Diablo III came out this week, and while I’ve never been into looting, it’s one of the main mechanics in Dark Scavenger. But where Diablo has players picking up equipment that give off an aura of power and have apostrophes in the middle of their names, Dark Scavenger had me snatching up a toaster and a severed foot. If that’s not baffling enough, let me make clear that Dark Scavenger is not a hack-and-slash, but rather, well, I think it can be best summed up as a turn-based combat point-and-click graphical text… adventure? If you’re someone who worries about the wrinkles, I would advise you to be aware that even reading about this game will cause much brow-furrowing. That being said, let’s start off with some of the more comprehensible aspects of the game.
While my mechanical description of the game may seem a bit obtuse, the experience itself is quite conventional in its employment of those mechanics. Combat encounters will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a JRPG, with players choosing to use weapons, items or allies from lists and then waiting as antagonists take their turn to attack. Items, allies and weapons have individual use limits that are restored at the beginning of a new chapter.
Unlike JRPGs though, there’s no leveling in Dark Scavenger, and once you’ve reached the last battle in the first chapter you’ll have learned how to handle every fight. There’s no real strategic depth other than effectively using buffs and exploiting enemy elemental weaknesses. I would label the combat as a garnish, but it happens far too often to be merely an embellishment, and luckily stays inoffensive enough as to not cloy.
You encounter enemies by moving around the map, which is laid out in the same way as an early adventure game, and which you view from an overhead perspective without an on-screen avatar for your character. The map is separated into square sections that effectively act as rooms with arrows placed in cardinal directions that you click to move to other sections of the map. You also click on various hotspots in the rooms to explore the world and can often use weapons, items, and allies to move the plot forward. Found loot can also be turned into useable equipment that helps you fight better and explore the world with more ease where you can find more loot. It’s a short loop, but its brevity keeps you from becoming bored, as items become useful quickly.
The game also makes sure not to fall into the larger problems of point-and-click adventure games like pixel hunting, and avoids the item combination checklist by making multiple objects valid solutions to the game’s puzzles. I use the term “puzzles” lightly, as the challenges that come up are more a question as to whether you can pay attention to what qualities your equipment has. For instance, if you need to place something between some cage bars to keep an animal from escaping, you can either use your tRusty [sic] sword or Vampire Bat (the latter being a baseball bat that absorbs enemy health).
Having described the turn-based combat and point-and-click nature of the game in unflattering terms, you might assume that the text adventure part would be equally dull, but you’d be wrong- sort of. While the interaction with the text is quite traditional—looking over items or hotspots provide descriptions, dialogue is carried out by choosing from two or three options at various points in conversations—the text is what gives this game its unique flair.
Let’s look at the plot, for instance. You begin as someone who just happens to be floating in space when you’re attacked by an amorphous inkblot who also happens to be floating in space and proceeds to knock you out. You then find yourself on a spaceship rescued by a crew consisting of a silent, Giger-esque creature, an alien who is basically a used car salesman in both grooming and attire with green skin and a mad look in his eyes, and someone who looks to be an animate skeleton wearing a robe and helmet.
They request your assistance in acquiring fuel for their ship, as they don’t have your fighting abilities but will gladly help you by crafting the items, weapons and allies you’ll use throughout your journey. You then all drop down onto a planet in the middle of a world war, and start running into all types of odd characters. While the plot is rather simple, the actual details of the story are what give this game the brow-furrowing quality I mentioned at the beginning.
For example, the loot found from exploring the world ranges from the mundane (moon beads) to the weird (toasters, severed feet). You can then create even odder equipment by giving that unusable loot to one of your three companions. By the end of the game, I had an attention starved cat named Ms. Flufhums who stunned enemies, a full-body cast called the Masocast that healed me whenever I got damaged, and a slingshot that only worked against giant enemies. Oh, and Your Mother, who kept the bad men away when I was hurt. Don’t ever expect to know what you’re going to end up with when you try to craft loot though, as showing your companions what you’d like them to work with usually ends up with baffling descriptions of the silent alien trying to mime what ally he can make you, the car salesman alien hanging himself and then winking at you, or the animate skeleton shrugging his shoulders as he vaguely describes what harmful effects his weapon could have.
The inhabitants of the world are no less odd than your companions. I mentioned that the planet was in the middle of a world war, but that’s not entirely true. It’s accurate that everyone is involved, but while the main fighting takes place between honor bound lizard-ninjas and savage, humanoid barbarians, a species that revels in their own death and another that are terrible at defending themselves are caught in between as victims. This results in the latter two species constantly trying to find ways to die, and you often find yourself in a position to help them, or do something amusingly cruel.
I can write with confidence that Dark Scavenger is easily one of the sillier games I’ve played in a while, and its weirdness is endearing in a way that I haven’t seen since 2010’s Deadly Premonition. And while the mechanics in this game are nowhere near as offensive as they were in Deadly Premonition, they fall flat and feel more like small chores. If you can manage to tolerate those tasks though, you’ll be rewarded by some of the oddest and most perplexing prose in a video game this year.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Unique prose makes for a surreal experience
+ Mechanics are easy to grasp
+ Your Mother
– Combat is stale
– Plot lacks momentum
– Music is sparse
6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.
Dark Scavenger was developed by Psydra for the PC and Mac, and was released on April 30th, 2012, at the price of $4.99. You can purchase the game or download the demo at darkscavenger.com. The copy used in this review was provided by the publisher to RipTen.