Review: Dark Scavenger

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Within a crumbling bandit fortress, I came across a room strewn with corpses. One lone bandit emerged from the darkness, and from the available dialog options I chose “So you’re the sole survivor?” That prompted a second one to appear, to which I replied “So you’re both the sole survivors?” One more showed up, and of course I said “So you’re all the sole survivors?” and then had to fight all three. Dark Scavenger is that kind of game, the kind where the funny options are going to get you in trouble, but they’ll be entirely worth it. And it’s entirely worth exploring every inch of this odd title, because there’s more creativity and wonder crammed into it than most games twice its size.

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After a particularly jarring start adrift in space with some cosmic horror, you find yourself among the Dark Scavengers. This motley crew wanders from planet to planet, collecting junk and turning it into weapons and gear to better loot additional planets with. They’re stuck at the moment, lacking a fuel supply to keep rambling with, and it’s up to you to descent to the planet below and find one. Said planet is in the middle of a clan war, though, between bandits and assassins and artisans and the bizarre wildlife. The struggle culminates in a showdown at the bandit stronghold where secrets of existence will be revealed, alliances will be tested, and choices will determine the fate of the planet.

I’m not exaggerating, either. What starts as a kooky adventure through the undergrowth of an alien world will take you right to the heart of all life that has blossomed upon it. The factions involved are going for broke, the mad science has been pushed to its limits, and the apocalypse may or may not be at hand. You’ll have loads of choices to make on your way to the finale, all of which affect who lives, who dies, who gets their comeuppance, and of course how easy a time you’re going to have of it. There are secret plotlines to follow if you can find them, and some enemies can be made full allies if you play your cards right. I’m avoiding specifics here but the story is shockingly dynamic and is packed with clever twists you need to see for yourself.

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Equally clever is the combat and inventory system built around this story, mentioned together because of how closely they are related. On most screens you can score two or three loot items by clicking around and making semi-educated choices. Loot can then be converted into usable gear by your three Dark Scavenger buddies. One makes weapons that do damage, one makes items that produce useful effects, and one make allies that have far-ranging impacts on battle. Each loot item can be made into any of the three, but you have to choose which one based on the weird descriptions you get from your pals. A dog collar might become a lasso, a shock collar, or an alien beastmaster depending on how you use it. Whatever you make has a set number of uses per chapter, and has traits and elements that determine its effectiveness in battle.

The gear you make isn’t just for fighting, though. During dialog or while exploring you’ll get the option to use your gear to address certain challenges. Maybe you can pry something open with a pointed weapon, or call a swift ally to catch you if you’re falling. The more prepared you are with a diverse set of tools, the more likely you are to pass obstacles and find even more goodies. Late in the game you’ll face gauntlets of these prompts so you’ll want a good spread of weapons and items and allies to prepare for any possibility. It’s a brilliant system that rewards players for being just as creative as the game that offers such options, and I never tired of the weird creations.

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I could pick at the edges of Dark Scavenger, like how it’s only two hours long or how the graphics remind me of cheap Choose Your Own Adventure illustrations (funny, that). But I won’t, because this game proved far more entertaining and engaging than most adventures I’ve sat through. The unique systems reward exploration and experimentation, and the story goes from curious to compelling as you reveal more of the wild plot. I can’t compliment the writing enough, peppering the game with memorable scenes and characters that are sure to elicit more than a few chuckles. My only regret is not jumping on this one sooner, because Dark Scavenger is excellent in every way that an adventure should be.

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