Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


The Scourge Project, Episodes 1 & 2 (PC, Spain, 2009): Whadda GD Shame
October 12, 2010, 12:41 am
Filed under: The Scourge Project (PC, 2009, Spain)

Probably like a lot of people who purchased this download-only title, I had heard nothing of it, and I was looking for another cooperative experience. Spanish developer Tragnarian’s idea behind this game is a good one: Can we take a triple-A, futuristic, 4-player, third-person, drop-in/drop-out, co-op kinda shooter (think Gears of War) with flashy Unreal Engine graphics, but make it download-only, say like through the Steam distribution platform, and sell it episodically for a lot less (and make more money in the long run)? Could such an idea work?

The answer is YES. Such an idea COULD work. But in this instance, it doesn’t work. At all. And to me, it’s a goddamn shame.

It’s a shame because there are lots of elements of this game that I liked a whole helluva lot. The story is not especially new or clear, but it’s serviceable and even intriguing: In the near future, you are part of an elite group of mercenaries hired by The Tarn Initiative to deal a decisive blow against the power-hungry Nogari Corporation. Nogari has found and exploited an extraterrestrial energy source called Ambrosia which the world has pretty much become addicted to, and as such the world is generally being held hostage. Missions include finding a double-agent inside the Nogari compound (the dude, Dr. Reisbeck, who hired your team), and then also locate a fragment of a meteorite on said compound—the source of Ambrosia. As cooperative players, your team all use Ambrosia as well to power a few special abilities, such as a shield and a wave blast. But the affair is mostly shooting conventional weapons. Oh yeah, once inside the Nogari compound/labs, you find that it has pretty much been taken over by aliens—probably an unforeseen consequence of having fiddled with the meteorite fragment and extracting the Ambrosia from it. Once again: Save the world.

No significant part of the game was particularly noteworthy or groundbreaking, but some parts of it worked well.  For example, the four players who comprise Echo Squad are broadly drawn enough so that it is easy to make distinctions between them—maybe this lacks subtlety, but for me it made things very clear (much clearer than, say, who is who exactly on Noble Team in “Halo: Reach”—at least a few of the characters seem a bit carbon-copyish of one another and difficult to distinguish between at times). Not so in The Scourge Project:  You’ve got your vanilla white southern dude (Stonewall) , your hulking Irish bald dude (Mass), your wisecracking chick dude (Amp) , and your half-cyborg dude (Shade). The voicework for each character is exceedingly well done too, and I found the writing to be sharp and snappy, without suffering from too many clichés.

In addition, each playable character has his or her own backstory, which is fleshed out to some degree in individual cut scenes, depending on who you are playing. Ideally it works this way: I’m sitting at home online in Wisconsin playing as the Shade character on a team with three others spread out who knows where. At certain points in the game, cut scenes will play, but the only cut scene I see is the individual scene relating to Shade’s backstory. Everyone else will see his or her own individual cut scene. Cool idea; something I had never seen before. Only one problem: I wasn’t in Wisconsin (never been there, actually). Instead, I was cooping this on a couch with my partner (both of us have our own plasma screens side-by-side on the wall). So, when the cut scenes came—big, big mess of sound and motion, 2 different screens broadcasting two different video and audio streams. Ooops. Guess the developers didn’t plan on that happening. So the gibbering backstories were completely lost on us. Oh well.

The artwork is quite nice, the third-person perspective works well, controls are serviceable, the monsters are monstery enough. While playing, there were moments my partner and I had some real, immersive fun. Oh, but it always has to go sour. Why does it always go sour?

Being a drop-in/drop-out game, you can play with any number of real players and AI will control any characters not being played live. In my situation co-oping with one other person, 2 of Echo Squad were controlled by AI—or, better to say, they were “possessed” by an AI program that was driven to kill everyone on screen. Yeah, this has got to be the absolute worse AI on record. Ever. So bad, it ruined the game. You tell the AI where to go and what to do. They refuse. You get pummeled and go down and the AI, while possessing the capability to revive you, will stand within inches and…well, just stand there. (I’m pretty sure I saw one of them snickering at some point). The AI will rush headlong to their own demise, which eventually brings the entire team down. To make matters worse, there is an often-uncompromising checkpoint system. You’re looking at lots of unintentional replays—replays that aren’t any fun (and this included having to sit through unskippable cut scenes repeatedly. Oh, please). Time and again I wished I could just turn the other two demon-AI-controlled characters off altogether (like the option included in the recent “Lost Planet 2”), but no such option exists.

We suffered through about 90 percent of the game (sometimes having some honest fun), only to come up against one of two multi-stage boss battles at the end of Episode 2 that (with the brainless, suicidal, noncompliant, idiotic AI characters) was impossible to complete. We turned the game off in disgust. We just turned it off. I can’t imagine this is the goal any developer wants to obtain.

Then a month went by, and I checked to see if a patch was ever released for the game. There was, and a large one at that. It included skippable cut scenes, improved AI, etc. So, I downloaded and updated just so I could see the end of the story (or at least the end of the these 2 episodes) on my own. The patch made the game finally playable (but only moderately). I also checked on Steam to see if anyone was hosting a session. Nope, not a soul when I checked. So, as it turned out, the entire affair left me (and so many others, considering the reviews and the whopping 44 Metacritic score, yikes) with such a bad taste that the patch was too little too late.

I suppose at some point on Steam, we’ll see The Scourge Project, Episodes 3 & 4 or whatever. But I won’t be bothering with them.  This is an especially weird thing for me to say, because I don’t often say it, but: I suggest you steer clear too.

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