By Adam Smith on May 3rd, 2012 at 7:00 pm.
John pointed me in the direction of Dark Scavenger and at that point all I knew is that he’d written this about it in the past: “They’re calling it a turn-based combat point-and-click adventure.” He’d also said ‘Wuh?’, ‘Huh?’ and even ‘Buh?’. Swelling with hubris I installed the game believing I could be the man to answer those questions, intricate as they are. That was Tuesday. Today I bring definitive and detailed responses along with an oddly shaped slice of wot I think.
Adam: Interesting observation and, yes, I partly agree but I should also point out that you’re grip on that stick is a little wonky. Turn it around like so and you’ll see that although Dark Scavenger features more silliness and oddity than any other game I’ve played this year, in terms of its functionality it almost falls into the camp that men call casual.
Each chapter has a map, split into single screen areas that have arrows pointing off in the traversable directions. As you explore the map fills out. In most areas, upon first entering you’ll trigger an encounter, usually violent, and then it’s turn-based JRPG-style battle time. You are one man but your three crewmates essentially act as a party, the skeleton arms dealer providing weapons, the insane besuited green grin-monster providing items and the mouthless abomination bringing allies along to the fight.
Every turn begins with a choice of weapon, item or ally. Sometimes using an item or an ally won’t end your turn, often providing buffs for the next attack or some necessary healing, and weapons can have elemental properties that enemies may be resistant or vulnerable to. Everything you own, including allies, can be used a set number of times in each chapter, at which point it recharges.
Yes, John, I know, it doesn’t sound particularly interesting at all but you’re correct to be intrigued by the somewhat surreal nature of those crewmates. Calm down and stop ‘wuhing’ at me. We’ll get to them in a moment.
After dealing with an area’s encounter, exploration takes place. This involves clicking on the crudely drawn depiction of that area, highlighting hotspots and seeing what happens. Let’s take an example. There’s a cage, I click on it and am told there’s a prisoner within. A multiple choice conversation with that prisoner follows and at the end of it, I’ve used my sword to pry open the lock, given the prisoner some healing fluid for his injuries and received a toaster in return.
You heard me right. A toaster. The description for the item says something along the lines of “It’s definitely a toaster. I have no idea why it’s on this planet.” Thankfully, the toaster won’t be used in conjunction with a gherkin to pick a lock because despite the pointing and clicking, this isn’t a point and click adventure.
There are no puzzles, unless you belong to the broad church of puzzling and would include the multiple choice interactions as such. Whichever congregation you belong to, you won’t find any item-based puzzles. Objects, of which there are a maximum of three in each area, are delivered to those strange crewmates of yours.
Will you give the toaster to the skeleton, who will probably craft some sort of electricity-based weapon from it? The mad joker in the business suit often won’t tell you what his plans are, he’ll just lick your face or say something like “with that I could probably make an item that doesn’t want to be an item”. Because he has no mouth, the sombre alien who provides allies will attempt to mime the sort of creature an item will allow him to summon to your side. I’ve seen him flap his arms as if attempting to fly, adopt various seductive poses and claw maniacally at his own face.
Adam: No, you’re right I suppose. I haven’t actually seen any of those things. There aren’t any animations, although there are some lovably crap scenes in which sprites slide around the screen in an mockery of an action sequence. A single pictures is all that’s provided for each enemy, maybe two or three if it has multiple heads to lop off or damage states to degrade through. As for your crewmates, every time you visit the ship between chapters they’ll be doing something different. Maybe watching TV or playing ping pong. You can talk to them at those points and learn a little more about the plot.
It’s a plot that begins with the player character floating in space and drifting toward what seems to be some sort of Elder God that lives between the stars. I’d say all will become clear but that would be a lie. Conversation with the being leads to combat, with you punching and stabbing while It hurls planets at you. Such an onslaught can’t go on for long before you are smashed into atoms, or just knocked unconscious as it turns out.
You wake on the ship that will be your home for the game’s duration. From there you visit the planet and become embroiled in a war between three, four or five sides as you seek to scavenge a power source for the ship. You’ll be scavenging it darkly, although not through a glass. Through punching and hitting and stabbing and shooting.
The reason I’m not sure how many sides are involved is twofold. First of all, I’m not sure how many of the species and factions are actually fighting on purpose and how many are just caught in the middle. Second point; everything that happens is absolutely stark raving bonkers.
It’s not the plot. The plot makes sense. Out of power, you travel to a planet to retrieve a sort of fuel and it is in fact an energy source so incredible that you’re not the only one willing to kill for it. That’s sensible as far as science fiction goes.
What is utterly nonsensical is everything else. From the crew to the other species on the planet, almost everything in the game looks like the polished up doodles from the margins of a madman’s diary. Or a particularly imaginative and ever-so-slightly deviant schoolchild raised on 2000AD and D&D, bored and scribbling away during an interminable lesson involving numbers and graphs.
Much like that kid, Dark Scavenger is never going to become a doctor, it’s never going to be much use to society in a traditional sense at all, but it certainly makes life a little more colourful. It never seems to run out of interesting things to say, even if you won’t always understand them. The thing is, while there’s pointing, clicking and menu-based biffing, Dark Scavenger is all about the text.
Adam: You heard me. It’s not a text adventure and it’s not one for lengthy swathes of prose but, a little like Time Gentlemen, Please, it’s an entity in which every interaction has a short description attached to it. There are gags, although the humour is mixed with surrealism and the occasional gobbet of body horror, but the game’s greatest gift isn’t laughter. All that flavour text quite simply adds up to page upon page of bewilderingly strange discoveries.
Use a ‘Beaming Smile’ on a group of enemies and rather than just stunning them (there’s the joke), you’ll receive a description of how they all responded. A few screens in I was firing bones from a makeshift automatic weapon, scenes from eXistenZ playing across my mind, summoning a cloud-riding mask-wearing alien from a particularly suicidal species whose remains litter the planet, and looking with alarm at a ‘Big Red Button’ that had been crafted for me. Pressing it would either cause major damage to my opponents or kill me immediately.
It’s fun to have stuff like that in your pockets rather than a sword and a shield. By the end of the game, my extensive stash of ways to inflict harm included The Sun, which can be unleashed to burn everything to a crisp, the player included, a device that ‘detects awesome’ and a stick with a bell on the end that played a pleasing melody whenever I bopped someone on the head with it.
Most of it doesn’t matter in the slightest, except to entertain. There is some strategy, with certain items stunning enemies and others dealing more damage to a stunned enemy. Others might break an opponent’s focus if he is charging a powerful attack and one healer ally I collected was scared of the dark so could only be summoned when outside.
For every item in the game there are three possibilities, so even though I’ve played through to the end I’ve only seen, at most, a third of the brain-curdling contents. The toaster could become a weapon, an item or an ally. I know what the weapon is but I’d have to play through again to find out what kind of ally a toaster might be. And because the alien responsible for allies is mute, I’d only have a description of his miming to help me work out what the result might be before I decided to hand it over. He might just pretend to be slicing bread and leave me to work it out from there/
The textual feedback breaks down at times. Shooting the foot of a giant monster I was informed “the bullets tear through the arm of the giant monster’s foot”, or something very much like that. But I can forgive that because I enjoy having so many words funnelled into my eyes.
Clicking through simplistic menu-based combat, selecting from increasingly long lists of very similar abilities and items – these are not activities that I normally enjoy. I do enjoy odd world-crafting though and Dark Scavenger has plenty of that. I’d intended to play it just so that I could join the chorus of ‘buhs’ and ‘huhs’ but the first chapter allowed me to give a wounded alien a severed leg to use as a crutch and at that point I decided I’d stick with it to the end.
Adam: Weird, creative, frayed around the edges and a little bit soiled in the middle, but rather endearingly clobbered together. I would have loved it if it came out on the Amiga ages ago and would probably still quote bits of it to an uncomprehending world.