American McGee is not usually one to follow trends when making games, no matter what game comes out of his care, it seems to always produce a unique experience for the gamer. Scrapland is the latest potential filled McGee title to hit the shelves and perhaps one of his more mainstream concepts to date - an easy to follow, enjoyable yet challenging experience involving robots in a GTA3 like world - atleast, that's the theory.
Scrapland is the name of a planet made by robots for robots. As the game explains in its intro sequence, humans left the planet leaving nothing but scrap metal behind. Shortly after, robots took control and built the planet into a striving robot world from the scrap metal, complete with social structures, violence, crime, corruption and everything else you'd expect from its former inhabitants. In this world, you control D-Tritus - a somewhat clumsy looking fellow thrown into an unraveling mystery only he can solve.
The center of Scrapland, i.e. the force that every living robot orbits around, is the Great Database. Basically, in this world, robots have unlimited life as stored in the Great Database is "DNA" of every robot in existence, known as a robot's "matrix". Upon death, a robot is restored if they have lives spare, which must be pre-purchased, or spawned into a jail cell if they don't. This setup is reasonably unique, and allows for quite an interesting feature - early on, your character will be given the ability to access Great Database terminals and spawn into any available character in the game, not only taking on their looks, but also their abilities. This, obviously, plays deep into the game's missions, where numerous times a task can only be completed when playing in the body of another robot. The only drawback is "BeHolder" robots, the robotic security cameras of the police force, will recognise you under your false appearance, which as it turns out, is illegal to do, so you have to tread carefully when impersonating another robot's likeliness.
As it would seem, for some reason, a lot of previews of Scrapland seemed to portray it as some sort of "free world", where you can see and do what you want. Whilst technically this is true, if you plan on finishing the storyline, it is as linear as the next game. There is only one storyline and one mission to complete at a time, so unless you want to run around wasting time visiting areas that hold no progressive significance, you'll be following a storyline that's strictly on rails. If it's the world of Scrapland you want to see, then don't worry, soon enough you'll have traveled to all four corners and everything in between by following the linear missions - in any case, even flying around doing what you want has its limitations, there are very few interaction elements to Scrapland, atleast far, far less than its apparent comparative game GTA3.
Briefly into the single player mode, it will become apparent that the characters are incredibly weak. The plot is there, but the compelling or even slightly interesting characters aren't. For example, the interaction is nonexistent - whilst you do make a friend and a potential love interest at the beginning of the game, these are not exploited nearly enough, in fact they're not even utilised at all for the most part. The characters are also riddled with inconsistencies - for example, besides the fact your character, D-Tritus, is playing a hero role, he seems to go somewhat out of character at times and undergo shady missions, even at one point stating he'd prefer illegal missions when talking to a boss who wishes to use his skills for personal missions. This is odd, because for a game which contains robots completely capable of human emotions such as lust, fear, anger etc, compassion seems strangely absent. One mission you're helping to save the life of a robot who's matrix was deleted from the Great Database, and the next minute you're the cause of an intentional mid town massacre (or "terrorist attack") with no remorse - it just doesn't make much sense.
With all this aside though, the gameplay is still relatively action packed and challenging. The transition from indoor stealth missions to outdoor air combat missions are seamless, and there are never really times you feel like you're doing a mission for the sake of doing a mission; developments to the game's plot occurs after almost every single completed task which does a reasonably good job keeping you interested. Perhaps the missions could have been a little more varied in some places, for example the mission types tend to be clustered in segments rather than spread evenly across the entire single player mode, but otherwise they are usually challenging whilst not being impossible. Although at times I did find myself redoing missions to finish them, it was not so often that it deterred from the gameplay.
On top of this, the game can be humorous at times, and it's not just the intentionally exaggerated voice acting (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here), nor the dialog between characters, but the living world that is Scrapland. At times you'll see robots go crazy, only to be jolted on the head by the "Nurse" robot, who's sole purpose in Scrapland is to wack robots over the head, back into reality. You'll also see battles break out in the air and on foot inside buildings, sometimes between multiple police officers which is always good for a laugh, causing all the near by robots to go berserk, or maybe you'll witness or be victim to a tiny Cop robot asking for money for "protective taxes", only to jump up and down angrily in true cartoon fashion when his potential sucker runs off . As it seems, the police robots are portrayed in a reasonably self humiliating manner, and although it is hardly comedy gold, it does hold up as reasonably humorous material.
As far as multiplayer goes, nothing overly special is here. The game basically takes the warship deathmatch and CTF elements from the single player mode and allows up to 16 human players over a LAN or the Internet to battle it out. It is good to see the effort given to adopt an in-game server system and not rely on external 'bloatware' utilities to connect gamers together, as this can sometimes annoy more gamers than it accommodates, although unfortunately at this time not much action is happening online, only two servers were active, none official, when we checked it out.
Certainly one of the best elements to the gameplay is the gunship building. Throughout Scrapland, you will find scrapyards available to add to your current ship, or create a new one. As you progress throughout the storyline, you will come across plans for ships and weapons etc that, once you take a photograph of, will be available for you to use. There are quite a few elements you can customise, and each ship has a certain weight allowance, so making the best ship for the situation on hand is a little tricky at times - luckily you can store multiple ships in your selection, so you can easily make one for each situation at hand (e.g. speed, endurance, combat, or a mixture of a few).
Visually, there is never a dull moment in Scrapland - literally. Almost every environment you'll encounter will be flourishing in bright colour and style, whether it be inside a compound or outside flying about in the city of . The only problem here is a lot of the environments look perhaps too similar - there just isn't enough variation which doesn't help the already linear gameplay. The same can be said for the robots - there are only a handful of different robots you'll see roaming about, and whilst they too look fantastic, seeing the same robot, with the same voice, saying the same thing over and over again is, well, boring.
The concept behind Scrapland is reasonably unique and fresh, it is just the execution which doesn't quite add up - unfortunately some key gameplay faults, such as the unvaried environments and the incredibly basic one dimensional characters, let down what otherwise would have been a thoroughly enjoyable game, and create perhaps more of a partially enjoyable game best played in smaller doses. It's worth checking out for the PC gamers looking for a bit of a twist to their third person action gaming, but it isn't the sleeper hit of 2005 that I was hoping, certainly not the "free world" game it was touted to be.