American McGee Presents: Scrapland (henceforth known as Scrapland) is an interesting game. American McGee’s name was slapped on it once he was hired by publisher Enlight Software and took over the Executive Producer role on the game. Scrapland had been in development by Spanish developer Mercury Steam for 2 years prior to American McGee being brought on in the Executive Producer role. American saw something in the game and he wanted to be a part of it. His name certainly gives the game a little more renown, although McGee’s last game, Alice, had many people divided on whether it was good or not.
Scrapland also has the distinction of being related to Beyond Good and Evil via people that have played the demo of it. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t exactly like BG&E, but I can understand where the connections are made. There is a conspiracy story in this game and the lead characters both take pictures, but that’s about where the connections end. Scrapland easily distinguishes itself as a different game, but also as a game that shares some things in common with many other games, but we’ll get to that in the meat of the review…which starts now.
Scrapland is a very pretty game and in many ways you’ll feel like you’re in a more grounded version of Tron as you travel the planet that the robots have affectionately called Scrapland because it is full of scrap metal and it was rebuilt with scrap metal. It’s not necessarily a name that will make people want to visit the planet, but it’s a great setting for the game.
The world is humungous and once you go into the buildings it becomes even more huge. You’ll see a variety of Tron-like areas where there are neon colors. Early on when you’re going up to interview someone you actually see a translucent purple stairway being created in front of you when you get close to where it should be, it’s all very cool. It’s obvious the world of Scrapland is very robotic in nature and the building designs certainly show that. The rooms are very square and the walls are defined, the only problem with this is that the buildings are so huge you can easily get lost if it wasn’t for the little map that is available to you.
Early on you also develop the ability to switch into other characters and each one’s movements are very well done and different enough from the protagonist D-Tritus to deserve mention here. Each one also has special powers, most of which can be done with the middle button of the mouse (or the mouse wheel in my case) and that shows off some nice effects and neon colors as well.
For how large the game is, the sections certainly don’t take a long time to load and once they do load this game simply becomes a really good looking one.
Overall the voiceovers are well done. Each dialogue is spoken in the game, although it does create a bit of a problem. You have subtitles in the game and sometimes the spoken words are different from the written ones. In some cases the words in the subtitle are not in very good English or the voiceovers have some problems with English as well. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that a Spanish company made this game and it probably had to be localized from Spanish for the American release. It’s not “early console RPG” horrendous, but you will notice some errors from time to time.
Music for the most part is done very well, although if you keep going to certain sections you’ll start to notice that the same music keeps repeating and it can get a bit annoying. With the buildings the size they are you could be in there for many minutes and you’ll start to hear the tracks repeat themselves.
Control is a bit hard to score because Mercury Steam has given you a plethora of options for control depending on what you want to use. There is keyboard/mouse control and there is joystick control as well. Joystick control works wonders during the ship sections of the game, but it performs poorly in the 3rd person action sections because you don’t have view control with at least a standard gamepad, although you may with one of those with dual sticks on them. The keyboard/mouse works great, although when you get into the ship and especially ship racing the keyboard/mouse could do you in a bit.
For the most part, Scrapland is a moderately paced game, but once it starts to get hot and heavy the controls could do you in easily. This game may be one of those games that will hold up better in the control realm with the Xbox release that is supposedly coming in January.
I’m not exactly sure how the control could be better on the computer and I think a lot of it has to do with the huge environments D-Tritus is in all the time. The buildings are too big for the controls to handle, especially when you are trying to escape from the law.
Scrapland is an enjoyable game, but it doesn’t really set itself apart from the games it borrows from, notably Jak II, Beyond Good and Evil and Metal Arms: Glitch in the Machine. We’ll talk about those in a bit, but for now let’s talk a bit about the setup of the game.
You are D-Tritus, a self-made robot who has decided to create a home on the planet Chimera. As soon as he lands he finds out the planet is also called “Scrapland”. The planet is called this because it was rebuilt by scrap metal and the whole planet is home to only robots, humans are not allowed. D-Tritus lands and is immediately checked to see if he has any human components or has been touched by a human. D-Tritus looks very much like a human, far more than many of the robots on Scrapland. He has big eyes and a nice head of hair created by cut cables. Once he is found not to be human, D-Tritus is told he must have a job in order to live on Scrapland. The job coordinator gives him a journalism job and he’s off to the local paper. There he is given an old camera that also gives him a special power to be able to tap into the Great Database where all matrices of robots living on Scrapland are stored. Should a robot die, they can be brought back to life for a small fee via their copy on the Great Database. D-Tritus can tap into the GDB and actually change appearance to another character in the game to get past certain sections in the game and get new powers depending on the body he chooses.
On D-Tritus’ first assignment as a reporter he is sent to do an interview with one of the Bishops, the people that basically run the planet. The Bishop blows him off and then we are treated to a cutscene two hours later where someone comes in as the Bishop is taking an oil bath and turns up the heat on the oil and melts the Bishop. The first instinct by everyone is that a human did it, but the conspiracy runs far more deep than what is shown on the surface. Soon enough there’s a lot more dead robots around and D-Tritus is the central character trying to figure out what all is going on.
The game is primarily split into two sections: the flying ship sections and the on-foot sections. These also tie into my initial paragraph, so we’ll get into these now.
The ship sections are very much like Jak II or the Grand Theft Auto games on the Playstation 2. You can hijack other ships (although the cops will be after you here and the mechanic won’t add stuff to hot vehicles) in addition to your own ship and fly around the planet. As you receive money from your job as a journalist (or as changing into a Banker and stealing people’s money) you can buy upgrades to your ship, whether that is a new frame, engine, weapons, etc. You’ll find that the ship is very important in your quest because there are a lot of ship races that you must win in order to further the plot. The ship sections also create some tense moments as you find yourself losing many races because your ship is either underpowered or the controls do you in. This makes the repeating of story-based races all the more important.
Then there is the on-foot section of the game, which brings to mind the Beyond Good and Evil and Metal Arms: Glitch in the Machine analogies. The first one is brought into the equation because the base story of Scrapland is that there is a conspiracy afoot, much like there was in BG&E. That’s where the comparisons end between the two games though. The tie-in to Metal Arms is D-Tritus’ ability to tap into the Great Database or to control another robot without entering into the GDB. The problem with the latter is that it immediately makes D-Tritus a killer because he has basically taken over the body of the robot and the robot is no longer alive. Therefore the cops are after you because they know when such things happen. This is where the GDB hookup panels come in handy. You can easily change to another robot in order to do a task. However if you let the scanners do their job for too long they’ll know you really aren’t that robot and the cops will be after you again.
One of the biggest problems with this game is the size of the buildings once you get into them. The map is indispensable in this situation because it points you to where you need to go. If you didn’t know you’d get lost pretty easily in the huge buildings. The other major problem is the sameness of many of the missions. You’ll be fetching quite a bit, but there is enough of a variety with missions to keep you going through the story just to see exactly what is behind all the killings.
There really isn’t much for you to come back to after you beat the game. There is a multiplayer component, but so far I have seen no one online to attempt to play this section. Chances are many who bought Scrapland are probably too busy with another PC or console game to get onto the multiplayer here. Well, either that or they didn’t pick up this game because it looked like an oddball. In many ways it is, but the graphics and story are enough to keep someone interested through the single-player section of the game.
Scrapland is one of those games that tries to do something else, much like the game many people try to compare it to, Beyond Good and Evil. Unfortunately, even with American McGee’s name behind it, I see this game selling about as well as BG&E did, which is too bad. The game certainly does have hiccups here and there and once you get inside the buildings it is obvious the developers went a little too far in making them too big. Scrapland has an enjoyable story and an enjoyable cast and it does just enough to warrant a possible pickup if you’re looking for something different.