Grand Theft Auto with robots? That would seem to be the most apt description upon one's first impression of Scrapland, the latest action game from designer American McGee and publisher Enlight Software. Featuring a seemingly open-ended gameplay structure, a noirish murder mystery, a goofy sense of humor, and a huge city to explore, Scrapland would seem to have all the makings of a futuristic adventure of epic proportions. Unfortunately, the initial vibe the game puts forth doesn't quite pan out throughout its entire experience. Overly repetitive gameplay and mission designs knock a lot of the wind from Scrapland's sails as the game progresses, and the story could have been fleshed out in a more enjoyable fashion. Scrapland is still pretty good overall, but there's definitely a level of potential here that just doesn't ever quite get realized.
They's throwin' robots!
In Scrapland, you play as D-Tritus, a junkyard-born robot who, amid his many space travels, finds himself on the world of Chimera. Chimera has been nicknamed "Scrapland" by its locals. This is partially because it's made up of a lot of junk and partially because it happens to be inhabited entirely by robots. Upon his arrival, our hero is immediately decontaminated for fear of being infected by the germs of dreaded humans (more on that later). He's then assigned a job, because all residents of Scrapland must have one. With no other jobs available, D-Tritus is assigned to be what is considered the lowliest of professions on Scrapland: a journalist. D-Tritus heads off to work only to find himself wrapped up in an insidious murder plot almost immediately.
Murder is sort of a funny thing in the world of Scrapland thanks to something called the Great Database. The Great Database is basically a big storage unit for the matrices of all the residents of Scrapland. Anytime anyone dies, a simple payment to the order of bishops, which runs the database, affords you an extra life. Essentially, true death is a foreign concept to those who reside in Scrapland. Of course, that's until someone starts killing off key political figures in the Scrapland hierarchy...and subsequently starts stealing their matrices from the Great Database, which effectively stops any chance of bringing them back to life. Though a flesh-and-blood being is initially suspected of the murders (a big deal in a world that fears and loathes all organic life), the plot thickens significantly as time goes on. And, of course, you, as D-Tritus, are right there in the middle of it.
Much of your time in Scrapland is spent trying to solve these murders through a lengthy series of fetch-quest and vaguely GTA-inspired missions. You can travel on foot or via ship around Scrapland, though neither brings much in the way of variety. There are really only a few types of missions, and many of them reuse the same themes over and over again. You'll need to destroy a series of ships (or perhaps even just one very tough ship); go to someone's hideout and steal or photograph plans for a ship, its weapons, engines, or what have you; or pretend to be another robot to trick someone into giving you information or a needed item. There are a few other variances, including a series of side missions charged to you by the owner of a local gambling club, but most of them stick to similar gameplay conventions and don't deviate from the straight-and-narrow gameplay style Scrapland employs.
It isn't even just that the game uses the same types of missions frequently, either; it's that the game will actually charge you with performing nearly the exact same missions multiple times in a row. There are more than a few instances where you'll have to perform the exact same mission task in at least two to three missions sequentially, with only the slightest of variances. A couple of missions involve photographing plans that belong to a sect of mercenaries. In one instance, you're photographing a weapon, and in another, you're photographing a gunship. The setup for these missions is exactly the same, save for the replacement of the word "weapon" with the word "gunship" during the dialogue tree. The second time around, you do have to fight off a few more ships than the first time, but otherwise, it's the same thing over again. This happens much too frequently in the game.
Fortunately, there are more-appreciable aspects of Scrapland's gameplay. When you're on foot, most of your work involves conversations with the many different robots that populate Scrapland. The robotic population is certainly made up of a colorful bunch of characters, and each and every level is populated with lots of them. However, there are only a limited number of robot types, and every character from that type features the exact same voice acting and the exact same dialogue when talking outside of a mission. But this is forgivable simply because the characterizations are almost always entertaining. Banker robots, for instance, are slithery, creepy creatures that are constantly robbing everyone they come into contact with, while the cops are similarly money hungry, though they're far more rough-and-tumble (despite their short statures), and they frequently walk up to you to demand cash for "protection." What's even better than interacting with these characters, though, is becoming one of them.
Thanks to a gizmo D-Tritus picks up early on in the game, you can actually become pretty much any of the robots you encounter during it. All you have to do is access one of the many Great Database hubs that are littered all over the gameworld, pick a form, and from there you will steal that robot's matrix for as long as you need it. This comes into play mostly during missions where you have to trick some robot into thinking you're someone else. However, you can also simply take advantage of each robot type's special abilities when walking around. When you're a banker, you can steal money from other robots, and when you're a bishop, you can emit a destructive energy beam. The catch, of course, is that this is technically illegal, so some of the police robots may catch onto what you're doing while you do this. As a result, it's best to not do anything illegal for too long, time-wise.
Don't worry! He's a friendly robot!
However, this is really the only particularly enjoyable aspect of the game's on-foot missions. Most of the rest of the time, you'll simply be running from point A to point B to point C, and so on. You'll basically run to communicators or assorted robots to receive your missions. This wouldn't be so much of a chore, except the indoor environments are almost always very, very large. While this would be great and all if there were more to explore or see in these levels, unfortunately, there really isn't. They're all pretty to look at and feature some nice set designs, but aside from that, the only purpose they serve is to house the characters that provide your missions, and there's just entirely too much aimless wandering involved to get to them.
The good news is that you won't have to spend all your time on foot, since quite a bit of your time will also be spent flying assorted ships. When you first begin the game, you're handed a clunker of a ship that gets you from place to place, but not to too much else. However, as you progress--and by getting the plans for new ships--you'll actually be able to buy those ships from a number of mechanic shops across the city. You can even trick them out with new engines, increased hull plating, and new weapons, should you choose to do so. Of course, this all costs money--quite a bit of it, in fact--and if your ship gets destroyed, it's gone until you can either buy a new one or steal one (albeit not your tricked-out version) from one of the game's parking stations. Or, well, at least that would be the case, except that thanks to the save-anywhere save system the game employs, you can always just save your progress right before you're about to be destroyed. Then you can reload from that save point, which prevents the hassle of having to buy a new ship.