Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Scavenger SV-4
Scavenger SV-4 puts you in the shoes of a lowly stellar cartographer. Sent on your own into the deep dark void, your task of charting the endless and uninteresting planets suddenly takes a turn. After coming across a derelict ship with the irradiated corpse of a fellow space traveler, you come across the location of a goldmine of ancient extraterrestrial artifacts—on a planet too impossibly radioactive to survive near for long. You must send your rover drone down to the surface to collect as many artifacts as possible before the radiation takes your life as well. Or, of course, if something you shouldn’t have taken back to the ship takes your life too.
It’s one thing to walk through, lets say, the mental asylum in Outlast with only a grainy camera feed to look through. It’s another experience entirely to have that camera attached to a tank hundred of miles away while you’re (mostly) safe on a ship. One might think that would make the experience less scary, and you’d probably be right. But at the same time, the atmosphere of dread is a much slower burn and stunningly effective in Scavenger SV-4.
The placement of danger in a horror game is an interesting thing to consider. Obviously, it is not fun to have a scary creepazoid right in front of your eyes. But as games like Iron Lung show, the ambient fear of having that danger just out of sight is really powerful. Scavenger SV-4 is a different form of confronting this danger, where you send a drone off while looking through its grey video feed. The best I can articulate is that the anxiety is just a little more obfuscated and abstracted, while still giving you a front-row seat at whatever unknown terrors lie in wait.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
The gameplay of Scavenger SV-4 is a lot of you wandering around the ship in the first person, pushing buttons, and activating consoles. One console in particular lets you link up with the rover, cruise around the planet’s surface, collect some goodies and then recall the machine to the ship. Once it’s back, you can send off the artifacts to be analyzed, and either sell them or mount them on the drone if you think they’d be of use.
The atmosphere of Scavenger SV-4 is immaculate. And I’m not just saying that because you spend the whole game in orbit. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the structures on the planet look like the radiation warning hostile architecture, meant to scare off future humans from radioactive areas. I’ll be honest, it is very effective, especially through a grainy camera. The sounds and sights of Scavenger are top-notch and made me feel incredibly uneasy well before the presence of mountable weapons made me aware of non-radiation-based danger.
What’s more, I think Scavenger SV-4 is one of the best-executed roguelite horror games in some time. The amount of effort it takes to upgrade and customize your rover with the various modules makes the roguelite elements a lot more subtle, rather than picking out a new perk or increasing a stat. This is doubly effective when things out in the wasteland can completely destroy the rover upgrades, sometimes faster than you can react.
The gameplay of Scavenger SV-4 is somewhat clunky. Especially up in the ship. There are no real hotkeys for opening and closing doors, meaning you have to click the buttons on the side to shut doors behind you (which you really really should not forget to do, for no reason in particular). As for the drone, the awkward movement makes sense for piloting a small tank through a computer. That said, simply operating the thing requires upwards of eight out of the 12 module slots to be filled with operational equipment—power generator, camera, map, etc. With only four or five empty slots for storage of artifacts or equippable modules, I found myself wishing I had some more onboard space to further customize my rover.
How To Fix It:
For mere convenience, Scavenger SV-4 could benefit from having automatic doors for the player. That said, I recognize that it helps with the pacing of the game, and adds some more interactivity to the world. And hey, I could always just leave all the doors open since it’s just me on the ship. As for rover space, maybe adding two extra slots could be cool. Having some redundant systems in case a stray… something… takes out my camera would be convenient.
As I said, it’s scary to be right in the action. Having to manage the action from afar is scary in a whole different regard. Scavenger SV-4 is a fascinating game with depth that I don’t have time to get into, but just as we appreciate seeing horror from behind a screen, seeing it from behind two screens must be twice as good.
You can buy Scavenger SV-4 on Steam by clicking here.