The latest PlayStation VR shooter casts you as a one-man anti-robot army but does it really count as an action RPG?
It’s the near future and androids have taken over the megacity of New Austin under the leadership of evil robot overlord, Cifer. It will come as no surprise that you’re mankind’s last hope for retaking the city, in the name of the Human Resistance Force. More surprisingly, the way you do that is in an armed hover-pod in which you sit comfortably while laying waste to the various automata you encounter.
It’s a good excuse for your seated position in the VR headset, although it does make you feel a bit like Davros; albeit significantly more heavily armed, with huge guns bolted to each side of the pod. Those can be used to shoot enemies, or as clanking melee weapons to punch bad robots to pieces in your quest to restore New Austin to human rule.
Both weapons are switchable, and you gradually acquire blueprints to craft new ones using parts salvaged from the wreckage of downed enemies. Your guns are complimented by an electromagnetic pulse, which briefly disables nearby bots, and an ultimate weapon that fires a continuous destructive energy beam. Each of your guns also has upgrade slots so you can improve their damage or fire rate.
It’s just as well, because despite looking and sounding terrifyingly powerful, your weapons are dishearteningly flimsy in combat, taking forever to whittle down the energy bars of your multiple assailants – who come in several shapes and sizes from exploding robot spiders, to human-looking androids, to the occasional big boss bot. They all require the same treatment though: shoot, punch, retreat, the latter providing space for your rechargeable shield to repair itself between engagements.
That’s important because once your shield’s depleted your pod’s health takes damage, and when that happens, the only way to repair it is by using a maintenance pad. They’re few and far between and only work once all enemies in the locale have been killed, so you have to maintain an awareness of health and shields as you go about clearing each room.
The final piece of handy furniture is the workbench, used for crafting upgrades and new guns. Although you can buy weapons mods, you can’t actually deploy them until you find a workbench, so it’s worth remembering where they are, a process made easier by the relatively simple maps in the ‘scraper’ (Nuspeak for skyscraper) that the Human Resistance Force is attempting to retake.
In theory that seems great, but Scraper has its problems, most glaringly that the combat around which the game’s built is insufferably dull. Your pod’s speed and manoeuvrability, even once fully upgraded, could politely be called sedate, but more accurately described as glacial, the gentle drift of your strafing rarely enough to get you out of the way of incoming fire. You can employ a quick turbo boost to get out of trouble, but it’s as weak and underwhelming as the weapons.
The end result is that fights turn into slugfests, with you and your enemies exchanging gunfire and leisurely swings of your metallic arms with no real hope of evasion, the victor being the side whose shields and health last longest. It removes any sense of skill and means that you can never learn to be better at the game, your only hope being upgraded weapon mods to give you an incremental advantage as you duke it out with yet another gaggle of stupid androids.
Boss battles are even worse, the problems with regular fights exacerbated by a giant android whose attacks are almost always faster than your movement speed and fire rate. You eventually bludgeon them into submission, but it’s a very long way from satisfying, each retry feeling like a chore rather than an opportunity to experiment with new tactics or attack patterns.
The other issue is that although Scraper has role-playing leanings, that side of the game is severely undercooked. The plot is barely even sketched in, and the scattering of email messages you retrieve from hacked computer terminals add little to any sense of a wider conflict or world. There is a digital novella, Scraper: The Rise Of Cifer, that acts as a prequel and scene setter, but based on the quality of the dialogue it’s probably best avoided.
Upgrades and character progression are also painfully basic, with each weapon having one or two slots for mods, none of which make a particularly noticeable difference. It’s disappointing, and although you will occasionally need to grind – one character going as far as ‘suggesting’ you return to a previously cleared level to harvest robot parts – it’s a pretty linear experience as you unlock floors of the sky craper and get its fusion reactor back online, all the while dispatching the building’s dreary robotic defenders.
Scraper: First Strike sounds great on paper: a VR-infused sci-fi role-playing set in a dystopian megacity. Unfortunately, the experience of playing it never lives up to that promise, the sluggish pace of its combat undermining the fun, and the role-playing lite trappings never quite getting going.
Scraper: First Strike
In Short: A sci-fi shooter-meets-RPG sabotaged by a lack of plot, weak character progression, and sluggish combat.
Pros: The environments are impressive, there are weapons that look and sound properly menacing, and a strong musical score.
Cons: Gunfights are dull and repetitive, and your movement speed remains frustratingly tortoise-like throughout.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Developer: Labrodex Studios
Publisher: Labrodex Studios
Release Date: 2nd July 2019
Age Rating: 12
By Nick Gillett
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