For a moment, I forgot what game I was playing. By the way, it turned out to be a weapon. That's so wrong.
It would be such an incredible waste of time to continue playing Scavengers of the Mutant World that, for all our sakes, I'm going to stop. But man does it grate to have this game beat me.
As I noted in previous postings, the game's primary objective is to return various scavenged goods back to the vault at the city of Lau. Well, I've done that. I've stocked the larders, armory, and tool shed:
But I still don't have enough parts to build a car or boat, which I think--actually, I know, since I read Scorpia's review after I decided to stop playing--is the key to "winning" the game. Apparently, just before the nuclear war, there was only one car and one boat in the immediate area, because each permutation of the game features only one battery, one motor, one exhaust system, and so on. I've collected most of these parts. For the car, I lack gasoline and an axle, and for the boat, I lack gasoline, a propellor, and patches. Meanwhile, I do have all kinds of extra parts: pedals and chain, liquid oxygen, a heater, uranium, an ivory rod, thumb tacks, handlebars, and a hubcap. Clearly, there are some blueprints for a nuclear-powered, pedal driven space shuttle that I've yet to stumble upon.
(Oh, by the way, correctly identifying the parts in the blueprint depends on the character's intelligence attribute, which is why Homer thought my car needed an anchor.)
You'd think I could just keep exploring ruins until I find the missing items, but there are a couple of reasons why I would go insane first. The primary one is that instead of a character development system, this game features a "punish-characters-for-developing" system. You see, it turns out I was wrong about no levels or experience. You don't see those things, but your characters apparently do increase in levels as you slay mutants and monsters; this is evidenced by slowly increasing maximum hit points and radiation points. As you increase levels, however, the game starts throwing harder and harder monsters at you, including some who irradiate you with every attack. You eventually get to the point where it's easier to return to base and dump your high-level characters in exchange for low-level peons just so you can go back to fighting rabid bunnies again.
The monsters don't just get harder in the amount of damage they do; they also get more annoying. They eat my food, leaving me to starve, steal my items, and poison me. You can't escape them; they move faster than you, and even fleeing combat just puts you five or six spaces away from them, and they promptly attack you again.
Second, the further you get from home base, the more the ruins suck. Many of them are completely dark and require lamps to navigate--lamps last about 10 moves. Some are filled with radiation zones. I've counted about 19 ruins in the game map I've already explored--you have an automap, incidentally....
...and since each part exists only once, in one square (possibly darkened), in one ruin, it'll take me many hours to explore them all, even with the occasional dungeon map that you find:
I'm not sure I have hours and hours, because I only have about six scavengers left. The others have all died from monsters, radiation storms, starvation, or poison. I don't miss them. This game teaches you to not think of your characters as a real "party" but as interchangeable bags of meat that you simply send out to find loot. However, none of the remaining characters have a very high intelligence score, and I suspect this is necessary to correctly assemble the parts, should I manage to find them all before the rest of my characters die.
I have found some reasonably cool weapons, including handguns, shotguns, and spear guns. But missile weapons are hardly worth it because they burn through your minimum supply of ammo so fast. You have to keep a backup hand weapon and notice when your ammunition runs out in combat.
I've also found a lot of tools in the game, and I wish I could figure out how to get most of them to work. Jackhammers bore holes through walls--that's easy enough--and teaching machines raise your stats. Decontamination and healing kits do the obvious. I wish I knew the purpose of ladders and shovels. Late in the game, I found a couple of "flying mounts" which refuse to fly over anything.
Anyway, I'm not starting with a brand new party and map, so I'll play these characters to victory or death. But I'll give you a quick final rating now in case it's death [later edit: yep.].
In my first posting, I talked about my visceral reaction to the game world, but I can't deny that it's fairly original--this might be the first post-apocalyptic CRPG (I don't know if Wasteland from the same year is before or after). The state of the land and your quest is fairly clear (4).
For a game with such limited character creation--the game rolls their stats and picks their portraits and names when it generates the world, although you can change them--it's funny how this game gives you the option to edit the portraits pixel by pixel. Hardly any other game offers this level of visual customization, yet it's hard to imagine anyone taking the time to do it. Character development, for reasons I've said, is maddening (3).
There are no NPCs in the game (0). Encounters feature foes with different strengths and weaknesses (3), but there are far too many of them, and combat offers so few tactics that you can't really adjust well to specific enemies. The combat mechanics are quite awful, with all of the turning and advancing--one turn or step per round--that you have to do (3).
The various types of equipment--weapons, armor, food, tools, and parts--that you can find, wield, and use is probably the game's strong suit. A numbering system suggests which weapons and armor are better (4), but there is no economy in the game (0).
The game fakes you out a bit on the quests. The manual suggests that you'll be rewarded for returning food and weapons and such to the vault, but I saw no sign of this, and the only real quest seems to be the collection of parts for a vehicle. I wish I knew what happened after that--does building a car end the game?--but I doubt it offers any role-playing options. Still, it gets one point for originality (3).
The graphics, as you see, are pretty terrible. Aside from the colors, there are only four or five monster icons; one for water creatures, one for insects, one for humanoids, and so on. There is some bloopish sound that you immediately turn off, and the keyboard commands are cumbersome. There are only 29 possibilities, and I suspect through consolidation they could have mapped each one to a letter (like Ultima IV) instead of requiring me to type D-A for "date," D-F for "distribute food," D-I for "dismount," D-O for "don armor," and D-R for "drop" (1).
I suppose in the gameplay category, I should give some credit for replayability. If you really love this game (you loser), you could keep generating new maps and play all 4 million possibilities. And I allow that movement is fairly linear throughout the game world. But, man, does it drag. If they'd just put two of each part on the map--and maybe made the encounters a little harder to compensate--it would go more quickly and be more tolerable (3).
Against my better judgement, I'm going to add two bonus points to the final score to reward the game for its original use of radiation. Whether through storms, walking through radiated areas, or fighting radiated monsters, it's fun to see the various negative (stupidity, blindness, instant death at the next irradiation, attribute drains) and positive (laser eyes, attribute increases, double speed, radiation immunity) effects that radiation confers in the game:
This brings the final score to 26, the same as Questron II, which was bad for different reasons.
Word from reviews at the time suggests that Scavengers was originally designed as a board game. It feels a bit like that. Barton (p. 122) says that "it's almost worth seeking the game out just to see how badly developers can bungle a promising concept." True words. I'm glad I sought it out, wish I could have finished, but not enough to roll a new game world.
If one of you would like to download and play the game until you can assemble the vehicle, and send me a screenshot and description of the ending, I'll give you 1 million points and the right to name my next main character or party leader. In the meantime, I'll be playing Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic.