Review: Scrap Metal (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Scrap Metal
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Slick Entertainment
Genre: Arcade Racing
Release Date: 03/10/2010

There is something buried deep in the gamer’s psyche. A love of racing games and a love of shooters overlaps in most of us, with an equation that I imagine looks something like this: Cars equal cool, Guns equal cool, so Cars plus Guns equals double cool. To that end, games as far back as Spy Hunter have placed automatic weapons on things with manual transmissions. Sometimes the result has been gaming bliss, other times we’ve gone looking for a deductible. Now we have Scrap Metal, an Xbox Live Arcade title once again mixing guns and cars. Is it worth more than a test drive? Let’s find out.

1. Story/Modes
Scrap Metal doesn’t waste a lot of time with story. You are a racer, there is a racetrack, get to it. The game is divided up into a set of ten courses, each with eight different events to compete in. You will earn a gold, silver, or bronze rating based on how well you did. As you advance in the circuits, you earn points used to upgrade various wrecks that you have smashed as you play. Each track has a boss that you must defeat in some way to move on, but you do tend to unlock the next track at about the sixth race in case you need to play forward to earn upgrades. Back at your scrapyard, you can scroll through the various available vehicles and haul up to four of them in for your own personal stable of vehicles. There isn’t much of an overarching story aside from “Go out and get better stuff to win more races,” but the game does move fast and keep you entertained. There are also a good amount of race types to play, ranging from the standard free-for-all to elimination races, escort missions, no-weapons races, and even demolition derbies.

If you get tired of slugging it out solo, there is a nice amount of multiplayer as well. In a nice change of pace, Scrap Metal even features local matches as well as online play through Xbox Live. Most of the online racing jumps into games in mid-session, which is a downer, but it is pretty easy to host your own games. Online play has been fast and accessible for me, so it looks like the community is embracing this title. That’s always good, because you don’t want to find every game room empty.

Story/Modes: Decent

2. Graphics:
Scrap Metal has a lot going for it graphically, but it ultimately shows that it is just an Arcade title. First, the good stuff. The graphics are crisp and clean, with some really cool “morphing” that goes on while the cars are automatically repaired in your garage. The lighting for the weapon and explosion effects is also very well done. You will really see some beautiful effects if you fire off a swarm of rockets and see the light bloom. As you race and fight, little bits and pieces fall off of the vehicles as they are damaged. There is typically a lot going on at once and the engine can handle it at breakneck speed. The characters between races are done in a pleasing anime style.

On the down side, the camera is fixed in a top down, pre-set zoom. That makes it very hard to see exactly where you are going and it gets hard to plan race routes until you have the courses memorized. The inability to control the zoom also hurts. If you end up in a seven-car pile up in a corner, you won’t be able to tell which vehicle is yours. This leads to just aiming the car out and hitting the gas until the game realizes what you want to do.

Graphics: Very Good

3. Sound:
While the graphics were overall well done for an Arcade title, the sound lacks a bit. Each of the racers has a personality, and as you shoot them and inconvenience their race, they will yell at you. This is delivered in a text blurb across the top of the screen instead of through voice acting. The sound effects from the engines and the weapons all sound appropriately heavy, but the music gets immediately lost in the revving engines and exploding cars. You don’t really miss the music, and it is the best thing to cut corners on, but it really is a no-show.

Sound: Mediocre

4. Control and Gameplay:
Those of you expecting modern racing game controls are in for a surprise. Scrap Metal has more in common with RC Pro Am from the early days of the NES. There are two control schemes to choose from, and I have to say the easy one is a better fit. With easy you just point the left stick in the direction you want to go and the game does the acceleration for you. On the advanced scheme you control gas and brake with the triggers, and the turning scheme is locked as left or right. It can be a hassle trying to adjust to the fact that when you are facing up, left is left, but when you are heading to the bottom of the screen, left is right. Fortunately, there isn’t a benefit to using one scheme over the other, so you can choose the one that fits to your play style. As you race you also grab powerups, just like in Mario Kart. Since your vehicle already has weapons, the pickups are mostly health and nitro boosts, but occasionally you get a super weapon like an oil-slick that you can drop.

Fortunately the controls are forgiving and the gameplay is solid. There is an emphasis on drifting, and each of the vehicles handles differently. There aren’t any real lemons to choose from, which is a nice change from some racing games I’ve played. Being able to upgrade your choice in car in four categories adds some a good strategic element. I do have one large issue with how the matches are set up, though. You will need different vehicles for different races – taking a Formula One race car into a demolition derby is suicide – but you don’t see what type of race you will be taking part in until you get to the race select screen. Then you have to go back into your garage and switch vehicles. An option to change cars from the race select screen would have been great.

Control/Gameplay: Good

5. Replayability:
Scrap Metal provides a nice amount of replay value for your gaming dollar. There is a lot of fun to be had just picking various cars for your stable and messing with the customization options. Each vehicle has a two-tone paint scheme that you can change. You can also add a bunch of various decals and add-ons. There is a semi-truck that you can turn into a garbage truck or a flatbed. You also have the option for both online and offline multiplayer. Local games that offer multiplayer are getting rarer every month, so I commend Slick Entertainment for adding that in. You can also go back and race earlier races with the monstrously powerful vehicles you earn later, for that overwhelmingly powerful feeling.

Replayability: Very Good

6. Balance:
I went into Scrap Metal expecting the typical racer/fighter AI to dominate the game. You know the kind I mean – when you get about half a lap ahead of the closest opponent only to see them suddenly zip past you for no reason. I was pleasantly surprised to not see anything like that here. In fact, Scrap Metal takes a beating if you dish one out. Scrap Metal very gradually ramps up the threat of the enemies, and you go from quietly enjoying the game to having a white-knuckled grip on the controller by about the sixth racetrack. That said, the racetracks do eventually descend into the twisted, convoluted, hairpin turn nightmare that all racing games seem to. I really like a big loop or figure eight in this type of game, and you pass by those all too quickly.

Balance: Good

7. Originality:
Scrap Metal doesn’t bring a whole lot of freshness to the genre. This is a rehash of some old and venerable video game traditions, chiefly those from Twisted Metal. In the customization for your cars, some of them have the option of putting a giant ice cream cone on top. If that doesn’t scream Sweet Tooth, I don’t know what does. There is also a big van that you can paint black and add a red stripe down the side. Clearly, the developers also love it when a plan comes together. Scrap Metal doesn’t do anything new, but what it does is fun and entertaining.

Originality: Poor

8. Addictiveness:
This is a game where you will catch yourself saying “Just one more race,” five or six times, and before you know it there is a rooster crowing and it is time to get to work. Scrap Metal is fun and addictive enough to keep you playing over and over again. Part of the charm is how easy it is to pick up and play, and part of it is how casual and relaxed it is. This isn’t a game like Halo 3 or even Magic: The Gathering where if the host gets taken out they rage-quit and spoil the game for everyone else. Most of the games I’ve played have been people having a good time. On the single player front, the game never feels too cheap or unbalanced, so even when I lost a race or two in a row I felt like I could get back behind the wheel and win it again.

Addictiveness: Great

9. Appeal Factor:
Scrap Metal does have a lot going for it-fun gameplay, solid controls, good graphics, and it is highly addictive. For gamers that are looking for a fun, light-hearted take on the vehicular combat genre, you won’t regret your purchase. However, that purchase price is a bit concerning: 1200 MS points, or $15.00, for an Arcade game. That’s a bit steep, and likely to scare off potential buyers. I really prefer the Xbox Live Arcade games that have price points in the 400-800 MS point range. For 1200, you are getting close to the level of the Platinum hits series of games, all of which have a better value than Scrap Metal. Or for 800, you can grab the Perfect Dark remake, which has a ton more options. Sure, you are getting some goodies for your Avatar thrown in, but the trend of increasing prices for these titles is getting worrisome. That’s not to say I don’t think Slick Entertainment doesn’t deserve to be recognized for what they did here. Scrap Metal is a solid game and worth your time, but the 1200 price point keeps it from being an easy recommendation.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous:
Scrap Metal is the second title in Microsoft’s Block Party event. If you haven’t heard yet, buying this, Toy Soldiers, and Perfect Dark gets you a 400 point refund and an extra month of Gold (if you are already a Gold member) Membership. I’m happy with the offer, but you end up earning back about five dollars after dropping forty on this content. Still, you have to give Microsoft credit for thinking of this type of offer, and I’d be happy to see more like it in the future. Scrap Metal also features a pretty quick Achievement track and you can unlock things for your Avatar, which is a huge plus in my book. Complete the single player and you win an RC car for your Avatar, which usually costs 400 MS points or so anyway.

Miscellaneous: Good

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Scrap Metal is a fun update to the arcade racing and shooting genre. Bright colors and cool vehicles keep the action interesting, even when the sound effects grow bland. There are a lot of various race modes to challenge you, but not much to the story other than a need to race. Some good multiplayer options will keep you coming back for more, but the price is a little steep for an Arcade game. To help you get over that, Slick Entertainment has some unlockable Avatar prizes waiting to be found. Don’t expect loads of depth in this title, but if you are looking for a fun, casual way to spend a few hours in front of the Xbox, Scrap Metal will provide.



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