The Scourge Project: Episodes 1 and 2 PC review

Budget titles are always a double-sided coin: few people demand huge production values, but expect a certain amount of indie flair and love put into a “pet project.” Some succeed, many fail, and unfortunately, Scourge Project falls into the latter category purely through silly mistakes. A combination of serious bugs, uninspiring gameplay and a general lack of attention to detail drop this from an acceptable PC budget shooter into an insipid grindfest with few redeeming qualities.

Is it Mass Effect? Is it Gears of War? No such luck

But we get ahead of ourselves. Scourge Project is a third-person cover-based shooter, running on Unreal Engine 3 and presented as an episodic adventure. It offers four player co-op and 16 player deathmatch into the mix, and tells the tale of Echo Squad, a group of mercenaries hired to put a stop to an evil corporation. If it all sounds a bit like Gears of War, that´s because, basically, it is. Even a lot of the animations are frighteningly similar, and the grunty demeanour of your teammates does nothing to dispel the idea. However, it’s a poor shadow of Epic’s masterpiece, losing a lot of the appeal, and highlighting a lot of the problems.

Let’s start with one of the better aspects, the graphics. The game looks pretty good for a budget title, thanks to the Unreal 3 engine, and also adds plenty of color, dropping the muddy feel of many UE3 games. Characters are well detailed, and although the levels are quite generic, they are pretty clear and well designed. Most enemies are well drawn too, and it’s usually pretty clear what you are fighting, and what tactics to employ. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the short cut scenes: low-fidelity images and animations are the order of the day here, with lackluster, grainy images bringing back memories of the PlayStation 2. Squint whilst you watch them for more effective viewing.

Sound isn’t great either: certainly not the worst voice acting, but not particularly good, especially when it is basically a load of meathead soldiers and their shouting superior officers. Weapons carry some punch, but tend to be indistinguishable in a fight, and enemy sounds are simple, but repetitive. The odd string of music is quickly forgotten, and radio conversations are garbled and difficult to overhear. This also seems the perfect place to point out a huge problem: why does the game slow to a crawl the minute anyone opens their mouth?

In an interesting idea, the story behind each character is mildly compelling, and varied depending on what character you pick.They all seem to play much alike (despite some levelling perks each grunt can carry), and the plot soon fizzles out. It really is your standard “rebels vs. evil corporation” fare, with no real explanation. By the end of chapter two, I still really had very little idea why my guys were good and the others bad, apart from some rather dodgy “1950s evil genius” moments that were funny as opposed to chilling. And to really drive the nail into the coffin, you quickly stop caring about your character and your squad mates, due to a complete lack of any depth to anybody you control, fight with or encounter throughout either episode.

Echo Squad: the “team of meatheads” for meatheads

Add in uninspired controls, and some awful glitching, and you are getting the idea. Throw on top some awful team AI, and The Scourge Project really runs out of selling points. Expect to handhold your squad through every single encounter, with at least one teammate charging the enemy immediately, and falling in a hail of bullets. Also, if you drop, expect to watch the guy next to you jiggle up and down indecisively until another enemy puts him out of his misery. Anyone playing will wish that the opposing forces were on their side approximately every two minutes.

All this should be redeemed by the co-op, but it isn’t because that throws up its own set of bugs to ruin your fun. Teammates will judder about helplessly thanks to the lag, and you will be lucky to hold a four-player connection for more than five minutes. If you succeed, you hit the next problem: any semblance of fun you may have had dies as you realise how stupidly easy the game is without the damaged AI squad. Bosses become bullet fodder, and enemy squads are generally dispatched before they get a shot in. Multiplayer versus is no better, with further terrible lag, and seriously unbalanced weapons. Games quickly become a race to the biggest gun, and then rapidly descend into melee contests through sheer frustration.

The shame is that with some more care and attention, The Scourge Project could have been good. Work out the bugs, improve the AI, and write a story that has some coherence, and this would have justified a “budget Gears” tag (which it so obviously was going for). Instead, even the price cannot forgive the end product, as this lacks in the care and quirkiness to be expected in today’s indie market. It really feels as though you are paying purely for the game engine, and everything else is tacked on. Unfortunately, the market is so flooded with Unreal Engine 3.0 games, this one will quickly get lost in the crowd.