Thanks to the magic of one Grand Theft Auto III, more and more third-person action games are incorporating large, clockwork worlds to explore, packed with minigames and hidden secrets to discover. Thanks to the magic of Hong Kong-based publisher Enlight Software, designer American McGee and developer Mercury Steam are working on a third-person action adventure game that features both a sense of humor and some really, really shiny characters. Of course, these characters are shiny because they're made of chrome and titanium and steel--they're all robots designed with an off-kilter cartoonlike look, and they live on a remote space station known as Chimera. We sat down with an early version of Scrapland for an exclusive first hands-on look.
In Scrapland, you'll play as D-Tritus, a robot with a roughly human build (complete with a bobbling ponytail made of bundled cables) in search of adventure. D-Tritus begins the game cruising through the galaxy on a jet-propelled space bike, narrowly dodging asteroids before he makes a suave landing on the Chimera space station, then promptly falls on his face when trying to get off his bike. Scrapland will feature plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor in the form of both sight gags that its expressive characters pull off and jokes mixed into the game's dialogue. While the game's speech isn't fully complete at this stage, it's clear that the game will have a great deal of spoken audio dialogue, delivered by different robots to suit different personalities, like the gruff hovering police robots or the underhanded banker robots that specialize in illicit information (and picking pockets).
As soon as D-Tritus reaches Chimera, he's disinfected by admission robots that clean him of any biological matter, especially anything as repulsive as a human being. He then sets about the unenviable task of getting a job, which, according to the robot clerk who greets him, is easier said than done--even the lowliest jobs, like working in the video game industry, are taken, so he's stuck with the worst work--that of a reporter. As D-Tritus' first contact informs him, being a reporter is an unforgiving and depressing line of work, because the only news these days seems to be the never-ending series of deaths of Chimera's robot citizens. While D-Tritus and other robots can be restored to life by the robotic archbishop (and the goggle-eyed, egg-shaped bishop robots that wander the planet) by paying a quick tithe, a better solution is to stay sharp and out of danger.
Naturally, danger ends up finding you early. While you'll be led to a scrap-yard hangar where you'll receive your emergency ship--an old junker with poor handling and substandard weapons--you'll also receive a message from a robot called the Crazy Gambler. It seems the Gambler has a series of missions for you called "crazy bets," which you can complete to earn extra cash, along with blueprints for extra weapons or even new ships. The version we played has at least 10 different ships that D-Tritus can unlock and/or purchase to use while cruising the skyways of Chimera and going from district to district.
Flying is extremely easy, since it uses the thumbsticks on the Xbox controller and the WASD keyboard keys in the PC version almost exactly as you'd expect. Your first crazy bet mission is to destroy two police ships, which is harder than it sounds, since the cops not only have better weapons than you do to start with, but also call for backup. Your "wanted" state appears as a meter at the bottom-left corner of the screen that increases the more you mess with the cops--like in Grand Theft Auto III, you can eventually empty out your meter and get the cops off your tail by fleeing out of sight and lying low for a while. However, destroying police ships (and other random ships on the skyways that might be spoiling for a fight) will often cause them to drop extra weapons, items, and cash that you can pick up and add to your collection. You'll start with a basic laser weapon, but you'll eventually be able to upgrade to rocket launchers, lightning guns, and railguns, among others. The early versions of the game we played also seem to have an aiming-assistance feature that helps steer your crosshairs onto an enemy, though this feature will be optional in the final game.
On the ground, you'll also be looking to complete special missions (or just earn some extra scratch) by exploring various indoor areas. Accomplishing these goals won't always be easy, but it won't be impossible either, thanks to D-Tritus' wisecracking camera--that's right, a talking camera who explains that although it's not very good at taking pictures, it can give him the power to assume the forms of other robots on the planet. This proves to be an invaluable skill in many missions and in many areas where regular old robots just aren't welcome. One mission requires you to sneak into police territory without incurring the wrath of the cops, and the only way to pull this off is to assume the form of a police robot and keep your distance in the hopes that your ruse isn't discovered. Different robot forms have different abilities that are suited to different occasions, but fortunately, the missions we've seen seem designed to feature just the right mix of robots placed strategically around the area.
Aside from wandering around on foot and racing through the city, D-Tritus can also visit the arena, where he can race his ships and participate in ship-to-ship deathmatches. These modes also serve as the game's multiplayer, which will be supported both online for the PC and over Microsoft's Xbox Live game network. These modes seem well suited for players who just want to pick up and play a quick online game.
The game is clearly attempting to combine the open-ended exploration of Grand Theft Auto with fast-paced online and offline racing and shooting, plus an extra dose of humor, and it seems to be coming along well. If the developers can pull it off, Scrapland will be a well-rounded game that appeals to fans of open-ended exploration and pick-up-and-play games. It's scheduled for release on the Xbox and the PC later this year.