American McGee presents SCRAPLAND Download (2004 Simulation Game)

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In the role of wayward robot named D-Tritus, players visit the asteroid space station Chimera, a place diversely populated by other automatons and full of both danger and opportunity. Futuristic, flying vehicles are a focus of the game, and D-Tritus will win, build, borrow, and steal progressively faster, more powerful rides as he moves through the adventure. Although it would be unfair to dub this game "Grand Theft Spaceship," another essential element of Scrapland concerns the relatively random events that emerge, independent of the main narrative, in its large, freely roamed environments.

Similar to Rockstar's pièce de résistance, Scrapland allows players not only to follow its story arc through one main mission to the next, but also to simply wander around the space station and find random races, fights, and other "pick-up" escapades. Somewhere between this open-ended play and the scripted story missions are a number of RPG-style side challenges, which can be attempted for more specific rewards such as cash or new vehicle designs. The robot hero can also visit arenas, where sanctioned races and deathmatch battles are held.

There's also plenty for D-Tritus to do when he's not in the cockpit of his latest ride, however. Many missions have him on foot, infiltrating different buildings to obtain information and loot, or perhaps for more sinister purposes. D-Tritus can take on the body of another robot -- either co-opting another character he's met or changing his appearance by choosing new parts from a menu. Not only does this allow him to move around incognito, but it also lets him adjust his abilities. He might take over a character who's good at jumping to conquer a platform challenge, for example, and then switch to a character who's good at shooting for a combat sequence.

At first glance, Scrapland looks like a sort of Grand Theft Auto III in space, where you get to travel through a sprawling world, set your own goals, and interact with a bunch of characters. After playing Scrapland for a while, you realize that the game is actually much simpler than that. You do the same basic things over and over, and few of those tasks are particularly rewarding. Scrapland isn't a bad game; its unique visuals range from good to amazing, and its aerial combat can be solid fun. But the overall gameplay is way too monotonous and unimaginative to add up to much more than a quick, mildly pleasing diversion.

One of Scrapland's biggest faults lies in its storytelling, a place it could have really shined. The game's premise sounds like the makings of a neat sci-fi story. The hero you control is a robot named D-Tritus, who somehow assembled himself and decided to set out for adventure. He ends up at Scrapland, an asteroid covered with gargantuan skyscrapers and filled with small ships zooming down "highways" in the sky. (Think: The Fifth Element.)

It turns out that this futuristic world is really the remains of Earth, rebuilt by sentient robots after human folly rendered it uninhabitable. Thanks to a "Great Database" and the robot priests who control it, "death" is no concern for the robots who inhabit Scrapland in the wake of the humans. The Great Database stores the information needed to re-create an exact replica of a "deceased" robot. Yet soon after D-Tritus arrives on Scrapland, the robotic Archbishop is mysteriously destroyed, and his data pattern is wiped from the Database. He's gone for good. D-Tritus has to investigate this unexpected turn of events.

This premise is all well and good in theory, but in practice the game does little with it. D-Tritus is never developed as a character, nor are any other inhabitants of Scrapland. You can talk to anyone in the game world, yet most characters look identical since there are just a few different generic robot types. They're poorly voiced by the same handful of actors, and most robots only utter a few silly or irrelevant lines like, "I've got an itchy skull." That's about the extent of your interaction with 99% of the game's characters.

You do interact with a few more important characters, like a police chief and a moody old robot who helps you build new ships. But these characters never feel real, either, and interacting with them only means pressing a button to hear what lame bit of dialogue they're going to utter next. There are no real conversation choices and no way to build or shape any sort of relationships. Scrapland may as well have had D-Tritus walk up to a talking trashcan to get his mission assignments.

The humor rarely works in Scrapland. The game was translated into English, and perhaps something got lost in the translation, or perhaps the writing is really just as bad as it seems. D-Tritus takes a pratfall every once in a while, cop robots are always demanding money from passersby, and little "stapler" robots lament that they can't find any paper. That's all mildly amusing at best. The whole tone of the game is confused, too. The characters look like they walked out of a kid's cartoon, and much of the dialogue is simple and straightforward to where a young gamer could easily grasp it. Yet then some characters turn around and start cussing, some of which is bleeped out (why even include the words, then?), and some of which is not.

Since storytelling and characters are so lacking in Scrapland, you mainly focus on the mechanics of a linear series of missions. To solve the murder of the Archbishop, you need to collect clues. That could have led to a sophisticated adventure, but instead nearly every mission revolves around the same tiny handful of simplistic tasks. To receive mission assignments, you usually have to travel to a specific locale and then wander for what feels like an eternity through sprawling buildings in order to find your next contact. The time you waste tediously ambling about in this game is staggering and depressing.

When you finally reach your contact, he'll dish out a mission. These almost always entail a straightforward ship-to-ship battle, a brief race, killing some robots indoors, or photographing some documents. It becomes a real drag when all the missions start to blur together. The game doesn't really try to disguise their striking similarity, except for mixing up the scenery or a few tiny details.

You can put off or avoid carrying out these specific goals that the game feeds you, but there's really not a whole lot else to do. You can fly around Scrapland's various districts and destroy other ships for cash, but that wears thin after a few tries. You can go to a gambling den and accept a "super crazy bet," but these aren't imaginative or challenging: destroy a few parked ships, win a race that feels exactly like the last three you entered, win a no-frills ship-to-ship battle in a tiny arena, and so on. You can also build or upgrade new ships with money and blueprints you gather. This feature doesn't have much to offer, either: the choices are pretty simple, and the ships and weapons are unimaginative. Beyond the ship building, betting, and wandering around aimlessly, there's really nothing else to do in Scrapland.

Happily, some of the combat can be fun. Combat on foot is simplistic and requires little skill. Many of the robot forms you can adopt lack significant attacks; burping a stream of nuts and bolts is amusing but not very useful or exciting. Ship-to-ship combat is another story, with much more excitement. You'll battle a handful of different A.I. ship types, and you can also fight online in a few plain-Jane multiplayer modes like deathmatch and team deathmatch. In ship-to-ship combat, you get to fluidly zip around in three dimensions, swerving past skyscrapers and barely dodging traffic. The smooth controls make flight a breeze. It's not very hard to best your foes -- just hang around the spots where power-ups continually respawn -- but the combat is fast-paced and lets you take in the game's spectacular scenery.

And Scrapland's scenery is its true heart. The environments are huge and filled with one memorable vista after another. For a while, at least, it can be fun to simply fly around and zip past titanic buildings or watch rows of ships speeding through tunnels. Indoors, structures are enlivened by effects like neon TRON-style stairs appearing in front of you as you take each new step. The game's robots sport unusual and humorous designs, too, with D-Tritus's "hair" made of glowing fiber optic strands, and cop robots wiggling about comically on spindly little legs.

As cool as the visuals can be, they're ultimately like a flashy paintjob on a car without much under the hood. The amount of unimaginative busywork and lame repetition in this game is really unfortunate. Still, Scrapland shouldn't be summarily thrown on the scrap heap. It has a unique look and feel, and the aerial combat can be good, simple fun.


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