The Steam Summer Sale is upon us again. Sometimes, I feel like it’s a bust–every year I buy way too many games, with few ever hooking me. It was mostly the same this year, until I ran across a strange, rogue-lite ship-based sci-fi game. It was released early this year under the unassuming title Scavenger SV-4. Actually, everything about Scavenger SV-4 is a unassuming, making it easy to pass by–I almost did, but despite its unassuming quality, its premise grabbed me. The Steam store page describes Scavenger SV-4 thusly: “Part simulator, part roguelike, it has elements of action, combat, resource management and a dash of horror. It is not quite like any game you have played before.” I remember thinking that last sentence was a pretty bold statement, but I was intrigued. I’m really glad I checked it out.
If that sounds intriguing enough for you, I totally recommend picking it up. If you’re not convinced, keep reading, but beware: there are minor spoilers ahead.
The premise of Scavenger SV-4 is the same from playthrough to playthrough—you’re a lone explorer who has parked their ship above a radioactive planet in hopes of finding something—but the details are different each time. There are many rogue-lite elements, including permanent death. You start by making a character—choosing their name, and making a few other cosmetic choices for that run. Everything else is decided for you: your character’s motivations, background, and how the planet below is arranged.
I don’t want to spoil too many aspects of Scavenger SV-4, since most of the fun I had with it was through discovery, but the crux of the gameplay is this: you send a rover down to the planet to explore, collect artifacts, and then send your rover back up to your ship. The only way you interact with the planet is through the rover’s sensors, cameras, or whatever other modules you install—meaning, the best you usually see is the real-time camera image that often suffers from interference from all of the planet’s radiation.
The rover itself is completely self-sustained, and capable of many tasks. It can fly to and from the planet, collect artifacts (with the proper installed module), and is capable of bearing modules that make it capable of all sorts of tasks, including combat. Despite how focused on exploration Scavenger SV-4 is, you will run into some resistance on the planet that will require weaponry. Your rover can sustain damage, as well as the modules it carries. If the modules are damaged they must be repaired—if they can’t be, they are lost. You either have to find an artifact that can serve as a replacement module or you have to do without. If your rover is destroyed, your ability to explore is gone, and that playthrough is essentially over, making it time to start another run.
Your base of operations is your spaceship, which starts each mission already in orbit–you won’t actually fly it. The ship never changes in layout or function, but there are different events that require different solutions be implemented on your ship. Again, I don’t want to spoil any of these events, as discovering them for yourself is half the fun, but things can get kind of scary in space sometimes. The ship has systems that can be controlled with various consoles. Sometimes consoles will shut off and require a reboot, which can be done from the engineering section. The airlocks can all be opened, to blow out oxygen (or anything that you might not want on your ship), or you can use the doors to seal off any specific area. The science bay is used to research any artifacts you find to discover potential usefulness, or even lore tidbits.
As you’re orbiting a highly radioactive planet, radiation damage to your character is a constant concern. You can stave this off with trips to the med bay, but there’s only so much the automated medical system can do before you start suffering from permanent effects. This means that you have to act relatively fast, as you only have a few hours in orbit in real-time before the radiation becomes too much.
The run ends when you decide if you’ve collected enough, or you die. Afterwards, you are given a screen detailing the aftermath of your journey, and your score is tallied. Based on your choices, the aftermath can vary. One non-spoiler example is this: stay in orbit too long, and you may not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of your discoveries.
Scavenger SV-4 is a hidden gem. It might not have the most modern graphics, but it is extremely compelling for those who like the idea of exploring a dead planet from orbit. When I first tried it out, I played it for several hours straight—like a good story, I couldn’t put it down until I was done.
Scavenger SV-4 is available now on Steam, and will be discounted 20% for the remainder of the Steam Summer Sale, which runs through July 5th.