiding and shooting isn’t all you have to do, this isn’t church! You also have a range of puzzles and challenges, most of which are pretty good and engaging, but I draw the line at sudoku! I don’t want to do maths puzzles in the middle of my survival horror game, I’ve filed lawsuits for less!
When Chaos Break first released, it pretty much got panned by critics across the board. It got called clunky, outdated and a rip off of Resident Evil. I think this is hugely unfair; sure, it might not be the most revolutionary game ever created, but it did innovate on what came before, and the gripes about bugs can be applied to a lot of other games from the time. Are you telling me Resident Evil or Silent Hill aren’t without the odd technical glitch?
All I’m saying is that Chaos Break has been unfairly forgotten, and should stand pride of place among its peers. If you’re able to find a copy whether online or in your local retro shop, I implore you to pick it up. If for no other reason than that amazing box art.
And that’s a wrap on our look at Chaos Break. Have you played it? Are you planning on checking it out? Please let me know in the comments below, I’d really love to read your thoughts. And while you’re there don’t forget to subscribe for more videos every single week and don’t be afraid to say high on our socials.
My name has been Tom, we’ve been UDS, this has been Nostalgia Obscura, and we’ll see you next time.