Many of the best things in life derive from unexpected combinations. The peanut butter and jam sandwich, for example, is humanity’s single most glorious achievement, and yet a mathematical quandary: the sum is greater than its parts. Psydra Games’ adventure-RPG Dark Scavenger is born of a similar (if less hyperbolic) phenomenon. It sequences DNA from Phantasy Star and Zork, adds a dash of Discworld: The Trouble With Dragons, and feels like it might have been lovingly raised by Armando Iannucci’s comedic imagination — an analogy that’s bereft of Dark Scavenger’s triumphs and near-misses, but full of its spirit.
The immediacy of Dark Scavenger is refreshing. The opening lasts no more than a few minutes, and in that time the whole narrative setting is contextualised and the tutorial is long over. You’ve met many of the major players in the universe and are fully aware of your skillset. Exposition be damned though, Dark Scavenger is a game that knows how to set the scene and leave it up to the player’s imagination to direct.
Filling in blanks
The visual perspective – first-person in combat, interactive top-down environmental views and a lack of a visible player avatar – does wonders for immersion and lets the audience fill in the blanks. The blanks, of course, referring to a literal void of animation. It’s here that Dark Scavenger’s text-based heritage shines through, and to wonderful effect. Some of the title’s greatest moments are fight sequences that take place outside of the turn-based battle mechanism, with frantic decision-making accompanying energetic descriptions.
Picking a fight
The combat itself is simplistic in its application but at times devilishly hard. There’s no stat-progression in this game. Instead, the tools at your disposal are determined by the titular scavenging carried out in the field. The player has access to three crew members which can adapt their spoils into weapons, items and allies which are then used (finitely, although recharged between chapters) to best the various denizens of the world.
The fighting is a random affair. Not in the sense of random battles, à la Final Fantasy, but the effectiveness of the available weapons varies dramatically from use to use. Each has a lower and higher damage bracket and the variation is tremendous even when used on the same foe, adding to the kinetic nature of fights but occasionally leading to frustration. Foes have weaknesses, which are generally of the elemental and melee/ranged varieties with some further deviations as progression continues, and it’s entirely possible to not have weapons of the appropriate types at the applicable times. The process of creating tools is an ambiguous affair. Moving from area to area, the player chooses which item from the previous frame to give to which crew member. The crew then give a vague description as to what they’ll create for the player. Given that one member is delightfully insane and another can only communicate with body language, the results are haphazard. Unexpectedly, this doesn’t matter as much as it would sound. In fact it’s fully intentional.
Dark Scavenger is a game full of humour. The writing is superlative and a credit to the development team, who clearly understand their demographic. The strength of the piece lies in its characterisation rather than narrative, facilitating multiple fresh playthroughs, and the player can’t help but get attached to both their crew mates and nemeses. With visual gags abound in the caricatures, pleasant audio hinting at JRPGS gone by and surreal, charming dialogue brimming with wit, Dark Scavenger is an attractive package for the nostalgic, the adventure-buff and the comedy hound alike.
Dark Scavenger is out now. You can buy it straight from the developer for $5 right here.