Developer: Auroch Digital
Publisher: Auroch Digital
Space Hulk and Blood Bowl tend to trip off the tongue when you're talking about Games Workshop spin-offs. Perhaps Necromunda, Gorkamorka or even my personal favourite Inquisitor if you're showing off. However, you'll rarely find a lot of love for Chainsaw Warrior outside of a few niche circles.
That's understandable. Rather than a tabletop wargame or board game for multiple players, Chainsaw Warrior was designed for a solitary participant back in 1987, drawing cards and rolling dice to simulate a desperate assault on a demon-infested city against the clock. A little like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except with less choosing and adventure and rather more murdering hordes of hellish undead with a massive logging tool. After a quarter of a century, Auroch Digital have brought the entire experience to PC and tablets, offering compelling solo combat and randomised playthroughs that are never the same each time. For £3.99.
Frankly, it's really rather good as far as it goes.
The premise, explained via a somewhat underwhelming graphic novel, is that New York teeters on the brink of total destruction by shadowy entities from another realm. Undead horrors are pouring through interdimensional gates, threatening to completely overrun the city if not the entire world. Of course, only one man can save the day. The Chainsaw Warrior. By the looks of things, 'must possess your own chainsaw' was the only bulletpoint in the job description.
Gameplay-wise, your quest to save the city is represented by a randomly-shuffled deck of cards that you'll flip over one at a time. Each card represents a hazard, obstacle or event that you'll encounter as you stalk through the streets: sometimes a locked door that needs to be battered down, often an nasty trap to circumvent or an empty room to lick your wounds. However, it's just as likely to be a ravening zombie or horde of mutant rats out for your blood. Whatever you encounter, you'll need to cross your fingers, roll some virtual dice and hope for the best.
A simple and intuitive interface puts all the information and commands you need at a glance, or within range of a quick click (or finger prod depending on your choice of platform). Whether you're engaging in close combat, attempting to shoot an enemy before it gets into range, hacking open a door or trying to evade a trap, you'll need to rely on two fickle cubes, which roll and rattle across the screen in satisfyingly traditional fashion. Unlike Full Control's Space Hulk adaptation that relegated its dice to the sidelines and neutered its sense of tension in the process, Chainsaw Warrior's dice rolls are front and centre, leading to some genuinely tense moments as they teeter between survival, success and abject failure. Once you factor in dwindling health, a tight virtual time limit and persistent radiation damage, this unassuming Unity-powered card game becomes a surprisingly thrilling experience.
If you manage to survive the first half of the deck, you'll have the chance to run into The Darkness: Chainsaw Warrior's big bad. Defeating him saves Manhattan and wins the game, but chances are that you won't make it that far, or end up falling in the final battle. At which point it's time for another run.
Before each attempt, you're able to randomly determine the Chainsaw Warrior's vital statistics and choose from a hefty selection of limited-use weapons and gadgets. Your stats dictate whether you'll spend your time brawling, shooting or attempting to escape, while weaponry and gear can make an enormous impact depending on the enemies you run into. Sometimes you'll find a pair of wire cutters totally useless, but the next time round, a chain-link fence might stand in your way and eat up valuable time. Or perhaps a flamethrower would be more useful. Each run feels totally different, and choosing a loadout that suits your playstyle provides a welcome extra layer of compelling depth.
It's inappropriate to call Chainsaw Warrior a 'Roguelike' due to the lack of grid-based exploration and combat, but it does share plenty of similarities in terms of progression and long-term appeal. Much of the joy stems from the simple of just replaying the randomised campaign over and over again, with different loadouts, until you finally manage to win out thanks to experience and more than a little blind luck. Brilliantly, Chainsaw Warrior is priced as a throwaway distraction and can be played as such, but chances are that you'll end up succumbing to its 'go on then, just one more game' factor. It's almost impossible not to get decent value for money and entertainment/£ here.
Chainsaw Warrior isn't a great game. It's not going to set the world on fire or fuel a new phenomenon. But it is what it is: a functional and enjoyable use of £3.99 that will net you plenty of nostalgic entertainment, and succeeds in its simple mission statement. It's Chainsaw Warrior. No more, no less. And that's absolutely fine.
- Compelling and surprisingly tense card gameplay perfectly translated onto monitors and touchscreens
- Intuitive interface masks pleasing depth; versatile gear and weapons
- Fantastic value at £3.99
- Somewhat bare-bones presentation
- Occasionally frustrating
The Short Version: Chainsaw Warrior is a fun, surprisingly compelling and profoundly inexpensive way of experiencing one of Games Workshop's lesser-known spinoffs. You'll come for a cheap and cheerful distraction, but end up staying much longer than you intended thanks to its 'just one more run' gameplay.