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The Moonlight War novel by S.K.S. Perry

Scurge: Hive (DS) artwork

Scurge: Hive (DS) review

"You know her type – she’s an intergalactic bounty hunter. Working for a futuristic space federation, she scours the universe battling evil through countless attempts to restore peace and justice to our existence. Donning a unique spacesuit and sporting all manner of lasers and explosives, she’s equipped to handle just about anything, and if there’s an alien infestation or virus outbreak that must be dealt with, you know who to call. "

You know her type – she’s an intergalactic bounty hunter. Working for a futuristic space federation, she scours the universe battling evil through countless attempts to restore peace and justice to our existence. Donning a unique spacesuit and sporting all manner of lasers and explosives, she’s equipped to handle just about anything, and if there’s an alien infestation or virus outbreak that must be dealt with, you know who to call.

No, she’s not Samus Aran. She’s Jenosa Arma!

On this particular mission, an alien species has all but taken over a scientific laboratory on a remote planet. It’s her job to infiltrate the heavily contaminated area room-by-room and fight off the ever-present squishy bastards, all the while gaining new equipment and contending with a malignant virus that she picked up early in her adventure. Screw the military – she is the one person fit to handle this assignment.

No, it’s not Metroid. It’s Scurge!

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that Scurge: Hive is played from an isometric perspective, you could literally replace Jenosa with Samus and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this and its obvious inspiration. It’s sci-fi, but it goes deeper than that. Like Metroid, this game puts a heavy focus on exploration and backtracking, and it bases its maps around a familiar room-by-room design. Platforming and combat are thrown into the mix quite often, and much of the strategy involved in enemy battles deals with the considerable amount of new equipment and weapons you’ll pick up along the way to keep up with the ever-increasing threat of slimy aliens. It bears so much resemblance to Metroid that I was shocked to discover not only that I enjoyed it, but that I liked it better than some of the more recent Metroid games, like Fusion and Zero Mission.

The isometric camera does provide its fair share of problems – you can only aim in eight directions, judging distances for jumps can be tricky – but for the most part, it gives the game far more breadth than it would have had if developer SouthPeak had chosen the more traditional side-scrolling route. The game is heavy not only on exploration but also on careful examination of your surroundings. Your objectives are usually just item hunts, but the good news is that the often intricate design of every region helps to turn the game into something more. You’ll be amazed that a single room can contain so many doors, paths, platforms, enemies, puzzles, and distractions. Were it not for the handy automap on the bottom screen, it would be easy to get disoriented.

Scurge’s gimmick of choice is that Samus Jenosa is infected with a deadly virus that slowly saps away at her stamina while you play. As time progresses, the percentage at the top of the screen rises, and when it hits 100%, your health begins to drain. The only way to get your virus level back down to zero is to stop at one of many decontamination centers (read: save stations) and restore your health.

Now, some people are bound to hate this, as it works like a time limit that forces you to save your game frequently at designated areas. But decontamination centers are never too far apart from one another, and the jump from one to the next can offer some interesting conflicts. If you’ve hit a rather maddening obstacle and your virus level is getting dangerously high, do you press on and hope to get to the next station in time? Or do you go the safe way and backtrack to the last one? In predicting whether or not you’ll enjoy Scurge, you need to decide if you’re the kind of gamer who’s okay with a design mechanic like this. I thought an extra challenge like this is something Scurge should have.

On the subject of challenge, I don’t think anyone will complain that Scurge doesn’t have enough action. SouthPeak jam-packed every room with enemies, and any baddies you slay will respawn the second you move to a different room. The game has you constantly on your toes, and while I do think it’s a bit overwhelming at times, it’s safe to say that Scurge is never boring. This is the kind of game you could play for five minutes and not escape without a hand cramp. (The good, satisfying, masochistic kind of hand cramp.)

I’m intrigued by Scurge’s rock-paper-scissors weapon system as well. Enemies are divided into three categories, those being biological, mechanical and energetic types. Likewise, Jenosa’s three main weapons – outside of the generic default one – each correspond to a certain enemy type. But here’s the thing: While each weapon is powerful against one kind of enemy, it also powers up a different type. For example, Jenosa has a fire-based weapon that smokes biological aliens, but makes energetic types stronger. This can really incorporate a lot of strategy into the battles as you struggle to flip between different weapons while enemies of various types surround you.

Platforming and puzzle-solving are also a fairly big part of Scurge, and Jenosa even has a little tether device (read: Grapple Beam) that can be used to swing across gaps and pull objects. The puzzles themselves are usually little more than “collect three card keys to open the door” or “find six nodes and drag them to their outlets”, but they’re enough to break up the action and give the game a cooler, softer side. SouthPeak apparently learned some lessons when they studied up on the Metroid games they were about to copy, and Scurge strikes that perfect balance in action/adventure gaming rather than resorting to the all-action-all-the-time style that so many games are inheriting nowadays.

It’s fun, y’know? The game was released on GBA too, and you can tell – the graphics and sound are both perfectly sufficient but nothing special, and the control scheme only uses four buttons – yet I was enjoying myself enough that it didn’t really matter all that much. Enough variety has been poured into the environments, the challenges and the obstacles that Scurge was always interesting enough to keep me playing.

So what’s wrong with it, then? Originality, mostly. I felt like I was playing a rip-off, even if it was a particularly good, action-packed rip-off. Innovation – doing something new – is part of what makes a game a classic, and while I don’t think we’ll be remembering Scurge five years from now, that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the hell out of it today.

Rating: 8/10

Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (July 19, 2007)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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