One would imagine that 25 years after the original Contra people have the sidescrolling run & gun game figured out. Chaos Domain proves that a lot can go wrong when attempting something that the Japanese have mastered two decades ago.
At it's core, Chaos Domain is 2.5D Contra-wannabe that sufferes from failing at grasping the most basic concepts of classic running & gunning. It kinda looks the part, but as soon as you actually start playing it, it feels off. Way off.
Controls are somewhat floaty and have a tendency to be unresponsive at times - this means a lack of much needed precision, precision the game demands in parts but simply cannot provide. Especially ducking and shooting left and right without getting up is next to impossible on the analogue stick. And the character has the nasty habit of just jumping a few pixels too short and getting somewhat stuck in the terrain or suddenly gaining crazy amount of momentum - possibly remains of the UE physics engine or something that hasn't been properly deactived for a 2D game. Currently the game only supports the analogue stick on the 360 pad with no option to change that as far as I am aware - not helping the case of unresponsive controls.
The button layout is pretty much original Contra-style, with an added button for items. What it's lacking is the weapon angle lock that the newer Contras have - due to that you will be jerking all over the screen looking like your character has a seizure or two while shooting in all directions.
Eventhough the controls are kinda crappy compared to much better efforts like Völgarr the Viking or Oniken, they are still the best thing about this game. It only goes downhill from here.
Let's start with the leveldesign - bland and boring. This is on the same page as crappy 90ies shareware games for MS-DOS. A bunch of rooms, lots of platforms and the occasional elevator or conveyor belt. Games from 1988 bury this title when it comes to memorable, fun enviroments to fight in. And all looks pretty much the same too, as it is all happening on a spaceship - and that is what you get: metal boxes, metal floors, metal walls. There may be small variations in the graphic sets (the levels have a slightly different hue of color, the laboratory is more blue-whitish while other areas might be more green or red) but it's nothing exciting to look at. And the levels themselves are so dull, no rhyme or reason to the layouts, there is no flow or rhythm to these stages - enemy placement seems random at best (certain enemies spawn in the same place - but they don't seem to be placed there with any care or thought).
Enemies aren't much to write home about either, they did get one thing right though - the majority of them are popcorn enemies - thank the retrogods for that. Still, they basically have the same weaponry as you and casually fire in your general direction even though they seem to perfectly know where you are. Again, there is this weird feeling of somebody not thoroughly studying the old games that did this many times better - I have died so many times to delayed shots that were just fired when enemies felt like it. There were no patterns or timing involved. It makes judgement of situations next to impossible - that is why you will probably try to kill the bad guys close to offscreen for the majority of the time - if you actually want to survive long enough to get that highscore.The designs themselves are largely forgettable, xenomorph heads on space marine bodies and a wizard-looking guy with a wand. Yawn.
Bosses are some of the worst I have seen in a game like this since … forever, really. They are crappy beyond belief. The patterns in particular are laughably bad - some of them even have safe zones where you cannot get hurt, like at all. They are also very slow and incredibly unexciting. And they suffer from providing next to no feedback, especially hit confirmation is nearly non-existent. Bosses are awfully quiet too and there is not much of an visual indicator of targets to shoot at or that you are actually hitting the targets. They are kinda small as well, and very unimaginative - I know the devs wanted to be cute when they put in the Powerloader from Aliens or an exact copy of an Vulture Omnimech from Battletech, but I am not convinced. The bosses are lazy, boring crap. Heck, halfway through they ran out of "ideas" and let you chase after the same guy in mildy remixed versions of the same fight. This hurts the game tremendously, because bosses (the awesome, screen-filling kind) are one of the high-points of these games amd reason I play them - to fail so hard at something so important boggles the mind.
Finally, there are a lot of general game design decisions that I don't get. Like the upgrade system; instead of giving you upgrades during gameplay and having you handle different guns every now and then you are stuck with a standard gun and very scarce weapon pick ups. In order to upgrade weapons you take the money you get from beating a stage and upgrade your weapons in a shop. The problem is, this system is hardly balanced - the starting weapon without upgrades is complete garbage, putting you in a spot of severe disadvantage - as you simply can't fire fast enough to counterattack. However, once you grind a bunch of levels for cash and get the guns up to snuff, they are immensly overpowered. Again, not much thought seems to have been put into this.
Apparently there are items in the game too, but each use costs money and I did beat the game without using a single item - so I honestly don't care. Instead of spending money on a shield taking two hits, I'd rather buy an upgrade for the spreadshot - thank you very much.
Then there is a combo mechanic and a score system going, but it is so simplistic it's hardly worth mentioning. I pretty much did "perfect" scores on 80% of the levels without even trying - so either I am pretty good, or the system is flawed (hint: it's the system).
Let's wrap this up with the presentation: the game looks alright, but lacks any graphic settings - I had to force V-Sync by fiddling with .cfg files. Also, there is an annoying grain filter going on that makes the game look like an animated gif if you take a closer look. The music is a bland industrial/metal/techno-something - it fits the game but it's not particularly great. Sounds are pretty much standard, but the bosses oddly miss a lot of sound effects as mentioned above (the Vulture explodes and it's the most silent explosion I have ever heard).
Of course there are the occasional glitches: random spawns with no weapons that don't move but block fire, I had the game crash at one point and since then achievements have stopped working, the camera usually isn't fast enough to keep up with me forcing me to make leaps of faith (and die in the process, also fall damage!) and other small stuff like not actually being able to buy items via gamepad/controller. I could go on, but I think this is a way too indepth wall of text already.
Anyway, If you haven't figured it out by now - stay away if you want a good 2D action game. Chaos Domain is an amateurish attempt with so many obvious flaws that I highly recommend you skip this and check out something like Oniken (pretty much the closest thing to a Contra game on Steam right now), Völgarr the Viking or the somewhat poor port of Metal Slug 3 instead.