Jon spends a day on the job with Jenosa Arma and returns with some impressions.
PGC recently had a chance to get an early look at Orbital Media’s Scurge: Hive, an outer space action-platformer, starring a bounty hunter named Jenosa Arma. Very much in the vein of the Metroid series, Scurge: Hive has your character roaming alien planets and spaceships while receiving weapons upgrades and fighting bad-ass bosses.
The first thing you’ll notice is the game’s excellent overall look and graphical design. Each level, whether it’s a planetary surface or research laboratory, is very colorful and detailed. Jenosa herself has a unique character design, sporting a cool body suit and an instantly recognizable, oversized red ponytail. Enemies are also well-done, ranging from angry blobs of goo to spider-like robots. The bosses are huge and inventive, often the size of multiple screens. The game may look a little cartoony, but it has more of a manga flare than anything else.
Music is also high quality, always setting an appropriate mood (up-tempo and sinister during boss battles, for instance) and varying, depending on the situation. Some of the musical tracks are reminiscent of something out of the movie “Aliens", but there are a lot of guitar riffs and heavy drums mixed in as well. Sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect – lasers, explosions and a death scream from Jenosa.
Orbital Media definitely took a risk to gave Scurge: Hive an isometric perspective, giving environments a pseudo-3D effect. It takes some getting used to, since your character is silhouetted when placed behind an object. Thanks to this silhouetting, you won’t lose Jenosa, but sometimes you’ll wish that you could see what you were doing back there. This is especially true when having to fight enemies from behind objects and not being able to see where your shots are going.
On that note, it can also be difficult to line up enemies to shoot them. Your shots have a pretty forgiving swath of damage, but you’ll find yourself constantly adjusting where you are in relation to your enemies because you’re not hitting them in an “optimal" manner. This is probably the area of the game that takes the most practice to be proficient.
On the topic of shooting, our own Rize pointed out an aspect of gameplay that could be improved. When you hold down the fire button, you'll shoot until you run out of firepower and then abruptly start walking again if you're holding the D-Pad in a particular direction (which you're usually doing as you aim your shots). This sometimes results in the player running into enemies by accident, not realizing that they were going to start moving once their firepower ran out. It would be nice if you were prevented from walking again as long as you continued to hold the fire button. Hopefully the designers will take this advice to heart and incorporate this change into the final build.
The isometric view also somewhat restricts your field of vision, meaning that you can’t see very far ahead of you. There are a lot of times when you wish you could keep track of what’s happening just off-screen (especially during boss battles). This artificially ups the difficulty in some instances.
Running and jumping on an angle can also be tricky. The view causes many levels to unfold in a diagonal direction, meaning that you’ll be jumping across chasms while holding your D-Pad diagonally. This positioning can be hard to maintain, meaning that sometimes you’ll jump somewhere you don’t intend.
Still, Scurge: Hive is a heck of a lot of fun to play once you get used to the perspective and controls. It’s a challenging game, even on Normal difficulty (there are choices of Normal, Hard, and Insane), and is definitely designed with the hardcore gamer in mind. It has what I like to call “old-school rules" that cut you no slack. For example, enemies re-spawn if you exit a room and re-enter. Most enemies aren’t that difficult to kill, but there are typically a lot of them attacking you at once, and they can be tedious to wipe out completely. Every once in a while, you’ll kill most of the enemies, and then one enemy gets a shot in and knocks you back and out of the room. That means you’ll have to go back in and kill ALL of them again, which can be frustrating (especially when you’re trying to figure out a puzzle in the room). Enemies also re-spawn after you clear out a room, go to a computer console, and then exit the console - pretty cheap. But hey, that’s old-school rules for you.
The puzzles in the game are a great addition. Using the “Tether" (grappling hook) upgrade to your spacesuit allows you to drag around blocks to put them on switches. You can use an electric beam shot upgrade to “charge up" certain switches as well. There aren’t any hints either; I’m not sure if this omission will be in the final build, but it’s nice to see a game that actually forces you to think through its puzzles. There are five other weapon upgrades that I wasn’t able to get in our build, so there are bound to be more weapon-based puzzles in the final version.
Overall, Scurge: Hive looks like a good package. It has solid graphics and music, challenging gameplay, lots of weapons, huge bosses, and a sci-fi storyline that looks interesting and deep. Will it someday be mentioned in the same company as Metroid? We’ll see how everything shakes out when the retail version is released in September.