Enter the Chronosphere Is an Eye-Catching Roguelike Where You Stop the Clock

Games Features Enter the Chronosphere
Enter the Chronosphere Is an Eye-Catching Roguelike Where You Stop the Clock

I seem to have got myself into a bit of a pickle. Caught between a stream of bullets and a rampaging mole man, I mull over my options, trying to imagine how I’ll get Urtar, a bear with a robot arm, out of this mess without eating a whole bunch of damage. The most obvious solution would be to use my character’s main ability, Kinetic Surge, to destroy these projectiles and knock back the enemy rushing me down, but it still has one more turn of cooldown, so that’s not on the table.

I’m stumped until I look over my items again, and I remember that I picked something up a few floors ago that lets me freeze nearby projectiles every 12 turns. I pop it and sidestep between the suspended rounds to avoid the mole’s melee strike. Kinetic Surge comes off cooldown, and I let it rip, freeing me from bullet hell long enough to unload on my assailants and clear the floor. After scouring the room for rewards, I journey deeper into this clockwork world.

This is Enter the Chronosphere, an upcoming roguelike with a limited-time demo on Steam from May 13th to May 20th, that blends turn-based gameplay with the feel of something more frantic. Here, time only creeps forward if you take an action, whether that’s firing a gun, reloading, or moving. For instance, if you fire a bullet, time unfreezes briefly as the projectile flies some fixed distance before pausing again as you take your next turn. Of course, you’re not the only one who gets to do things, and whenever you make a play, your enemies will be sure to return fire in kind. In practice, it sort of plays like an isometric spin on SUPERHOT, and the eagle-eye perspective adds a satisfying tactical feel to the proceedings.

At least in the combat demo I spent a few hours with, the goal is to reach the end of a multi-floor area. I went into my first run thinking this would be easy enough; after all, how hard could it be compared to either the blistering pace of many real-time roguelikes or the diabolical design of Rogue and its many clones? Well, as it turns out, things aren’t quite as easy as I envisioned. After repeatedly getting walloped, I finally realized that in Enter the Chronosphere, your greatest enemy is often yourself. While you can play the game in a deliberate, turn-by-turn way, at least personally, I would sometimes give in to the temptation to play it like an action game. Just about every maneuver can be performed with a hotkey or the click of the mouse, making it so that you can string together turns so quickly that gameplay bears more resemblance to Enter the Gungeon than early dungeon crawlers.

I was further tempted to blaze through by the rewarding thud that accompanies bullets smacking into enemies or the thrilling feeling of stutter-stepping around enemy projectiles as they sat suspended. This isn’t to imply that this was how I was always playing the game, as there are many incentives to slow things down, including how punishing some enemy types could be and how meager your weapons are in the very early game. However, as my builds came together and I gained false confidence, this led to quite a few demises. Maybe next run.

However, each time I bit the dust, I was fairly eager to dive back in because of the wide range of weapons and items that made it enticing to craft a build. In my first attempt, I got lucky and found a pair of pistols that unleashed damaging rounds and moved me to the left each time I pulled the trigger, an ability I would only come to fully appreciate after it was gone. Although being able to stop and assess the state of the world between actions is quite powerful, it doesn’t make you untouchable. One of the situations where you’re most vulnerable is when you plant your feet and take a shot, as this leaves you open to incoming bullets, especially at close range. Because of this, the ability to shoot and move in one action proved potent and showcased just how distinct these armaments’ abilities can be.

Thankfully, when I eventually died and lost this weapon, I found plenty of other interesting replacements, like the Surveyor, which fired a drill that shot out smaller bullets as it moved, the Stinger, a melee weapon that launched me across the stage for big-damage melee attacks, or a specialized grenade that replicated itself after detonating, resulting in a cascade of blasts. You can only wield two at once, but you’re constantly finding new ones, meaning you’ll likely go through quite a few options each run. These also each come with a unique secondary attack that lets you switch between them and fire in the same turn, which incentivizes quick swapping.

Things can get particularly crazy when combined with the items you come across, which grant passive buffs, such as doubling the size of your clip, or active ones, such as thrusters that let you quickly zoom around the map. These items frequently come with underlying stat changes that can have a dramatic effect too, especially if they impact movement speed. I eventually found empowering combinations, such as a skill that let me fully reload my powerful single-shot weapons after I performed quick swap attacks, letting me fill the screen with lead without needing to stop and manually restock my guns. Almost every floor gave the option to grab new equipment, and while you can only carry two weapons and five items, it felt as though I had a lot of agency in sculpting a build to my liking.

On top of this, each of the two starting characters in the demo had passive and active abilities, such as Marcia’s invincible dodge roll, which got me out of many tight situations. Together, these factors made my runs feel distinct thus far, and the demo promises that there will be additional weapons, items, and characters in the full game. While the overarching structure of the experience remains a mystery, as the general progression systems, story, and unlockable aren’t in the demo, the core gameplay has left me interested in where things will go.

Then there’s also Enter the Chronoverse’s psychotropic sci-fi look. Thanks to its cell-shaded style, vibrant colors, and strange intergalactic imagery that call to mind the work of French artist Mœbius, journeying through this layered world of strange foes is visually stimulating, and the varied soundtrack captures how you’re warping between different otherwordly biomes.

All that said, I’ve had two problems so far. The first is that while the unique half-turn-based, half-real-time gameplay is cool when you’re in the thick of a scrap, moving around in this stop-and-go way feels a bit tedious once you’ve mostly cleared out the enemies in an area and are searching for leftover items. This was especially true with the big bear boy Urtar, whose slow movement speed further bogged things down. It would be nice if you could move faster if there aren’t enemies around or could toggle these animations to be quicker.

Additionally, a few of my deaths felt wacky. In my first run, I was cruising from floor to floor with the previously mentioned dual pistols when, in a routine encounter, I mowed down a group of enemies. After blasting the last one, I went to reload, but out of nowhere, I fell dead. I went to my capture footage, where I saw that right as I killed the last enemy, they got a shot off that was obscured by a wall. When I reloaded, it flew out of the blind spot and through me.

In another case, I fired at a miner, but they happened to be prepping dynamite in the same instant. As I fired, they threw their explosive, and the bullet connected with it in the middle, causing a blast that dealt enormous damage and killed us both. Yes, in both cases, I made the mistake of being too precious with my healing supplies when I should have stayed topped off, but it felt like these runs ended less because I made a glaring mistake or was up against a tough foe, but more because your character is squishy, a few enemy types are disproportionately punishing, and it can sometimes be tough to tell what is going to happen after you unpause.

Still, despite these occasional untimely ends, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played of Enter the Chronosphere so far. Its stop-and-go gameplay feels unique, bridging the gap between modern action roguelikes and the tile-based dungeon crawlers that set the foundation for the space. While it’s still in the works, it already has a strong identity thanks to its temporal manipulating shenanigans and its colorful, watch-shaped arenas. I’ve clocked in quite a few runs, but I have a feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface of what this time-shifting journey has in store.

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

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