Futuristic racers, in particularly WipEout, were key in the mid-90s to change the perception of video games. No longer were they just children's playthings overflowing kiddified mascot platformers, but visceral, adult and cool. Developers were quick to latch on to this craze, and Scavenger's 1996 effort Scorcher is one of the most interesting.
The tale of Scavenger is quite a tragic one. The only other game released by the company was the excellent undersea action game AMOK. it was not the quality, or even lack of sales that were their downfall, but the underhanded machinations of GT Interactive of whom they had a publishing agreement with. Payment was withheld, lawsuits were filed and despite a $1.9 million pay-out in their favour three years later, they were not able to recover.
The behind the scenes drama didn't stop them from creating a great game. While WipEout's vehicles hovered and Rollcage's could flip, the gimmick here is zorbing. That's right, you race down the track in a futuristic, ball-like hover-bike. You can bounce of walls like a pinball, or zip round tubular tunnels at any angle. It makes for an exciting and challenging game.
Your nuclear-powered ball-bike has some decent physics assigned to them. Now that I think about it, it probably more closely resembles Super Monkey Ball that any other racing game. Rolling is not the only ability your bike has. You also have a boost metre represented by a green bar next to the timer. You can fill up your reserves by collecting green triangular objects scattered around the track. Failing that, you can get a free boost by rolling over a green floor switch and racing along the "speed lane" highlighted by the glowing arrows. In the later tracks, you'll encounter some red tiles too. These are traps that will lower your momentum just to annoy you.
The speed amps up pretty quickly, so it takes some skill to dodge walls, pits and debris littering the roads, waiting to bring you to a dead stop. For a better race, you'll need to master the other ability available to you: jumping. These can often help you round tight corners or pass an annoying opponent who won't get out of your way. It's also the best way to tackle some obstacles too. The faster you're going, the higher and longer you'll jump. Be careful, though as you might sail into the black abyss that surrounds the track. Your jumping is also limited to metre, found above the boost gauge on the HUD. You can refill it by collecting the blue pyramids, which aren't as plentiful as the green, but then again you won't run out of them as quickly.
The graphics are nice and detailed for 1996, though make sure the first thing you do is up the graphic options to the max each time you play. It annoyingly resets to the default minimal setting with each start up so doing this every time you want to play is a must if you want to get the most out of it. There's a palpable post-apocalyptic atmosphere throughout the whole game. Races can take place on destroyed city streets or abandoned power plants. The only downside graphically is that the draw distance is very narrow, turning to a thick, black void just a few metres in front of you. This doesn't bode well if you want to dodge walls or other obstacles that tend to suddenly appear before you, especially at the speed the game wants you to reach.
There are only six tracks, and one vehicle to choose from making the content and replayability quite sparse. Your enemies do have distinct personalities too, but not quite so unique as the fellow racers in Fatal Racing. As a result of the lack of things to do (which may or may not have een due to the company's troubles), the difficulty is ramped up. Not only are you required to finish in the top three to progress to the next track, but you are on a tight time limit too. You'll need to perfect your laps to make it to the end and track memorization is the key.
If I had bought this at full price, even back in 1996, I would've been wildly disappointed solely for the miniscule amount of content. Luckily £30 was not spent and I had a blast.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows Windows 10.
Scorcher is © Scavenger, Inc
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me