The Egyptian setting has been out of vogue in the video game landscape for some time now (I don't consider those cheap puzzle and casino titles that clutter the app stores to be games). Twenty years ago, this was a different matter. Alongside the likes of Powerslave, Pharaoh and Sandwarriors, Electronic Arts' 1997 game S.C.A.R.A.B. lies smack bang in the middle of this mini craze.
The Egyptian gods are battling for supremacy and the sandstone cities are their battleground. All of the well-known gods such as Osiris and Anubis are here but while some are represented as controllable mechs, others are simply Machiavellian - an unseen instigator. The 'why' of it all is not explained and by his own admission the designer/developer/programmer John Ratcliff has little interest in plot.
There are two sides in the game, with a maximum of three mechs per team. Play is controlled in the first-person in an entirely polygonal game world which looked quite impressive in 1997, but even those with high tolerance for mid-nineties 3D will find the visuals simplistic and sparse. The maps or cities are maze-like in their design with winding pathways suspended in mid-air to tunnels that only serve to disorientate. The game demands you to know every inch of the map and to utilise every strategic placement.
So far this all sounds very much like a multi-player focused FPS, but in reality that is not the case at all. While you can win by destroying all of the enemy mechs, the preferred method is to place towers around the city claiming the land within its radius. Cover the whole city with no enemy towers and you win. Needless to say taking the gung-ho approach of Quake is a sure way to die quickly. More so than any similar game of the era, S.C.A.R.A.B. requires strategy. At the beginning of each match, you are given a short amount of safe time to collect power-ups and familiarise yourself with the surroundings. The problem here is that you are given no pointers in how to play. Even the manual and its help-file equivalent gives little away. To get to grips with the game and its many, many intricacies you will need to put aside a hell of a lot of time so you can figure it out. And you'll die constantly during this time.
To add even more complexity, each of the three mechs have their own strengths, weaknesses, and selection of special weapons. Horus, for example, is the fastest among the three and can be equipped with rocket fuel modules that enable it to briefly fly. Sekhmet is slow but strong with a variety of mortars and formidable long-distance weapons at his disposal.
The learning curve is my biggest bugbear for this game. There are so many different items, strategies and the computer AI of your opponent is unforgiving. Perhaps playing against a human is a better experience, but I haven't attempted this option. The game supports LAN as well as online multi-player, but the latter no longer exists. If there are any fan servers, I am unaware of them.
The game still runs well natively on Windows 7 and 10, though I did notice some issues with the FMVs in the latter (game-play was fine though). The preferred method of control is by joystick, and I found the keyboard and mouse controls bearable. Switching weapons, calling towers and precise aiming can't be done on the run so you are left fumbling in more heated of situations. The cities are big enough that there's always a place to hide and take a breath, if you can make it there unseen.
I gave up on S.C.A.R.A.B. after too many hours of excruciating play. You can only see the game-over screen so many times before it completely demoralises you. If you are a better at such games than I am, or have the patience to actually get good, I can imagine that it could be very rewarding. It will either click with you or not and unfortunately I couldn't get to grips with it.
To download the game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber will run natively on modern systems. Tested on Windows 7 and Windows 10.
S.C.A.R.A.B. is © Electronic Arts
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me