Review: Chainsaw Warrior

By Owen Faraday 11 Oct 2013 0
Chuck, to his friends. Little-known fact: Chainsaw Warrior's family had their name changed at Ellis Island. He's actually called Chainsaw Wisniewski.

Being a card game riff on Escape from New York, Chainsaw Warrior makes the right impression immediately. On launch, the app greets you with music that might well have been smuggled out of John Carpenter's private vault. The synthesized soundtrack is a great example of all the things Chainsaw Warrior does right. In terms of presentation, this is Game the News director and Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land creator Tomas Rawlings' best game yet. The UI is slick and comprehensible, and the all-around aesthetics are a perfectly authentic slice of 1980s pulp sci-fi -- from the garish neon & black color scheme to the aforementioned John Carpenter-inspired soundtrack. The only conceivable improvement to the atmosphere would be an option to listen to the music separately on a big yellow tape Walkman.

But Chainsaw Warrior has brought more back from the 80s than just its look and feel. This is a very faithful translation of the source material, Games Workshop's 1987 adventure card game of the same name. It might be a little too faithful.

"These skulls were here when I moved in." Good news: New York is saved. Bad news: nobody is getting the deposit back on their apartment.

Chainsaw Warrior is an exceedingly simple card game. You're the titular warrior himself, a grimacing, leather-clad special forces veteran assembled from parts left over from the construction of Michael Biehn and Kurt Russell. When New York is invaded in 2032 by Chaos monsters from beyond the warp, you're sent into infested Manhattan (alone of course) on a mission to close the hellmouth before the world is overrun.

In the original game, there's no map or board for this mission -- every encounter comes from a deck of cards. Flip over the top card and it's a zombie you have to fight, or a booby trap to overcome, or some other encounter. This mobile version of Chainsaw Warrior doesn't mess with that formula: you're still flipping over cards, albeit virtual ones. In the original game, combat was resolved by rolling dice -- in the new game, you roll virtual dice.

It's all quite nicely done -- I mean it when I say that the game's presentation is top notch -- but there's no liberties taken with the original design, and I'm not so sure how well Chainsaw Warrior holds up today. This is definitely the most dice-driven game I've played in years. Dice mechanics can be pretty divisive, but I often come down in favor of them. Elder Sign and Talisman are as dicey as they come, and I'm a huge fan of both. Both those games offer you a few degrees of freedom and enough agency to feel like you're actually playing a game. Chainsaw Warrior left me feeling like my presence was largely beside the point. I got to make a meaningful decision once every ten minutes or so, otherwise I was just watching the computer roll virtual dice on my behalf. I'm a post-apocalyptic croupier.

Going No 2 comes down to rolling dice. Even picking your initial equipment comes down to rolling dice.

Here's a minute or so in the life of a Chainsaw Warrior. I'm walking through a room en route to the New York Hellmouth (which I imagine must be a C train stop). A zombie appears. I attempt to shoot the zombie -- roll to see if I get my gun up in time. My roll succeeds, now I have to roll to shoot. That roll fails, and now I'm in hand-to-hand combat with the zombie -- roll for hand-to-hand combat. The zombie and I tie, so we roll for hand-to-hand combat again. You get the picture. And this is just one encounter: you will have at least a dozen or two of these before you even get a crack at fighting the boss monster you're in New York to destroy.

Chainsaw Warrior is an absolutely gorgeous app with excellent production values, but it's utter tedium to play. Tomas Rawlings and his crew at Auroch Digital have done yeoman's work to bring color and atmosphere to the proceedings, but it's shrouding a game that isn't very fun. Unlike some other Games Workshop board games from the era, Chainsaw Warrior is probably best left behind in the 80s.

Review: Chainsaw Warrior

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