When we look down from an unstable platform, some 7 or 8 stories up, our field of vision is obscured by a thick wall of fog. All we can really make out in these confusing weather conditions is the surrounding tree line and some nearby sheds that offer very little shelter.
To make matters worse, the night is stormy and dotted with regular lightning bolts. These are not ideal circumstances for us, as we are currently surrounded by forests, wandering through skinny wooden structures, and scaling an imposing building.
Only a complete fool would put himself in such an obviously dangerous position. However, we have been tasked with scaling this abandoned tower to retrieve documents, which in turn can be traded for valuable scrap metal (a resource we desperately need right now).
We overcome a vertigo attack, do some dangerous platforms and finally reach the top of the stairs. There we rummaged through an office closet for our missing files and, shipment in hand, began the perilous descent back to the ground.
Then we hear the sound we've been dreading all along: the sinister hiss of a steam engine. And it's terrifyingly close, heralding the imminent arrival of our deadly nemesis.
Once again we try to survey our surroundings, but the impenetrable layers of mist make it difficult for us to see anything properly. We know our enemy is out there, and what's worse, he has a pearl on us, but his exact location remains a mystery.
Then we sneak through the conifers and notice a large spider leg whizzing by. Charles is here and he cornered us in this tower with only one exit. At some point we will have to run, but if we do, it will be on our heels and it will be a long walk to safety.
These are the kind of dynamic scenarios you'll find everywhereChoo-Choo Charles, since the titular enemy moves freely around the map and can attack at any time. It's an unpredictable quality that keeps the game exciting and exciting, even if it often ruins your best plans.
Not your run-of-the-mill horror game
The idea of a lonely developer gone crazytwo star games– responsible for the equally wackyhotel without snakes– this oddball indie is a bit rough around the edges, but therein lies much of its charm.
The graphics can be rudimentary, some of the basic mechanics are underdeveloped, and the open world feels rather sterile. But despite all your mistakesChoo-Choo Charlesit's anything but boring, and packs more ideas into its fast 4-hour runtime than you'll find in many over-the-top AAA titles released today.
The crazy premise is that you are a monster hunter summoned to a remote island where everyone lives in fear of a demonic wagon named Charles. Mounted on a set of skeletal spidery limbs, he resembles a strange hybrid of Pennywise's final form at the end ofit's chapter twoand the much more attractive Thomas the Tank Engine.
The locals have all found different coping strategies to deal with this threat, as some have decided to evacuate while others have chosen to set up elaborate defenses or even worship Charles. Meanwhile, you've been hired to put an end to the madness once and for all by challenging the beast to a dramatic duel.
However, before taking him on, make sure you scour the island for upgraded parts and better weapons. Although you've been gifted your very own battle chariot (in the form of an old dilapidated train), it won't pose much of a threat to Charles until you've outfitted it with rocket launchers, armor plates, and faster wheels. .
Get ready for an epic showdown
The interesting thing here is that you don't have to worry about any of this if you don't want to.
You see, Two Star structured their game as a macabre version ofbreath of the wild, in the sense that you can go more or less directly to the final boss without wasting time. Of course, there are some prerequisite tutorial quests to get out of the way, but otherwise the content is strictly optional.
However, you would be putting yourself at a huge disadvantage if you skipped these side quests, as they offer worthwhile rewards and are quite entertaining on their own. It won't even take that long to clear the entire map of objective markers, since you only need to meet just under 20 NPCs.
To help each of them, you'll need to do something completely different, like the platforming challenge mentioned above, so you're not forced to repeat the same monotonous tasks over and over again. For example, some residents will send you on quick quests, while others will ask you to solve easy puzzles or complete a lock picking minigame. Some of them will even have you fighting terrifying unique enemies with their own unique behaviors (as it turns out, Charles isn't the only evil lurking on Areararum Island).
In exchange for helping these characters, you'll either get a new turret to put on the back of your vehicle, or a bunch of junk. The latter is a currency that is used both to repair your locomotive and to improve its various attributes, either increasing the sturdiness of the wagon or increasing your firepower.
This satisfying process not only affects the functionality of the game, but is also reflected in incremental cosmetic changes that visualize your little machine that could gradually transform into a formidable war machine. With that in mind, if you're interested in the look of your train and want to give it a bit more flair, then there are collectible paint cans around the map that you can use to change its color. It's a nice, if insignificant, extra.
(literally) battle on rails
Upgrading your mode of transportation will pay off in the long run, as you can't calmly navigate the island without being disturbed.
Charles is one of those unscripted video game stalkers like Mr. X fromresident evil 2and the Xenomorph inAliens: Isolation, and has a bad habit of appearing at the most inopportune moments. You may be reading a document or talking to one of those quest-giving NPCs who appear out of nowhere to ruin your day.
If that happens, you have a fight or flight decision on your hands. You can either wait for Charles to run away (which is a tricky proposition since you have no offensive skills on foot), or you can hop aboard your vehicle and engage in glorious combat.
If you choose the second option, the game will turn into a chaotic shooting gallery for a certain amount of time. The monster will kindly come at you from behind each time, which is lucky because you have a rear-facing turret stationed there to keep it at bay.
The ensuing fight is pleasantly hectic, as Charles lunges at a breakneck pace, making it hard to land consistent hits. Not to mention constantly having to switch between wielding the weapon and dealing damage while also cycling through your weapon's charge.
Depending on the relative closeness of your target, the multirole machine gun might be the smarter choice. With higher DPS, the Panzerfaust is great for long-range situations, but once that gap is closed, its long cooldown can be a serious drawback. By contrast, the relentless shot of a flamethrower is perfect when the demon's smirk stabs into your face, even if the fire only leaves a small dent in his thick health bar.
Speaking of which, if you manage to inflict enough pain on Charles, he'll simply back out of the fight. Your only way to force him into a deadly duel is to complete a small handful of main quests. At this point, he will hold out until one of you is dead. By the way, the penalty for making a mistake is pretty trivial, since all you'll lose are a few junk parts (which are plentiful anyway) and they'll respawn in the safety of your cockpit.
In fact, it's not a particularly difficult game overall, and your pursuer's spawns are mercifully limited. We only had about four chance encounters with him in total, so we never felt like we were constantly being hounded to the point of annoyance.
Instead, fighting Charles has always been an invigorating thrill due to the inherent fun of combat and there's also a sense of catharsis that comes from leveling up and then defeating him with greater ease.
Stealth stops the game dead in its tracks
Where things aren't quite as polished, though, is in the stealth department. Granted, sneaking around won't get done often, but when necessary it can be a real drudgery.
All of the moments in question concern a group of crazy islanders who have formed a cult to appease Charles. With their shotguns and god effigy masks, they are immediately hostile the moment you enter their territorial bubble. And suffice to say, you'll be forced to invade their territorial bubble more than a few times.
The problem is that the stealth mechanics required to deal with them are so sparse as to be almost non-existent. None of the usual fixes like distraction items, variable surveillance states, hideouts, or takedowns are present here, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you should at least have a few tools on hand.
no one waitsThief(especially not from a game that's primarily about shooting a big spider train), but a simple couch button wouldn't have hurt. Unfortunately, the only way you can stand behind obstacles and look around corners is when you want to monitor patrol routes.
The odds are stacked against you, as the vision cones are so ridiculously wide that enemies that only register as dots on the horizon can seemingly see you as bright as day. You can even pinpoint your exact whereabouts after breaking line of sight!
And once detected, it's nearly impossible to get rid of the frenzied crowd. In fact, the aggro range of these bastards is downright obscene, as they'll hunt you down with all the tenacity of a T-1000. On the plus side, this means you can take them to your vehicle for a happy chase and then just turret them apart.
Unfortunately, that's not always a viable option, as many of these encounters take place in discrete dungeon areas. In this case, it's best to just run through the mazes and hope you don't hit a dead end.
Apart from this topic,Choo-Choo Charlesit's a delightfully strange experience that doesn't survive its welcome. The combat is tight, the constant buildup of power is addictive, and things are always mixed up to keep the novelty value alive.
It's also impressively designed for solo developer work, contains infinitesimally few bugs (none of which are game-breaking), and works pretty well throughout. We were playing on a Steam platform with default settings and only encountered a slight stutter from time to time. That's more than can be said for many indies.
If you have a few hours and can get on board with its bohemian vibe, this trip is definitely worth embarking on.
Choo-Choo Charlesis now available for PC.
The verification code was provided by the developer.