Scurge: Hive

Introduction

Scurge: Hive is a moderately open action exploration game divided into six large chapters. In each chapter the player must acquire key cards to unlock new rooms, in turn gaining access to new arrays of puzzles. Some rooms contain nodes that must be activated by dragging them into place, and once they have all been attended to, the player’s path to the end of level boss is cleared. The protagonist, a female bounty hunter, is equipped with a gun to fend off enemies. The capabilities of the weapon are expanded as you progress through the chapters. Cliché ice, electricity, and other specialised types of beam affect each type of enemy in a different way. Carefully executing well timed jumps to negotiate the many pitfalls is another important feature.

At regular intervals the hero will need to be decontaminated in specially designed rooms. This restriction effectively acts as a timer requiring the player to explore at pace and consider the proximity of other decontamination zones in planning their next excursion. If the level of contamination reaches 100% the player’s health bar starts dropping at a rapid rate.

Scurge is presented as a 3D isometric world. There are inherent drawbacks to using this perspective in confined environments (such as small rooms and caves), and Scurge suffers some of the same problems as Equinox, Solstice, and others before it. It can be difficult to judge distances and gauge the size of some structures. Oftentimes a jump will look achievable, but is in fact proved impossible only after numerous frustrating attempts with the same just in time jumping technique. Similarly, tall platforms can obscure the player’s visibility of other parts of the room. Attacking precision is affected as a result of these issues, and is further compounded by only being able to shoot at enemies from one of eight directions (consider the limitations of the D-pad). This staggered range can be a little stifling and the enemy often occupies a space in-between two angles.

Given the manic nature of combat, further forced handicaps like these are unwelcomed, though Orbital Media’s determination to successfully marry two addictive game styles with polish proves decisive in the overall consideration of this game.

Two become one

Scurge is best described as a cross between Metroid: Fusion and Robtron: 2080. The power-up items resemble those in Samus’ arsenal: there is a grappling beam, enemy freezing attack, suit enhancements and more. Each is acquired at consistent intervals through the game and allows access to new areas, as well as increasing damage to some groups of enemies.

The in-game narrative is delivered in a similar fashion to Fusion, though it is largely aesthetic given the unchanging game dynamics throughout. It does nonetheless afford a diverting but – refreshingly – unobtrusive dialog as the irksome female bounty hunter journeys through the six chapters under the guidance of a computer generated aid (Scurge’s equivalent to ADAM in Fusion).

The story is surplus as Scurge never transcends what it aspires to achieve: a simple if challenging combination of gameplay mechanics and rules delivered with a moody atmosphere.

Also featured are outstanding end of level encounters. Each final boss is well designed: generally brimming with originality in their appearance, the locations of weak points, and variety of attack patterns. Despite the occasionally excessive difficulty of these battles, they are beautifully implemented and amongst the highlights of the game.

Intense

The similarities with Robotron are equally immediate. The player is attacked from all angles most of the time, and can reply by firing in one of eight directions. Positioning is key and reflexes are constantly tested. There are a variety of enemies each with their own attacks, and – in a poignantly evolutionary step from Robotron – different types of foe are susceptible to different weapons. A quick-access weapon selection screen makes switching attacks intuitive and keeps unwanted delays at a premium while largely retaining the simplicity of Robotron’s essential values.

Despite successfully merging the progressive, cause-and-effect problem solving of Fusion with the revered combative design of Robotron, Scurge does become repetitive. One of the sacrifices of a system with almost constant enemy onslaught is that there is reduced time for exploration. This is augmented by the constant increase in level of contamination while exploring – the player must always keep an eye on the map for when decontamination zones are needed. This is a perennial reminder that the player operates at the leisure of the game’s designers, and this conflict probably accounts for much of what makes Scurge so addictive and challenging.

A decent amount of roaming is asked of the player – especially in the last sprawling chapter – but Scurge does not require particularly careful detective work, nor does it demand experimentation with newly-found resources beyond initial familiarisation. Like the isometric visibility issues explained earlier, the lack of depth in the inventory is an inherent limitation brought about by game design choices made at the grassroots level (in this case – a commitment to unceasing enemy attacks puts adventuring and experimentation firmly on the back foot).

Stubborn

The adventuring elements of the Metroid series are missed and account for much of the lack of variety, and ultimately there is no getting away from the fact that this hole is never adequately filled. But this is also where we find the game’s charm. It stubbornly sticks to its own hybrid formula and is as unashamed in its borrowing as it is in what gets left out. Scurge is fast-paced, unrelenting, and never wavers from its commitment to seat-of-the-pants arcade action. The adventuring of Metroid was never really on the cards for this game. It is that simple.

There are frustrations: some assaults are unavoidable at times given the sheer intensity of attacks, and the rooms are re-spawned the moment you re-enter them. While the occasional mini-game might have offered a welcome deviation from a game that is slightly too long, the core shooting and exploration based gameplay is a welcomed throwback in a modern package. On the whole, this is a triumphant effort well suited to a handheld console and thoroughly enjoyable.