American McGee's Scrapland

Review

posted 3/4/2005 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: Xbox
The curvaceous, cybertron world of Scrapland comes with a charming (if not juvenile) cast of mechanized characters. Set on autopilot in the now-popular free-roaming gameplay structure, the storyline is glued together with a rubber cement plot: some assembly required. American McGee, Mercury Steam, and Enlight Software collaborate to unhinge a robotic cinescape replete with uniquely bent graphics, off-brand humor (the hardy-har kind), and a superficially immersive world.

The city of Chimera is nicknamed “Scrapland” due to its piecemeal construction from humanity’s leftovers. The alias is somewhat of a misnomer considering its graphical equivalency to premium lakefront property: the neon-glow flyways and mammoth infrastructure look like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit was elected onto Coruscant’s city planning council. There is a visually overwhelming amount of detail poured into every square inch, layered with so much eye candy it will give you cavities.

You assume the identity of D-Tritus Debris, a self-made robot with a cable-cut ponytail and a scrap iron framework, not to mention a slack-jawed naivette clinging to a pre-pubescent C3PO demeanor. He powerslides his cherry red spacebike into Chimera’s orbital station and undergoes a series of tests to confirm that he is, in fact, not some viscous human in disguise. D-Tritus accepts this xenophobic attitude in stride, has his “persona” (if we may call it that) scanned into the Great Database, and is assigned an apparently undesirable occupation as a news journalist--zero percent unemployment is the rule on Chimera.

Despite the forced absence of humans, the robots of Scrapland are all assigned stereotypically human behaviors in keeping with their job descriptions. Bishops are ambiguously gay and sell extra lives like indulgences; cops demand bribes for their so-called “protection”; bankers are money-nabbing bastards you never turn your back on; messengers are surfer dudes flying high on helium, etc. D-Tritus gains the ability to assume over a dozen character types by accessing the Great Database. Identity theft is illegal so he will have to evade the policing beholders that will expose his criminal intent. Additionally, D-Tritus’ assimilating skills are just as effective standing face-to-face with another character, traveling from one possessed robot to the next like the demon Azazel in Fallen (with Denzel Washington).

Enlight Software is banking big on a ship-building hook--the acquisition of sexier hull specs, killer BFGs, and higher horsepower engines--and introduces this concept early in the tutorial. Rusty is the local purveyor of ship-crafting materials and initially hooks D-Tritus up with a starter model: she ain’t pretty but she’s a convincing glimpse at what’s to come. Most of the aircraft soaring about the cityscape look clamped together with leftover Legos anyway, which deserves a thumbs-up to American McGee for his off-Broadway vision. From the Tron-like gloss of the commercial district to the junkpile heaps in the scrapyard, this baby is spoiled rotten from its loving developer parents.

But murder is afoot on this deathless planet. Since all of Chimera’s citizens are scanned into the Great Database, “dying” is only a temporary setback before you are quickly reassembled from previously purchased extra lives. Mystery takes flight when Chimera’s Archbishop is permanently killed shortly after his file is erased from the Great Database. A human is suspected to have penetrated the planet’s borders and D-Tritus is hot on the case…
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