Monday, October 29, 2007

Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa Review

Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa, developed by Chronic Reality and published by Shrapnel Games.
The Good: Randomly generated maps are different each time you play, robust yet simple editing tools, oil is a neat resource to deal with
The Not So Good: Drab levels, somewhat cumbersome controls, repetitive loot, slow start
What say you? Random maps and mod support save an otherwise generic action role playing game: 6/8

The action role playing game has been popular on the PC for a while now. There is something about hacking and/or slashing that makes people come back for more. Exploring through uncharted regions, killing things, and gathering precious loot is the name of the game in Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa. The thing that may set this title apart from the pack is the Random Adventure Game Engine, which produces new maps each time you play based off some values in a text file. Will this amount of freedom grant players with a new level of awesomeness, or will it just result in muddled, unpolished gameplay?

Due in part to the randomized nature of the maps, Scallywag features some frugal graphics. The game maps are rendered in 3-D, but all of the items and characters are 2-D sprites superimposed on the background. It doesn’t necessarily look bad, but it does seem out of place. Speaking of the maps, Scallywag features some of the most boring levels seen in an action RPG in recent memory. The levels consist of walls and floors, and that’s it: no furniture, no architecture, and no realism. No wonder all of the beings in the dungeon are trying to kill you: there is nothing for them to look at! There is also a functional problem with the graphics: since you can’t tilt your view, it’s hard to see past your 2-D character. This makes moving (done by clicking on a map location) way more difficult than it should be. You also have to manually rotate the camera, adding to the dilemma. I probably spend more time moving the camera and trying to see around things than actually playing the game. A more overhead view would be greatly appreciated, or give the user the ability to move using the minimap. The highlight of the graphics is the lighting effect from your lamp: it looks good and is an integral part of the gameplay, not just a bell or whistle. The sounds in Scallywag are basic at best: some decent background music and utilitarian effects for the hacking and/or slashing. The graphics and sound of Scallywag makes it easy for editing and promotes the random map generator, but they aren’t the best to look at or listen to in the genre.

Scallywag is a single-player only action role-playing game that takes place in a dungeon, or, more specifically, in the lair of the Medusa (I know because the title of the game told me so). Something that sets Scallywag apart is the random map generator: every map in the game is made on the spot based on values in a text file. While most games just change the enemy locations (if anything), Scallywag changes everything, from the map layouts to the loot to the enemies. This randomness almost makes up for the lack of multiplayer…almost. The game takes place over eighty levels that increase in difficulty and complexity. The first ten levels start out slowly, especially for people who have played the game before, but the action picks up after the first set. You can only save the game every ten levels for some reason, but autosaves are made at the start of each level. All movement and interaction is made by clicking the mouse and quick slots can be used to switch between weapons in an expedient manner. The minimap is useful as it shows the layout and important objects around the map; finding the exit is easy if you consult the minimap. However, you can’t issue movement orders using the minimap so traveling large distances is difficult, even more so considering you can’t tilt the camera.

As with most role-playing games, there is a suite of weapons to discover in the field. that differ in the amount of damage they cause and how fast they cause it. You can also equip yourself with armor to fend off enemy attack. The items in any single area are very repetitive so there is not much reason to scout a single level extensively (except for oil). You can combine shards to make powerful items, but these are scripted combinations. Some items can have magical effects, like fire, electric, smashing, drain, or drunkenness. Thankfully, combat in Scallywag isn’t a matter of endless clicking: just select and enemy (there is a good assortment of enemies to deal with) and the game does the rest. In fact, your character will automatically defend himself: what a novel idea! Over time, your character will lose health that can be replenished with tasty rat meat and other items like magic mushrooms. The protagonist also gains experience through combat, which will automatically increase health and other stats when you gain a level. Oil in an interesting resource in the game: since you are playing in a dungeon, you need to see, and your lantern and its limited supply of oil is the only way. You need to budget your oil consumption and balance your supply against how far you can see. It’s an interesting dynamic beyond the simple killing of monsters. You can even use your lantern in a sneaky mode and move past dangerous foes unnoticed.

The goal of each map is to find the rope (which may be inconveniently held by a boss) and then find the exit, finding objects and monsters along the way. The maps are generally repetitive as I mentioned earlier, but the game is still fun to play as you smash your way through each map. Scallywag also features some of the best editing tools I’ve seen since Europa Universalis III. All of the files are simple text entries that are used to generate each of the levels. That means anyone can come in and change a lot of the settings without having an extensive modding background. In addition to incorporating new fonts, sounds, and textures, C++ programmers can develop new plug-ins that almost have unlimited potential within the framework of the game. The text files include the stats for all of the weapons, armor, items, monsters, and map designs. Everything can be altered, from speed to damage to rarity to icon to mutator effects to strength to room count and more. There is already a mod made by the developer ready for download that showcases how easy it is to make a slightly different game. I’m interested in seeing how flexible this design is once some modders get their hands on the game.

At its core, Scallywag is a basic action role-playing game, but the modification potential of the game elevates its overall value. The graphics and sound may be very elementary, but it does allow for easy modifying and random map generation on the fly. There are some interface issues, such as the inability to change the view angle which makes moving more difficult than it should be. The minimap is informative, but you should be able to move using it: backtracking to the exit can be quite annoying as it should be a one-click affair once you’ve explored the map. The use of oil adds an interesting layer of strategy that makes Scallywag more than a simple clicking affair. The random maps increase replay value tremendously, as do the modding tools that make changing anything you don’t like in the game easy as pie (apple, specifically). I do wish the loot was more diverse in the beginning of the game and the slow start may deter some new players, but the action picks up after the first ten levels. Overall, Scallywag is a good RPG that offers enough replay value through its random and custom elements to make it a notable title.