scrounger1.pngWe received word from Alessandro Ituarte that his "survival arcade game" Scrounger has been released. I've spent some time with it and I'm enjoying this small post-apocalyptic adventure a lot more than most zombie games with bigger budgets. But to call it a zombie game is selling it short, since Scrounger is really about survival, and zombies are no worse a threat than hunger or fatigue.

In Scrounger, you explore a procedurally generated building, room by room. You move with the arrow keys and use Q to loot, E to push, and F to rest. You hold shift to aim at the nearest zombie and press E to fire one of your precious bullets. The available actions and corresponding keys are shown at the bottom of the screen as they become available. You search the house and loot cabinets and the like for cans of food and spare bullets. You can push furniture against doors to seal off a room from zombies. If you happen upon a zombie, they will only see you if you enter their line of sight. It's quite fun to shoot zombies, but you have such a limited supply of ammo that it's generally wiser to just avoid them.

Scrounging is hard work, and you must rest frequently or face exhaustion. Lack of sleep can kill you just as surely as starvation or a zombie attack. Playing Scrounger often feels like a puzzle game, with its deliberate pacing, the emphasis on strategy over action, and the balance of hidden information.

The presentation of the game is exceptional. I love the arcade cabinet that houses the game screen, and the pixel art is clean and tight. Scrounger packs a lot of information onto its tiny screen (the image above is enlarged from the actual size on the site). There is a handy map of the building, your score, an inventory of food and bullets, a fatigue meter, a display of what day it is, an info bar reminding you of the available controls--and of course, the play area itself. It is a testament to Ituarte's graphic design skill that the screen never seems cluttered.

Ituarte calls Scrounger a prototype, but the gameplay and graphics are as precise as a Swiss watch and polished like a gemstone. The only thing I'm not in love with is the control scheme, which uses different keys for different actions when one context-sensitive key might have sufficed. On the other hand, scrabbling for the correct key does make me feel like an average, untrained human trying to survive the apocalypse, instead of like some survivalist superhero.

Scrounger is playable in your browser, and I highly recommend it. Once you get used to the controls, it's a tense, exciting game.