Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scavenger Review

Scavenger, developed and published by Pi Eye Games.
The Good: Difficulty levels add more complexity instead of simply adding enemies, good physics, interesting enemies and power-ups, nice level design that takes advantage of difficulty settings
The Not So Good: Must repeat introductory levels at each difficulty, no editor
What say you? A well designed top-down shooter great for fans of the genre: 6/8

Top-down shooters were one of the first arcade games developed. They were relatively easy to render since all of the action takes place in two dimensions. As you might imagine, creating an original title these days is increasingly difficult, since there aren’t many additions or innovations that haven’t been tried before. Trying to find some new ground in the arcade shooter is Scavenger, a game that takes place in small, confined quarters with relatively few enemies compared to other games in the genre.

Despite being playing front a top-down perspective, Scavenger features 3-D graphics with some nice effects. The levels don’t have much variety in their visual style (since the game takes place in an enemy spaceship), but the presence of enemy life forms changes up the design a bit. All of the objects in the game are nicely rendered, from the glowing orbs to weapon fire and collectable gems. Scavenger also has excellent dynamic lighting effects that are put to good use in the more difficult gaming modes. While the motif might be a little boring, the good effects in the game makes up for this shortcoming. Sounds are typical for the genre: weapons and exploding effects and some campy background music. Overall, Scavenger looks and sounds better than the average of games in the genre.

Scavenger features eighty levels where you collect orbs to unlock the exit to the next part of an alien ship. Controls are straightforward: the mouse is used for orienting the ship, the right mouse button fires, and the left mouse button moves towards the cursor. The location to all orbs and the exit on each level are indicated with arrows, so getting lost is not a problem. You’ll encounter a number of enemies along the way: turrets, mines, gates that must be opened by firing at a specified location, and the level itself. Running into the walls, as well as getting shot by enemy units, reduces your shield level. Since the level design is quite claustrophobic, this can create a problem in the later levels. There are a number of gems scattered around the levels to increase your score, and power-ups can grant more advanced weaponry. The exit keys actually increase your firepower in addition to allowing you to complete a level, while other power-ups include the addition of lateral, rear, or three-way blasters, ricocheting ammo, extra lives, and shield power restoration. By itself, the gameplay would be quite average and not distinctive, but where Scavenger separates itself from other games is in the additional difficulty levels. Beginners can play with more “classic” rules, but you can also turn on gravity (which drags your ship down toward the bottom of the level), limit your fuel supply, play in darkness (except for your headlights), only be given three lives for the entire eighty levels, or experience motion sickness (where the entire level rotates…nauseatingly fun!). Unfortunately, you’ll need to play through every level in the game at each setting, but these additional game modes change the experience dramatically. The gravity effects are very interesting and require a lot of precise movement. As you might imagine, avoiding walls while dealing with enemy troops can result in some satisfyingly hectic gameplay. Instead of adding simply more enemies or giving the user less health, Scavenger makes the game more complex in a reasonable fashion, making previously easy levels much more challenging. The six game modes are great features of Scavenger and change what would be just another top-down shooter into a distinctive title.

Gamers who enjoy top-down shooters will find a quality title in Scavenger. The game won’t win over any new fans of the genre, but the game is very well designed and the additional game modes offer more challenges without feeling cheated. Playing the same level in the dark with gravity is a much different experience than on the beginner’s level. The control scheme is very straightforward and allows for just enough precision to get by, but it also requires planning to compensate for outside forces. The theme in the game is drab, but this is offset by some nice graphical effects for weapons and enemy units. Scavenger plays differently than other top-down shooters at the higher difficulty levels and offers some innovations that aren’t present in other games of the genre, making Scavenger a distinctive title that fans of arcade games shouldn’t miss.