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Harmonix Explores The Sound Of Shooting With New Title Chroma

by Matt Bertz on Feb 17, 2014 at 05:00 AM

With Rock Band on the shelf and Fantasia nearing completion, the talented staff at Harmonix has had some free time on its hands to experiment with new game concepts. One of the ideas that quickly rose to the top of the heap is Chroma, an interesting rhythm game/first-person shooter hybrid. This unconventional game melds the high-octane action of an Unreal-style arena shooter with the rhythm-based elements of Harmonix classics like Frequency and Amplitude.

To help get the shooter controls up to par, Harmonix enlisted the help of Hidden Path Entertainment, which is perhaps best known for developing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Harmonix also had Rock Band and Dance Central veterans who enjoy first-person shooters on their off time. Working on Chroma allows them to meld those two loves together.

Taking more than a few stylistic cues from Tron, Chroma is has a hyper futuristic, sci-fi vibe that features sleek character models and laser based weaponry. Essentially, you’re fighting alongside other soldiers who may as well be your fellow band members. Each of the five classes (assault, engineer, sneak, support, and tank) has a distinct tactical function and wields a unique weapon that brings something different to the table musically. Engineers are percussive, tanks are bass heavy, and several of the other classes offer synth style beat pad effects that can simulate a slew of other instruments. The guns operate as they do in any shooter (with the unfortunate exclusion of ironsights or scopes for the majority of the weapons), but if players time their shots with the rhythm of the music they are granted damage bonuses while weaving a new element into the sonic landscape. 

For instance, if you choose the sneak class and are using the sniper rifle, firing on the downbeat will result in a one-hit kill and generate a short sonic burst that alters the musical tapestry. Similarly, the tank is outfitted with a powerful rocket launcher, and if you tap to the beat after locking onto your enemy and firing the heat seeking missiles, the rocket will hone in on its target to deal massive damage. Having five teammates firing at the same time has the potential for generating some interesting musical flourishes. 

Character classes are scaled to appeal to gamers of different backgrounds. If you’re a shooter veteran who hasn’t played many rhythm games, the assault class is a good place to start because it requires minimal musical timing. Conversely, rhythm gaming aficionados should be comfortable right off the bat with the percussive focused engineer, which stresses beat matching. The engineer’s weapons don’t fire at all unless you are on the beat. 

Rhythm-based elements bleed into player movement as well. Jumping on the downbeat will cause your character to jump a little further. You can dash once per measure, and if you dash on the downbeat you get an extra boost as well. Each map is littered with jump pads that give players a quick way to navigate through the arena to get to the firefights. While on these traversal paths, you cannot be shot at or shoot your weapon. These jump pad paths work in rhythm matching mechanics as well. Hitting the jump button on quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes takes you different distances. 

Chroma currently has two game modes – the standard conquest or domination affair, and a “cart push” tug-of-war style mode. Both modes cap out at 8v8. In the conquest mode, the music changes around each control point based on which team has captured the area. At predetermined musical crescendos, the maps will morph to open new strategic opportunities. Time your positioning right and you could find yourself in the safety of a sniper tower after the transformation. 

When discussing the decision to adopt a free-to-play format, Harmonix says it doesn’t plan to add pay walls or introduce pay-to-win elements. Instead, it focuses on player customization. 

Players can purchase new character skins and different sonic patterns for their weapons. If you prefer a certain style of music, you can match that to your weapon. Teams can customize their sounds to match up to their preferred genre, whether that be electronic, rock, etc.

It will be interesting to see if Chroma finds an audience with the hardcore shooter fans, the legions of Harmonix faithful, or both. If you want in on the closed alpha that starts this month, you can register here.

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