Remnant: From the Ashes turned out to be a more than welcome surprise in 2019, thanks to a game formula that well used souls like mechanics, procedural elements and, above all, an excellent play sector. Also enjoying a good success with audiences and critics, therefore it is not surprising that Gunfire Games wanted to give new luster to Chronos (adding the subtitle: Before the Ashes), action / adventure of 2016 previously published only for the VR market. It is therefore easy to be skeptical about such a product, similar re-propositions are often adapted in a hurry, moreover there is talk of a product with already four years on its shoulders and decidedly more modest in terms of production than its lucky successor. And in fact, Chronos: Before the Ashes, shows both the signs of time and the smudges of a low-budget production, as well as some naiveties that do not go unnoticed, practically on every front. Yet, Chronos presents some noteworthy flicks at the same time, as well as an overall fun and satisfying formula, against a sometimes excessive lightness. Furthermore, the role of Remnant's precursor works well, proving in this light to be an almost mandatory title for anyone who has loved the third person shooter of the Texan team, even considering the different nature of the genre.
The Dragon's yoke has put our existence in check for far too long. Humanity, which once swarmed in large cities adorned with gleaming glass buildings and unimaginable machinery is now reduced to its knees, its faint flame is about to go out, what remains is a miserable tribe, living in the past. It is therefore time to go down into the bowels of the labyrinth and get rid of the cruel despot who has played with our lives for incalculable time. Chronos' is a mere narrative pretext, but he bases some interesting elements in his background which, while not shining for originality, still appear very fascinating. Remnant fans will immediately feel at ease, delving into the abandoned workshops known as Ward and instantly creating a good mix between the sci-fi genre and the purest fantasy, juggling arcane stones and hospital machinery, stone golems and humming computers. Remnant, however, played deeper in these terms, while Chronos remains on a more fairy-tale nature and relegates the futuristic part only to a few moments, decisive in their importance but decidedly more sporadic.
After the introductory part, we therefore find ourselves really starting our adventure, alone in a hostile and enigmatic world but above all full of clashes. Chronos: Before the Ashes after all is a action rpg and it is therefore natural that the title focuses on fighting with enemies, fortunately - despite a not very high difficulty level - the latter are well packaged. Chronos hinges on a very simple combat system, which winks at the souls both as regards the mapping of the commands, both for the pace of the game. Simple, heavy attacks, blocks and parries, that's all. There is a certain heaviness in controlling the character that weakens the early stages, but once you get used to the responsiveness of the controls, everything starts to flow more smoothly. Yet you must never go head down and knowing the enemies and their attack patterns, as well as the holes in their guards, is key. Whether you choose to be based on fast and light weapons or heavy and powerful, Chronos works thanks - also - to good care given to hitbox and hurtbox which are lean and precise, even more than one would expect from such a product. In the long run we feel the lack of alternatives, such as remote approaches for example and the magic stones that give our weapons the possibility of exploiting arcane abilities are not enough to make up for the lack but instead a great number of enemies come to our rescue, with their different strategies and types of attacks that manage to never push the player into a tired phase.
As for the boss fights, although they almost always convince on a scenic or atmosphere level, they are not particularly inspired or fun but are still a good addition to the overall experience, without surprising but never even boring, even if certainly I would have appreciated a greater effort in this regard.
But Chronos is also an adventure game and it would be inappropriate not to say a few words about this second soul of his. Before the Ashes presents indeed maps that are simple to navigate but well-built net of some rather basic flaws, which return - especially in the first half -a great sense of discovery, always giving the idea of being full of mystery and overflowing with secrets to discover. The numerous puzzles of the adventure are not particularly complex but they adequately break the rhythm and fit well with the level design of the game and its progress. Also in this aspect the first hours of Chronos are the most intriguing ones, presenting in particular a series of puzzles related to a mechanics as classic as well designed, and it is really a shame that the title decides to exploit it only in its opening words. Proceeding in the adventure in fact the game becomes inexplicably more linear and, of course, less fascinating, while managing to entertain pleasantly until the end credits. Despite being a world not too vast, in short, the construction of the same is remarkable, especially considering that Remnant is based instead on almost entirely procedural maps and, precisely in the construction of the same, proved to be more "lazy" and devoid of bite. Chronos: Before the Ashes has many sights to explore and, although their characterization is fluctuating, it's still worth getting lost in this little odyssey.
Matter of time
The most curious, and in some ways important, ploy of Chronos is found in the mechanics of death. By being defeated we do not lose any progress and we are brought back to the last exploited checkpoint but our alter ego ages by a year. Death after death, we see more and more the age of our character - which is why there is no pg editor - but it is not a simple aesthetic ambition as aging also has repercussions on the gaming economy. First of all, at the beginning of each new decade, we are given a choice from a triptych of unique talents, helping to specialize our hero - or heroine - in the course of her adventure. These are often substantial increases in specific statistics but in some cases they propose small changes to the game mechanics. Additionally, as you age, upgrading certain traits costs more experience points for a single level increase, making it more difficult to upgrade traits like Strength and Agility. Not only that, at the age of 60, these statistics can no longer be increased. In short, thanks to the powerful talents of the decades, the players who die most often are momentarily helped, but at the same time in the long run only the most skilled players manage to draw the maximum potential from leveling up. IS a peculiar and interesting mechanic, which works both at a background and game level: it would have been interesting to see it more explored and in-depth but even in this simple meaning it is more than welcome.
On the technical front, Chronos: Before the Ashes shows the side of its low budget nature and contextually a an artistic maturity not yet reached. Although the dry and square cut of the scenarios, as well as of the characters, is quite “justifiable” by a stylistic choice, there is no doubt that most of the areas are bare and not very detailed. In reality, we move from areas with a good glance and with a more massive and elaborate construction, to others much more sparse and with little design value, also thanks to elements and props dosed in a too repeated and casual way. Overall the game presents just enough picture, with some more successful elements and some slips on which it is honestly difficult to turn a blind eye. Although the union between art and technique is not in short promoted in full, it manages to save itself thanks to some flashes that manage to outline the product giving it its own character. The audio side, net of some apt voices and a couple of noteworthy tracks, is only sufficient but almost completely forgettable. Totally unacceptable is the style of the menus and the polishing of the user interface in general, perhaps the most immature element of the whole production. It would also have been appropriate to polish the product much deeper than the team did, this is perhaps the biggest flaw of the production.
It would be easy to harshly criticize Chronos: Before the Ashes and label it a mediocre, uninteresting product. The truth, for all those able to look a little beyond appearances, is that of a title that manages to entertain, with a definitely imperfect and at times all too derivative formula, but genuinely funny. It is not a title to recommend to everyone, given its nature both of a VR game and a "remaster" that feels all the weight of the four years on the back but anyone looking for a light and intriguing title, with good fights and phases exploratory, all interspersed with puzzle solving sessions that are sometimes overly simplistic but always pleasant. The 15 / 20 hours necessary to complete Chronos: Before the Ashes are worth the price of the ticket (which probably would have been more digestible by the public at about ten euros less), provided you know what you are going to meet and therefore turn a blind eye to numerous production defects, which arise more from a lack of optimization for the current market rather than from actual procedural defects. The mechanics of aging are fascinating and the renewed narrative cues linked to the universe created by Gunfire Games will delight all Remnant: From the Ashes fans. A prequel that tastes like a spin-off and in some ways a DLC, but not in the negative. Chronos: Before the Ashes is a title from the mold old school, and it is one of the best compliments that can be attributed to productions of this type, even if for some it may be too “old”.