The mission was a disaster. I'd accidentally killed everyone on the space station and bludgeoned my own head in. But, you know, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. I'd explored a great deal of the planet, brought back some sweet alien booty, and hadn't died of radiation sickness. If it weren't for the fact I killed everyone, my score for the mission would've been in the hundreds of thousands!
I feel that's something to be proud of.
Scavenger SV-4 is a kind of first-person roguelike (roguelike-like?) about exploring an alien planet, and it's unlike any game I've played before. Every run begins with me alone in a small research ship in orbit above a new planet, facing the terminal screen above my bunk. One of its many cool features is that, like Doom 3, you directly interact with screens. The view smoothly zooms in so I can press the button that shows my log and read about how I came here. The story's always different, but in this one an old friend got in touch from out of the blue with coordinates for a distant planet. Go there, the friend told me, there's riches beyond my dreams. Evidently, I did.
The ship's bridge is next to the bunk. Since the ship is in zero-G, I move by flying, clicking on a panel to open the doors, and drift over to the bridge's single seat, which sits before a terminal that controls my probe. The actual probe is in a room behind me, and I can send it down to the surface to map it and find alien artifacts to bring back and research. When I hit the 'Launch' button, its grainy video feed shows the interior of my ship as the probe rotates to align with the airlock and thrusts out.
I watch my ship recede as the probe automatically navigates into planetfall. Getting up to look out of the window, I see it as a speck in the distance.
The video feed snows up, the probe's mics picking up the roar of entry, and then the noise fades. The view shows the probe is descending over a landscape of mountains. If I click the 'Turret' button I can look around. The planet's natural interference has caused the feed to go monochrome and it's much grainier than when the probe was on the ship, but I can make out weird structures in the distance. And, with a thunk, it hits the ground.
The probe has a number of components which I can assign to the terminal's six screens. I have the video feed on the main one, while the power controller shows that the weak generator is providing just enough energy to have my map, compass, microphone and video running while also slowly charging its battery when it's stationary. But as soon as I start trundling around with WASD, the battery starts to drain. That's OK, I have an auxiliary generator.
I drive the probe towards one of the odd structures. Without all the interference the planet would probably look laughably crude, but, barely able to make out distant shapes and knowing that if my probe falls into a ravine it'll be destroyed, I'm feeling tense. Sometimes the structures are alive and my probe has no weapon. But this one, a bizarre crooked thing that towers over my probe, seems inert, and as the probe nears it the screen indicates there's an object. Maneuvering closer, a 'Pick up' button appears and manipulator arms deploy to stow an alien artifact in one of the probe's three free slots.
Steering carefully around the structure, I head to the next, and then another, hearing only the buzz of my manipulator arms, the hum of motors, and static. With all slots full, it's time to recall the probe, and it immediately launches into the air, heading automatically up to the ship. As it rises, I spy a massive structure in the distance. I'll go there next.
I watch my ship appear on the probe's video feed, and then watch it out the window. It's a relief to have it back. The probe bay doors open and I head to its terminal to unload the artifacts, sending them to the research station. At the research terminal I start the computer analyzing them. One is 'encased remains', the computer theorizing they're ceremonial. I can install the others in my probe to give it new capabilities. One is an arc projector weapon which uses loads of energy, but I fit it anyway. Now I have only two slots to stow artifacts, so I uninstall the compass and microphone to make more space.
The second drop takes the probe back to where we left off. I switch the arc projector on, but the video feed keeps blacking out because my probe isn't generating enough energy. Uh oh. I switch the arc projector off and head to the massive structure, seeing a collection of what look like trees to one side. Trees! But as I draw closer, black lightning—silent because I've removed the microphone—starts hitting the ground around the probe. Reverse! Several components are damaged and the map display starts breaking up with static.
I head the other way to find less dangerous places to grab artifacts and jet the probe back to the ship, and while it's en route I remember about the whole radiation thing. The ship is unshielded and I'll die, tumor-riddled, if it gets too high, so I go to the medical station to heal up a portion of it. You can't stop the irradiation, but you can slow it.
I start to establish a rhythm of work. While the probe is traveling between planet and ship I visit medical and manage the ship's storage. I research artifacts and read logs. I find a more efficient gun and a better battery. I explore the planet widely, encounter aliens and defeat them. I'm always careful. Ship systems crash, I reboot them. I anxiously monitor the life support system. And before long I realize that my storage is full. It's time to go home, once the computer completes my final piece of research.
Then I see it. The engineering bay is full of floating chains. With hooks on the end. Lots of them. I back out, seal the doors. What the...? By now I'm pretty irradiated. I check the research. I want to go. I gingerly return to engineering and the chains are gone. I go back to medical to heal. And as I float through the storage room, I see bloodstains leading out to the main airlock. Oh, man.
I seal the doors. Back to research. Nearly done. I walk into the bridge and there's a laugh. I spin around. I know I'm alone. Forget the research. I go to the bridge terminal, disconnect from the probe and hit the button that sends me home.
BRACE FOR THRUST, the readout says, and then I see a figure in my EVA suit outside the ship. It's banging on the windows and it headbutts the glass and both the window and the EVA helmet's visor cracks and the figure drifts motionlessly backwards as the nose of my ship rises and we accelerate away.
Heading home was my last action. The epilogue text tells me that my ship was found drifting with me dead inside it. It's a shame that one of the artifacts I found then caused all the inhabitants of the space station to kill themselves. But it wasn't my fault. We do what we must because we can. There's no sense crying over every mistake, am I right? And this was just one scenario that can play out in Scavenger SV-4. I can always start another run.
Scavenger SV-4 is available now on Steam (opens in new tab).