Saturday, 26 December 2009

American McGee's Scrapland Review

Scrapland is a 3D action shooter game in a vein similar to Descent with the open world freedom of GTA. In the game you control D-Tritus who has arrived from outerspace on a journey to explore the galaxy. On arrival to Scrapland, D-Tritus lands a job as a reporter. Thanks to an alien artifact known as 'The Great Database', any robot who is registered in the database is automatically revived provided they've paid the bishops who maintain The Great Database. However, the robot matrixes of prominent figures are stolen and then the figure is killed meaning they can't be revived. As a reporter it is D-Tritus' job to investigate the crimes along with assistance by a mysterious figure known as 'Deep Throat'. D-Tritus quickly gains a special ability to morph into other characters unlocking their abilities as well.

Being an open world action game with ships, you fly around the various places in the city and perform missions in order to earn money and upgrades. Overall My initial impression was that it's a fairly solid action game and contols and weapons feel relatively solid. Graphics are amazing and each area feels different both in terms of art and layout. I really enjoyed the artstyle of the game which is a mishmash of Noir, Tron, late 70's early 80's sci-fi and steampunk. The ships that you drive in particular look fantastic and every single screenshot you can take while flying around the city looks great! The map/radar is simple and functional and if a mission objective is on a different level, the map and radar will actually point you towards the stairs.

Aside from flying, you can also enter various buildings in the game such as the Bank and Temple. On foot you can walk around and using your transform ability perform various actions. Becoming a police officer for example, will allow you to demand protection money from others while being a bishop grants you a powerful attack.

But as I played the game,a couple of problems which I felt dragging the game down. And reading the reviews at the time, they generally have the same sort of crticisms as I do. Anyway here are the issues I found with the game:

1) Customisation isn't enough
Normally in games lke this such as the X series or Privateer you get a variety of weapons you can choose from to customise your ship. Unfortunately, the game simplistic and gives you only 7 weaons in this game and several countermeasures severely limiting tactical choices. Also countermeasure are linked with the currently selected weapon so you have to mount that particular weapon if you want to use that counter measure. In a similar vein, there are only 2 weapon upgrades per weapon which you can choose between. For example, you have the choice of making Vulcans shoot faster or target better.

Aside from changing ship class, adding armour, changing the engines and equipping weapons, there isn't any actual way of customising your ship. Not even the paint job. Similar games would usually allow you to equip special artifacts or tweak or modify your ship further. I think it's a real let down frankly. I particular miss being able to modify the boost ability which would have really helped in avoiding enemies.

2) Lack of factions and missions
Most RPG's and space games like this will usually let you choose between different factions or sides which will give you access to different equipment and missions. Unfortunately, athough there are factions and sides in the game story and plot, there is no effect to the gameplay itself. You only have the main quest missions, the missions from a character known as The Crazy Gambler and ship plan hunting missions from your mechanic. That's it. Admittedly the side missions from The Crazy Gambler are fairly varied in this sort of game. For example, it might involve you killing a certain number of enemies as a character, destroying a number of parked ships or stealing a certain amount of money as a Banker robot. It would have been great if there were more missions from different people and factions that you could join to increase the variety.

3) Poor character development
The game could have really shone with some awesome cinematic cut-scene moments with the noir-like style of many of the characters and locations. But there aren't any particularly noteworthy cut-scenes or cool moments except for possibly the murder sequences of prominent figures and many of them lack a certain punch in the sound direction.

One glaring issue is with the main character himself. Who is D-Tritus? We aren't really given any particular insight or background into the main character aside from he's exploring the universe is curious and that he built himself from scrap. Along the way, he doesn't really reach any conclusions by himself nor seem to think much for himself.

Despite the relatively smiling young robot that is painted by the game and the youthful optimistic voice the character has, I think D-Tritus is actually a rather cold-blooded murderous robot willing to do just about anything to discover the truth even if it means switching sides and backstabbing just about everybody he works for. We never hear him voice his thoughts or feelings or show any particular remorse for possessing people, switching sides, hurting them or destroying property. He seems to take it all in his stride from the first second he steps on Scrapland. Perhaps one hint as to his true nature is the fact that his innate special ability is destroying matter allowing him kill other robots by sliding through them.

Here's a list of things I had to do as part of the main quest:
Forcibly possessing people
Destroying other robots with D-Tritus' special ability of destroying matter
Leading Police Officers to beat up a Functionary to extract information out of him.
Destroying political opponents of the mayor
Cause a massacre in the middle of a busy area
Switch sides repeatedly
Hack into databases
Getting people's attention and challenging them to races and duels by insulting them and swearing at them instead being nice about it

Admittedly, one of the key points of the game is the fact that everyone is revived by The Great Database. But robots are still quite capable of being hurt as is evidenced during the cut-scenes and conversations. It is strange that he involves in the troubles of the cities as he doesn't reveal his motivations at all aside from wanting to find the truth. All in all, I would say he comes across as an Anti-hero more than anything else although that may be a bit too generous as he just isn't as interesting as other anti-heroes with his lack of motives and over reliance on others to provide the answers.

Definitely a wasted opportunity here.

With regards to other characters,although their responses do get updated with every passing event there isn't really much interaction with them beyond challenging them to a race or duel.

4) Missed photo opportunities
Taking photos involves just standing near the object and left clicking. In the game it is used mostly for taking snapshots of ship plans and if I'm not mistaken there is only one instance where using your camera is actually requried to advance the game It is a bit of a missed opportunity when you take into consideration games such as Beyond Good and Evil which has you pointing and shooting as if you were using a real camera and rewarding you with cash for snapping shots various creatures. In Scrapland, you can take photos of a crazed functionary class robot in the Bank which gives you money however snapping photos for money seemed a secret feature rather than a prominent gameplay element with no real indication you could earn money that way.

Having a camera minigame would have fitted well well with the detective and noir like story and setting which the game draws somewhat heavily from.

5) Lack of combat areas
In games like Freespace you have the opportunity to face some huge capital ships and take part of a number of space battles. Such battles although scripted prove memorial and extremely nerve-wrecking. In Scrapland, there are scripted mission but in keeping with the open world GTA style combat mostly takes place in the various areas within the cities or in special arenas. In the cities you only see normal ship traffic and large transports similar to cars you would see in a modern city which don't even react to your attacks! They just keep on moving along their predetermined path. Also nothing in the environment can actually hurt you or reacts to fire. So you can't for example, lead the enemy into a electric fence or smoke to distract them. This makes combat seem less organic than it should be despite the twists and turns around the city environments. The same issues plague the areana battles which are sealed game environments with no traffic and just the opponents. As well-designed as the arenas are, they lack the organic chaos of the cities. Again, another missed opportunity.

6) Lack of viewpoints
You would think in a game like this you would be able to look behind you but you can't. So it's hard to know how close or far you are from your opponents chasing you or which direction you should swerve. At the beginning this isn't a problem but it can get harder later on when you're facing multiple opponents. It's not too crucial to the game play.

7) Walking areas are kind of boring
Throughout the game, you will travel on foot as well as flying. As mentioned at the beginning, during this portion of the gamemplay you can
However the experience on foot is similar to the flying sections in the sense that there is plenty of activity within the various buildings but very little to actually do. For example, there will be policemen and bishops walking around even attacking each other but because of the large prevalence of police everywhere, becoming other characters and utilising their offensive abilities becomes less fun than it sounds. If you try to kill a character to get money, the alarms go off and it becomes a large messy brawl until you find a place to hide and the alarm goes off. Thanks to the resurrection ability granted by The Great Database, clearing a room of policemen will only grant you a 5 second gap to run away. If you try a sneaky approach like stealing money as a banker, it will usually go better albeit slower. But there really isn't anything else. No additional characters to give you quests or funny interesting scenery or mini-games. There are a couple of half-hearted extras like the banking collecting game but the activity in one building is the same as any other building.

Overall, while Scrapland was pleasant enough as a distraction, I'm not sure if most gamers would really want to spend their money on this when there are better games out there. It's probably worth a couple bucks but not a must have unless you really enjoy buying games because of the graphical style.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tex Murphy 1 + 2 Free for a limited time

GOG is currently offering Tex Murphy 1 + 2 for free. until 24th Dec or a special alternative gift if you've already purchased the game. You just need to register for GOG to download it.