I… I don’t really know where to start. I mean, I like to think I know games. I’ve been playing them for two and a half decades, almost daily. After that amount of gaming consumption, I, like many of you out there, have developed a certain level of expectation and a sub-concious knowledge of what games are all about. When a studio announces a new title, particularly the AAAs of this world, we get all jittery and excited about the potential it offers, the hype machine goes into overdrive and we clamour for every pixel of information we can squeeze into our aching, abused eyeballs. So rarely however, does this cycle of events ever pay off. It happens once in a blue moon, something different comes along, something innovative, offering a small fraction of that new experience we were hoping for, that incremental step towards gaming nirvana. I think we do ourselves no favours, we’re constantly fooled by these cheap marketing tactics and essentially, we’re constantly looking in the wrong place, distracted by shiny screenshots and blurb, like a magician’s misdirection away from where the real action is taking place. The best videogames, at their most basic level, are defined by what lies beneath.
So given that I’ve been just as fooled by the charade as the rest of the masses for many years, it’ll come as no surprise when I say that two or three minutes into playing Dark Scavenger, I was thinking “What is this shit?”
In truth, I’m not likely to the be the only one. It’s an obscure, indie PC game, that runs in a native resolution window of 800×600 and on the face of it, looks like an indie PC game from 1994. The likes of Minecraft and a plethora of dodgy looking but ultimately mind-blowing indie games from the past few years has given me enough savvy to push past this barrier of ugly however. I’m glad I did.
I’m trying purposely not to stray into the content of the story, but the basic premise is that you are picked up in space after a ‘spat’ with some kind of Elder Space God(TM). He’s probably friends with Galactus and Unicron. You know the kind of guy I mean. You are picked up by a band of unlikely crew-mates, a Skeleton with a crossbow, a knock-off of a Geiger-style Alien with Cthulu tentacles/a vagina in place of a mouth and an extraterrestrial version of the Joker, both in looks and demeanour. They need your help, and of course hilarity ensues.
But it actually does.
Dark Scavenger is strange. It’s the best way to describe it – everything about it is strange. It is a strange blend of Text Adventure, Turn-based JRPG and that ‘game’ you used to get on Microsoft Encarta 96. It’s also a visually offensive game, and not in the Dwarf Fortress-ASCII sense. The whole game is composed of static images, drawn crudely as if thrown together by an acid-addled art student and lacking any form of animation whatsoever. Somehow though, this sack of oddities is drawn together by the power of some incredibly original and entertaining scriptwriting which, against all odds, produces something very charming and unique.
The crude graphics don’t matter once you’re into the narrative of the game. The mechanics are incredibly simple, almost painfully so. It’s point-and-click at it’s most basic. Enter a screen, fight an enemy or two by clicking your choice of attack and clicking the static enemy sprite, taking turns until either you or they fail. Once this is done, click various parts of the static background to trigger extra parts of the narrative and perhaps find items. It’s all about the items. Your crew-mates, terrible fighters by their own admission, have the ability to craft you new weapons and abilities from the junk you find. Skeletor’s cousin makes weapons, Ork Joker produces ‘items’ and Vagina-face makes allies that you can summon during battle. Of course none of these items and abilities are visualised at any point, they remain lines of text in your inventory.
This may sound terribly tedious, but here’s the deal. It’s all about the text. The details of your journeys are wonderfully off-the-wall and obscure, the details of your manoeuvres and wounds inflicted and received in battle are outright hilarious and visceral in equal measure. The banter between you and your Saturday Morning Kids TV reject crew-mates is inspired and raises a smile on regular occasions.
The gameplay is simple, but the grind addictive as ever. The mechanics are basic, but as effective as they could possibly need to be. The presentation is woeful, but the writing absolutely overshadows it.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (I’m English, it’s a fair reference) the graphics and simple point-and-click construction may simply be too much for some to get past. It might look and work like something I could’ve made in Klik & Play 18 years ago, but I could never have injected it with the unique character it has.
If you are in any way interested in games with narrative, you aren’t put off by text (not that it has swathes of passages, it’s succinct) and most importantly, want to be entertained by a game that does just about everything differently from the norm, Dark Scavenger is likely to be just what the space doctor ordered.
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