Developer: Mercury Steam
Release Date: November 18, 2004
Buy 'SCRAPLAND': PC
Let me begin by saying, right from the outset, that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED American McGee's Alice. It was witty, charming and disturbing all at once. It almost put me in mind of the Todd McFarlane "Oz" series of characters. The gameplay wasn't stellar, but the pure originality of the presentation far outweighed any small complaints I may have about camera control. With this in mind, I was very excited to review Scrapland, and see if the "Sophomore Jinx" was gonna creep up on old American McGee.
Let's look at the parts and see if the whole is its sum.
From the opening movies, it's clear that visual appeal was at the forefront of the designers' minds. The CGI is stunning! When the credits are superimposed over the first reel, it's almost jarring. You get sucked in, and the credits fade in like the best Pixar flick. The polish is apparent!
In Scrapland, you play the role of a cybernetic being who built himself out of junk parts (insert your own George W. Bush joke here). His name, in true satiric form, is D-Tritus. You soon find out that Scrapland is the remains of what used to be Earth! When the environment became too hostile for carbon-based life forms, they abandoned their home planet, as well as their cybernetic creations. When the ‘bots achieved full "awareness," they formed their own society, and, as a natural result, banned all humans from the surface of the Earth. Soon after your arrival on Scrapland, you land a job as a reporter trying to solve a bizarre murder case. What follows is a web of conspiracy and deceit that will set your mind a-spinnin'.
Your adventure takes you through numerous gameplay styles, from over-the-shoulder 3D to flight Sims. Scrapland's denizens all have a sense of humor that takes me back to Douglas Adams' "Starship Titanic" in their irreverence and general lackadaisical approach to all things. The levels are large, the challenges many, and the control scheme ... well ... err, I'll get to that presently.
Most of the game is spent in over-the-shoulder third person view. Our little metal hero is rendered in great detail, with a very pleasant feel to him. You know that this is a good little robot who just wants to do the right thing. Soon after landing on Scrapland, D-Tritus goes through the de rigueur tutorial missions, getting you (and him) acclimated to wandering around this junk planet.
In addition to your third-person view, Scrapland is home to literally hundreds of different spaceships, all yours to design, customize, build and fly! Here comes my first issue: I am an age-old PC pilot. I have flown everything from the hyper-realistic Falcon 4, through X-Wings and TIE Fighters, and even the retro-alternate-reality planes of Crimson Skies, and have shredded them all. Trust me when I tell you, there is no more room for trophies on my case where flight sims are concerned. The ship control in Scrapland, however, is maddeningly difficult. Even at the lowest graphics detail, there is a very noticeable lag in ship response, not to mention the inherent difficulty in flying with a mouse. I don't know, maybe it's me. I had the same problem with Freelancer, another gorgeous, but frustrating mouse-based flyer. It literally took me more than a month to finish the first ship mission, hence the lateness of this article (I am very curious to see how this is addressed in the X-Box port).
That being said, the game does deliver on a number of levels. First and foremost is something that is lacking in most games these days: charm. In an age where most games are getting more and more "in your face" with characters and situations just dripping with hard, gritty attitude, it's quite refreshing to play in a game world that makes you smile more than gasp and laugh at over-the-top harshness. D-Tritus is an immensely likeable 'bot. The other denizens are equally quirky and enjoyable. The voice acting is above par, and the characterizations are memorable.
The apparent freedom of choice is another plus. Like the Grand Theft Auto games, Scrapland gives you, for the most part, the freedom to decide where to go and when. It is not as totally open-ended as GTA, but its non-linear quality is, in the words of Martha Stewart, "A good thing."
Visually, Scrapland just out-and-out ROCKS! This is among the most beautiful games I have seen in recent years, with eye-popping graphics that will push your video card to its limits.
The aforementioned voice talent is another huge check in the "Pro" column. Even though each robot "type" is voiced by the same actor regardless of the actual character portrayed, the dialogue is sharp, witty, and occasionally hilarious. Loyal readers will recall what a stickler I am about voice acting in video games, and this one gets a solid "A" in this area.
The cities are huge, and I mean HUGE! Tunnels, bridges, tight corridors, dizzying vertical climbs, and just as dizzying dives are found around each corner. Unfortunately, once you get past the "gee whiz" stage of them, you soon realize there isn't much there in the way of content. In short, this is a victory of style over substance.
The missions you are sent on during your quest for the truth are derivative of most games of this ilk. Luckily, you never have to spend a lot of time, as in a lot of games, wondering "how" to do something. Scrapland is very clear about your objectives.
Multiplayer is available, but in the month-and-a-half I spent working through the game and preparing this review, I was unable to find anyone to play against. The mode does seem to work, as I was able to fly around the multiplayer maps at will, but it was a rather barren experience. Allegedly, there are Deathmatch modes, Team Deathmatch, etc. If I ever find a group of Scrapheads, I'll let you know.
The storyline is like a cross between a Douglas Adams novel, and a 1940s film noir mystery. The interesting twist is the use of the GDB, or Galactic Database. Using a device that D-Tritus gets relatively early in the game, he can transform into one of 15 different and unique characters by simply finding a GDB "pod." There are many of these floating around the planet, which does make me wonder, if any robot can be re-created by the GDB, how could one be "murdered?"
Oh well ....
In the final analysis, Scrapland is fantastic eye-candy. I wish I could give it a higher rating, I really do. It's sort of like saying you loved a really bad movie (like "Plan 9 From Outer Space") or saying you really hated a great movie (like "Gone With The Wind"). As a rule, I don't read other critics' reviews of games I am working on until I have published, but in this case, I wanted to see if anyone else had the same troubles as I did with the control scheme. A few did, but it seems that I am going to be in the minority when I give American McGee's Scrapland a mediocre score. The whole is just not up to the sum of its parts.
More articles about Scrapland