Review by stillnotelf

"A few brilliant mechanics, but the rest is a scourge"

Scurge: Hive was released for two of Nintendo's handheld systems, the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS. This review concerns itself with the GBA version. Also, if you've read other reviews, you've seen this game compared to the Metroid series. I'd like to get it out of the way up front: this game is not Metroid, nor is it even that similar. I'm reviewing this game purely on its own merits.

Plot: 7/10
You are Jenosa Arma, elite bounty hunter. You've been hired to discover what happened a secret military research lab after strange distress calls in recent days. Your spaceship is shot at as you approach the lab…and as you investigate the damage you discover that your ship, and your body, have been infected with the Scurge. The Scurge is/are some sort of hive-mind bio-energy being which lives only to spread itself and take over anything it can. You must enter the lab and search for a way to destroy the Scurge permanently, thus ending your infection and saving yourself. Along the way, you must fulfill your original objectives to rescue as much data and personnel from the doomed labs as possible.

That's pretty well the entire plot, except for one minor twist 2/3 of the way through. It's skeletal, but functional as far as it goes. The writing (for what little dialogue there is) is superb. On the one hand, the plot isn't deep or detailed, but on the other hand, the game doesn't suffer for its thinness: there's just enough plot to make sense.
Gameplay (7/10)
The gameplay is a mix of brilliance and monotony. Some ideas are great, others are merely okay, and most are very repetitive. The game is a third-person shooter from an isometric perspective. You run around shooting enemies and solving puzzles to open new doors and get keycards to let you progress further through the complex. Most of the action is blasting enemies and careful jumping, although there are some special items (it's hard to call them weapons) which are mostly useful for solving puzzles.

The star of the show is the Scurge infection itself. Your infection level climbs from 1 to 100% as time passes, and when it reaches 100 your HP begins to drain rapidly. You can only lower your infection level at decontamination stations (save platforms), forcing you to pay attention to that red infection meter before you die. This is a great mechanic which puts a thrill of tension and rush into the otherwise undistinguished platforming/shooting experience. This infection has also been used to do away with the lava/acid pits common in platforming games; instead there are pits of infectious goo which rapidly increase your infection level.

Another positive point is the weapon system. There are three types of enemies (biological, mechanical, and energy), each of which are weak to one specific weapon, but are powered up by another type of projectile. Your standard undifferentiated shot does little damage, so you'll normally want to use the weapon against which your enemy is weak, but you have to be careful about blasting other nearby enemies which may be supercharged by that type of shot. This requires you to change shot type rapidly and often; fortunately this is simple with a circular menu brought up with the R button.

Speaking of shooting, instead of an ammo system, the game relies on an “overheating” system which works quite well. You have infinite ammo, but as you keep shooting your glove cannon overheats and you have to pause before you can fire again. Beating bosses increases the cooling rate of the cannon.

Those three points are the great parts of the gameplay. Much of the rest is mediocre.

The running and gunning mechanics have some significant flaws. The first is that the isometric perspective with 8 directions for movement is sometimes difficult to control with a D-pad. More significantly, aiming along the 45 degree angles is difficult, and determining whether or not an enemy is lined up in your sights without just shooting to find out is nearly impossible. These are both surmountable problems, but they are sometimes frustrating, especially against bosses with limited hit zones. There is one very significant problem with “running and gunning” together, however: you can't! If you want to shoot, you have to stand still. It is possible, but VERY difficult, to fire off a shot at the highest point in a jump; other than that you have to be a statue while shooting.

Although the different types of ammo and enemies work well, most of the other powerups in the game are uninteresting. One is, I kid you not, a flashlight. Of course, even the dark rooms are only grayed out, not black, so you can see fine without it…except Jenosa refuses to enter those rooms until after you have the flashlight. Apparently bounty hunters are afraid of the dark. Another lame upgrade is a gas mask, which is a pathetic excuse to keep you out of “poison filled rooms” until the developers wanted you to go there. The grappling hook is the only one of the upgrades that's of any real interest (although the time-slowing adrenaline can be fun).

The biggest flaw in the game play is the lack of variety. Every single level is the same: run around collecting keycards and opening doors, drag security orbs to open locks on the boss door, go in, kill the boss, rinse, repeat. The dialogue even breaks the fourth wall to make a joke about how repetitive the level design is! The design is repetitive on lesser levels, as well. Most of the enemies follow identical attack patterns (run at you). The one or two with varying attack patterns are not challenging, but rather frustrating, because you can't jump to shoot at them. Even the rooms where you receive upgrades are similar, and they are the only significant puzzles in the game. Every single one involves tagging a bunch of security pylons within a set time limit.

Presentation (Graphics, Camera, and Sound): 9/10
The graphics are of good quality for the Gameboy Advance. They are unfailingly bright and colorful, but you should never have problems distinguishing your enemies from the environment. The many sprites onscreen at once never cause slowdowns or glitches. The larger enemy sprites are detailed; the smaller enemies are too small to support much detail. Death animations for the enemies are often amusing, especially those which you set on fire. Jenosa herself is reasonably well animated, although her ponytail shows more life than the rest of her. A variety of Jenosa palettes are available upon beating the game, allowing you to complete subsequent playthroughs in style.

There are two minor complaints I have with the graphics. The first is sprite recycling. As already indicated, there is a lack of variety in the enemies, and typically members of a group are discriminated only by color. The other is the use of fog in a few areas. It adds the proper ambiance, but there's too much of it, which obscures the action.

The game is presented in 3D with sprites using an isometric perspective with a fixed camera angle. This perspective works well enough on the small screen. A shadow outline shows Jenosa's or enemies' placement behind solid objects. The field of view also moves around to ensure that you can see more of what's in front of you (in range to shoot at) than behind you. This adaptation makes the game fit the small screen better, although if you play on a large screen TV through a Game Boy Player it will make you dizzy as you move around. There are still instances where you must jump to platforms you cannot quite see, however.

Sounds throughout the game are good. I was impressed with the musical score; it's one of the best I've heard for a GBA game. This is not a game you'll want to play with the sound off, as many enemies make distinct noises, and you can hear their presence as soon as you enter the room. One sound effect worth noting is the “heartbeat” noise that occurs as your infection level gets too high. This noise is too deep to be heard effectively from the GBA's puny speaker, but it's close to terrifying when playing with a good pair of headphones. (It's also useful, as it forces you to notice that you need to go decontaminate).

Replay value:
There's not too much replay here…there are multiple difficulties, but given that only the bosses are meaningfully difficult, harder modes would just make the bosses frustrating. You can now get it for about 8$, and you'll finish it in maybe 10 hours, so a single playthrough justifies purchase.

Final score
7/10 (not an average)

+ excellent presentation
+ infection system keeps things tense

- repetitive
- not an ideal control/camera system, although it's a lot better than it could have been
- repetitive
- I have to stand still to shoot?
- repetitive

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/30/07

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