With his name prominently displayed on the box, it seems that producer American McGee is trying to be a video game big shot with his sci-fi adventure “Scrapland.” While the intriguing robot universe that he’s spun up certainly earns him that distinction, it’s a shame that the game itself is so mundane.

“Scrapland” tells the story of D-Tritus, a friendly robotic newcomer to the city of Chimera. Humans are not allowed into the city — our race’s collective wastefulness previously left it in ruins, only to be rebuilt into a colorful metropolis by resentful machines.

Almost everyone in Chimera is corrupt, including the Bishops who, for a price, can bring robots back to life via “The Great Database.” The city is shaken to find the Archbishop murdered and his matrix stolen from the database, preventing his resurrection. Forced into journalism upon his arrival, D-Tritus is assigned to cover the story.

Here’s the problem: Unraveling the yarn requires gameplay, and the gameplay isn’t any good. “Scrapland” falters in its combination of space ship action with on-foot endeavors in a nonlinear style — players can fly anywhere they choose and take up main or side missions at their leisure.

The folks at the scrap yard are kind enough to give D-Tritus his first ride, and from there he can upgrade the ship or build entirely new ones if he earns enough cash. The freedom to customize and build a garage full of different ships is exciting, but actually flying them feels awful. The ships don’t have full 360-degree motion, so forget about barrel rolls or loops. Players can make the ships strafe, but it’s nearly impossible to do while shooting.

The on-foot missions are also a letdown. In order to navigate the city’s massive buildings, D-Tritus “overwrites” any character he interacts with, stealing their appearance and abilities. Doing so destroys that character and causes the police to start chasing D-Tritus. In addition to evading the watchful eye of the cops, players must dodge evil bankers who suck money from D-Tritus simply by standing nearby. Avoid the random Bishops that destroy things for no reason and withstand the archaic and monotonous gameplay long enough not to throw the Xbox into the nearest furnace.

The graphics and sound certainly don’t help the cause. Even though the environments are colorful, “Scrapland” can’t decide what frame rate it wants to run at, resulting in a jerky, almost nausea-inspiring visual effect. Despite quality voice acting, the audio has its low points as well, such as noiseless ship engines and musical numbers that don’t quite fit.

The saddest thing is that “Scrapland” is one hell of a game on paper. The plot is entertaining and the gameplay potential is there. Still, the execution leaves so much to be desired that it will leave most gamers heavy-hearted.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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