You might get a warm, fuzzy feeling just knowing that there's a new vertical-scrolling shoot-'em-up for the GameCube in Chaos Field. Reminiscent of the cult classic Ikaruga and any number of other you-against-the-world shooters that make you guide a lone starfighter against seemingly hopeless odds, Chaos Field still has a few original qualities that should be interesting to fans of similar games. Unfortunately, though, Chaos Field lacks the ultraprecise action and feel that's crucial to any truly great shoot-'em-up, and much like other games cut from this same cloth, it's going to be a very short-lived experience for you unless you get yourself addicted to beating your highest scores or perfecting your flights through the five action-packed levels.
Shoot-'em-ups rarely have much of a story to them, and sure enough, in Chaos Field there's no real storyline in the game itself--just a couple of paragraphs in the manual stating that humankind is being threatened by an interdimensional menace that emerged from something called the chaos field. Eventually, the battle spread to the "order field" as well, and now humanity has handpicked three pilots to stop the invasion once and for all. In practice, stopping the invasion amounts to shooting your way through five "phases" composed of three stages each. And in each one, what you do is fight some sort of bullet-spewing boss robot/spaceship/thing. The game's got two modes: "Arcade mode," a direct translation of a Japanese arcade game, is literally just one boss fight after another; and there's also an "original mode" that's exclusive to this version, and it throws a few waves of enemy fighters at you every now and then (and also changes the bosses' patterns), making for a slightly more conventional shoot-'em-up experience.
Chaos Field isn't as intuitive to pick up and play as most games like this. You've got three fairly different ships to choose from, but it's the actual mechanics of the action that take some getting used to. By pressing and holding the B button, you'll automatically fire away with your ship's main weapon: Hal's blue ship spits outs plasma in sort of a spread pattern; Ifumi's red ship emits continuous streams of medium-range laser fire that locks onto targets; and Jinn's yellow ship fires thick bolts of lightning. Each fighter also has a short-range energy sword, which is powerful and especially useful for destroying enemy bullets. However, you can't shoot and swing your sword at the same time. You also have two types of special weapons, whose effects vary depending on which ship you're using: One is a lock-on laser system, and the other is sort of a defense mechanism that flies out onto the screen and absorbs bullets that hit it. Use of these special abilities is governed by a meter that gets charged up when you absorb pink artifacts that spew out of things you blow up. In practice, it's pretty easy to maintain enough energy to keep your special weapons firing, but they're hardly powerful enough to let you breeze through the game's tough levels.
Oh, and you can also switch between two dimensions at any time. It's a weird, interesting mechanic. Basically, you start out in the order field, but can switch to the chaos field at any time. The screen goes all red and postapocalyptic, and suddenly your weapons are more powerful than usual...but your enemy is stronger as well, and will rain even more deadly fire down upon you. However, in the chaos field, your lock-on lasers can pick off enemy bullets, creating potential for high-scoring combos, and making your chances of survival somewhat greater than nil. You get fewer of those pink special weapon power-ups in the chaos field, though, and you'll probably want to switch back to the order field soon enough if only to catch your breath. You're also momentarily invulnerable when you switch fields, so you'll want to use the switch to avoid taking otherwise-unavoidable damage. And you can't just switch back and forth all willy-nilly, since it takes a few moments for your ability to change fields to recharge.
Meanwhile, those big robot/spaceship/things you're fighting will be doing what you'd expect them to do. Your opponents are big and have lots of moving parts you can blow up, which is nice, but they're pretty forgettable, shapeless things otherwise. You only get one life per credit in Chaos Field, but you can take several hits before you blow up, and in the latter phases you'll find yourself blowing up quickly and often as energy-sword-immune bullets come flying at you in huge cascades. Even if you set the game on easy difficulty and max out the number of shields you get per life, it'll still probably take a good several hours before you can finish Chaos Field for the first time.
Where Chaos Field falters is largely in its execution. While the game looks decent and runs smoothly, collision detection just doesn't feel quite right. Your ship appears very big on the screen, but only a direct hit causes damage. Even so, it can be difficult to tell why some bullets hit you while others miss, since the bullets themselves appear rather large. You just don't get that down-to-the-pixel precision that you need in a game that's so demanding of skillful maneuvering. Furthermore, the heavy focus on nonstop boss fights lends a sort of monotony to the action. Whereas other shoot-'em-ups distinguish themselves with different-looking levels and enemies, Chaos Field doesn't throw many curveballs at you after you wrap your head around the oddball mechanics.
The other issue with the game is that its audio is strangely muted. There's some nice ambient techno music that plays in the background as you fly and shoot, but other sound effects are barely there. You'd naturally want to hear booming explosions and other distinct audio cues while playing this type of game, but it's almost as if the developers, knowing their game was going to sit around in the company of other noisy arcade machines, didn't really bother with this part of the formula. That's not the case, though, since these audio issues are apparently and unfortunately peculiar only to the GameCube version of the game. At any rate, the subdued sound of Chaos Field definitely hurts the overall experience. On the plus side, the game does optionally run in progressive-scan mode, enabling sharper, cleaner visuals if you've got the right setup.
Despite its problems, Chaos Field is still worth checking out if you enjoyed Ikaruga and its predecessors, and aren't expecting more than just another shoot-'em-up that tries to be different but doesn't break the mold. There's no shortage of challenge to be found in this game, and it's got some decent visual effects here and there, but Chaos Field seems like it could have been a lot better with more fine-tuning.