Jon gives us a massive preview of Orbital Media's upcoming space adventure.
Orbital Media’s upcoming Scurge: Hive is definitely designed with the old-school gamer in mind. It combines elements of classics like Metroid and Bionic Commando, while throwing in excellent visuals and lots of puzzle-solving for good measure. PGC was able to get its hands on an early build of the game, allowing us to provide an in-depth preview of its story and gameplay.
Scurge: Hive is an adventure-platformer played from an isometric perspective. The playfield is tilted towards the camera such that your character can walk behind objects, giving the illusion of depth. Its visual style is colorful and clean, with an obvious Japanese influence on its character designs. It makes some use of advanced hardware capabilities, using “Mode-7”-style fade-ins and fade-outs when you enter and exit rooms. The use of an isometric perspective is daring, giving the game a unique look and feel when compared to other platformers on the market.
Before you start playing you must set up a new save file. There are three open save slots that record your character’s level, hit points, game location, power-ups collected, play time, and numbers of “Nodes” collected (these weren’t explained by our demo, but they seemed to be end-goals for each level). When you start the game you’ll choose from three levels of difficulty – Normal, Hard, and Insane. Our preview copy only allowed play on Normal so we weren’t able to try out the other levels, but they’ll be tough considering the challenge presented by the Normal level.
The action begins with some slick cutscenes introducing the story. Bounty hunter Jenosa Arma has just reached orbit over the remote planet Inos, sent there to investigate a distress beacon activated at Confederation Research Facility 56. As she establishes orbit, her ship is struck by an energy beam fired from the planet’s surface. Shortly thereafter, the ship’s computer (and your right-hand man), Magellan, detects foreign lifeforms onboard. After battling through an alien-riddled tutorial stage and fighting a boss, the infestation causes the ship to self-destruct. Just before Jenosa can escape to the surface of Planet Inos she becomes infected with the mysterious Scurge virus. Marooned on the alien planet, she decides to find the research station and look for both answers and a cure.
Jenosa’s infection is more than just a plot device; it has a profound effect on gameplay as well. At the top of the screen is a “Scurge Meter” that indicates the amount of the Scurge virus in her body. Once it reaches 100% her hit points start to decrease rapidly, forcing you to look for a “Sick Bay” (game save station) for decontamination that will return her Scurge level back to zero (note that the save stations don’t replenish her health). This gives you incentive to raise Jenosa’s maximum hit points by raising her experience level, accomplished by killing aliens and collecting the “Bio-Energy” they leave behind. The Bio-Energy replenishes Jenosa’s health and raises her experience. This adds an RPG element to the game that makes killing monsters worthwhile; otherwise, you’d be tempted to run through levels avoiding monsters as much as possible.
The locations of Sick Bays and other important places are displayed on a map screen accessed with the Select button. You can scroll the map in all four directions, switching floors with the R button (there is also a “Status” screen accessed with the L Button, but it was not available in this build). In addition to Sick Bays the map screen also shows the location of each Nexus (teleporters that allow you to move between floors), Nodes, and any weapon upgrades you may have found. It’s like a 2-D version of the map in Metroid Prime, giving you a top-down view of each level.
Controls are fairly straightforward. You move Jenosa with the D-Pad, the A button jumps, and the B button fires your weapon (an arm-mounted laser cannon). Your shots vary in strength depending on your shot frequency. If you shoot rapidly, the charge meter at the top-right of the screen decreases and your shots get weaker. For the strongest shots you must fire, wait for your charge meter to fully recover, and then fire again. It’s an interesting play mechanic that makes you shoot selectively instead of randomly blasting away at everything.
Jenosa also has a set of secondary weapons that she acquires throughout the course of her adventure. These weapons are equipped by holding down the L button during gameplay, and then highlighting the desired weapon on the “dial” that is displayed. Jenosa can use the weapon’s special abilities to exploit the weaknesses of certain enemies. Conversely, some enemies may be strengthened if a certain weapon is used against them. The first weapon acquired is the Electricity Charge (“Shock”), which severely damages enemies susceptible to electricity but heals those invulnerable to electrical attacks. These secondary weapons are often used in puzzles as well. The weapon dial has six slots, indicating that there are six secondary weapons to collect in total.
Another upgrade is the Tether, a grappling hook that’s a throwback to the days of Bionic Commando. It can be used to drag almost anything around, enemies or moveable blocks alike. It’s a crucial part of the puzzle-solving elements in Scurge: Hive. For example, there’s a puzzle that requires you to charge up a column in the middle of a room. You can solve it in two different ways: shoot it with your Electricity Charge several times, or grapple a nearby enemy (a ball of electricity) and drag him over to it. There are also ground switches that are activated by dragging blocks onto them; tripping these switches usually sets transport platforms in motion that you can jump on to gain access to higher areas. Puzzles like this typically come into play when you’re collecting Security Cards to open doors. The number of security cards you’ve collected is listed in the bottom-right corner of the screen, and some doors require multiple cards to open. You’ll find yourself using the Tether over and over again as you collect more cards and proceed deeper into the game.
One thing you’ll notice right from the start is the high frequency of boss encounters. It sometimes seems as if you’re constantly moving from one boss to another. During the tutorial stage on Jenosa’s ship you’ll face a six-headed monster that’s only vulnerable if you destroy its four mini-pods, who release smaller aliens to attack you. In the research station you’ll lock horns with a one-eyed alien who shoots at you while moving rapidly across the top of the screen, stopping only to unleash a massive beam of energy. At E3 the designers told us that huge boss battles are one of their favorite aspects of games from the NES and SNES eras, so expect major encounters early and often.
Orbital Media is attempting to create a classic 2-D action game that will appeal to both old and new gamers alike. Based on the early look we’ve received, at the very least they’ve already created one of the best GBA games of 2005. Platforming fans had better be on the lookout for Scurge: Hive when it hits store shelves in September, or they may miss something special.