For me to have any interest in playing a basic, point-and-click adventure game, it has to do everything right. If the writing is poor or the environment is bland, I quickly lose interest and move on to something else. Over the past week I’ve played Dark Scavenger each night before I went to bed for about an hour or two, and the fact that I’m still playing it means they did everything right. Here’s how they did it. The premise of the game is simple. You have been picked up by a group of aliens who need fuel for their ship. They are lazy and lack basic fighting skills, so they send you down to a planet to get some fuel. The gameplay consists of exploring rooms, fighting enemies, and crafting. While the clicking of highlighted areas in a room is interesting, the crafting is where Dark Scavenger really shines. Instead of combining items to make something new (like most RPGs out there), you give the items you scavenge to one of the aliens on the ship, who makes a weapon, item, or ally. The names and descriptions of the equipment these guys create are one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. As much as I looked forward to the next room to explore, I anticipated crafting some ridiculous new weapon or item even more. Fighting enemies seems simple on the surface, but as you progress and acquire more weapons, items, and allies, the strategies are seemingly endless. Items can be used to bolster a weapon’s power, weaken an enemy, or even detect awesomeness (I still haven’t really figured that one out yet…). Each item has a certain number of uses, and when you completely use up an item, it is unavailable for the rest of that chapter.
All attacks are turn based, but there are certain items that allow you to attack more than one enemy or make an enemy lose his turn. The art in Dark Scavenger is almost as amusing as the story line. The enemies that pop up on screen in each room can cause anything from a slight chuckle to a hearty guffaw. The bright color palette of the enemies’ garments combined with the drab undertones of the environment allows the imagination to fill in the action that isn’t animated on screen. Going through the action sequences that require precise player choices to successfully not die were just as entertaining as a fight scene in a AAA title. Good art, however, does not necessarily make a good game. Good art and good writing, however, do make a good game. The dialogue between the main character and the friends and enemies he meets through the five chapters is absolutely brilliant. The dark humor embedded in the difficult choices faced in every room is some of the best I’ve seen in quite some time. Every room requires a different strategy, and it seems like each strategy has a different outcome. Of course, oftentimes that outcome is death. There are enough choices and hidden secrets throughout the entire game that I found myself ready for a second play through as soon as I finished my first. Fortunately, Dark Scavenger accommodates this need wonderfully. After completing the game and returning to the main menu, you’ll see a new option called New Game+. This does exactly what you would expect and lets you return to the beginning of the game with all your equipment from your first play through. Since you will find the same loot in the same places as before, the game indicates what you previously crafted (and therefore already have in your inventory) so you can craft different items instead. One of my (very few) complaints about Dark Scavenger is related to the loot finding in the second play through. I understand that key items needed to progress in the game should remain, but it would have been more interesting if the loot was randomly generated. That way, when I defeated enemies or opened containers scattered throughout the environment, it would be even more exciting to find some new loot and figure out what to craft with it. The random loot could potentially convince me to play a third time, since my favorite part of the game is crafting.
There is no difficulty slider, and for a few of the boss battles, I found myself overwhelmed and lacking the weapons and items I really needed to defeat the enemy. In order to prevent the player from becoming stuck at a certain area, the developers decided to use a retry system. If you die, you can either retry the specific battle you’re stuck on, or you can retry the entire room. By retrying the battle, you gain all of your weapons, items, and allies back (that you may have used previously), but you might start at a certain checkpoint in the boss fight, rather than at the very start. With this method, I was never stuck at any point in the game for a long period of time. At first glance, this seems like a cheap game mechanic designed so that players can never fail, but it really is necessary. Since some enemies have different weaknesses and strengths, running out of the proper weapons or items can mean certain failure. There would be no other way to progress in the game. Yes, some games thrive on an inherent difficulty like this, but Dark Scavenger is focused on quality writing, and to start over completely would be detrimental to the game, potentially driving customers away. This retry system is a brilliant way of getting around that.
However, the difficulty did seem to jump all over the place as I moved through the rooms. Many fights seemed way too easy, but somehow I still felt under prepared to face the bosses at the end of each chapter. I’m all for difficult and challenging games, and I think Dark Scavenger could have benefited from more challenging enemy encounters to match with the challenging bosses. But this didn’t really detract from the overall experience, since the most enjoyable part of the game is the writing. With all the games to choose from today, it can be easy to overlook a hidden gem like Dark Scavenger. By sticking to very basic gameplay and doing it right, Psydra Games has created an immersive and challenging world. I couldn’t believe how tense I was trying to decide whether to have my character duck or jump! A game that can cause that much investment in a character without using state-of-the-art graphics (or controls other than point-and-click) is something very rare and unique in today’s gaming world. Dark Scavenger has brought my focus back on a genre that I’ve paid little attention to in the past several years, and I look forward to what the team of developers behind it will bring us next.
This post was submitted by Mike Fugate.