Scavengers Combines Elements of Familiar Genres for a Unique “Co-opetitive” Shooter
Midwinter Entertainment's first big title Scavengers is like a survival game with co-op and battle royale bits, yet feels brand new.
It has never been easy to classify any given video game into a specific genre. Some fit the mold for many genres, some are so far beyond high-concept that they need their own genre, and some genres are so vague (i.e. Metroidvania) that the label can be applied anywhere. When I tried out Scavengers, my mind kept going back and forth between different titles and genres as points of comparison, and it turned out to be a strange mix that ended up resonating with me.
I hesitate to label it any one genre because that would discredit the work done for Scavengers‘ other gameplay concepts. I’ll yield to developer Midwinter Entertainment, formed by alumni from 343 Industries, EA, Zynga, and other companies making their debut title, in that label: “co-opetition.” Think of it as a combination of player-versus-player and player-versus-enemy. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite well, but my hands-on time with the game made a strong case for it.
In Scavengers, the world is a frozen wasteland — how this came to be is not exactly known. Like many post-apocalyptic works, survival is the focus, but while players focus time killing zombie-like creatures (the Scourge, in this case) and some sadistic raiders (the Outlanders), Scavengers comes up with a number of ways to change up the dynamics and rhythm of these types of games. The lore of the game has squads of scavengers exploring an area, searching for organic DNA samples and specimens that will help whatever is left of society learn about the mysterious circumstances about their current predicament.
On the way, players will have to fight through said Outlanders and Scourge, and possibly other squads as well. Our demo had four squads of three, all choosing a different character with a different ability and a unique weapon, the latter needed to be crafted. With only three members to a squad, players will have to choose carefully between support and attack-focused characters for good team composition. My squad was lifted nearby some abandoned cabins, and we began this round by looting them—to which I thought to myself, “is this a battle royale game?” Not so much, I would learn.
It might have had a similar heads-up display as a battle royale, down to the compass, inventory menus, a literal storm on the map, and other indicators, but unlike those games, Scavengers is “not a zero-sum” game. Yes, you as a squad do have to collect more samples than the other squads, but the match cannot be complete until all squads as a whole collect a certain total number of those samples. There’s a bit of a balance in the co-operative and competitive nature as a result.
You’ll have to co-operative with your squadmates not just in combat while fighting through Outlander outposts and camps, but you’ll have to share resources to survive—and that’s where the survival game elements come in. Warmth, hunger, and radiation sickness are the three meters players will have to pay attention to besides their health. Stand near fires to keep warm, cook raw meat you find to eat (sprinting will make you hungrier), or use an antidote for the radiation. But when other squads are in proximity, players are free to unload—or not.
I can imagine a scenario where two squads are caught up in a Scourge-invested area, outnumbered by those gross and unfriendly creatures. From there, those two opposing squads could very well form a fragile alliance in order to survive. Remember, it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure all on the field is able to collect these samples in order to facilitate an escape later down the line. Just because someone on another squad ends up in your sights doesn’t mean that you have to fire on them.
That’s just what happened in our play session, though. Perhaps it was us still trying to figure out the rhythm of the game, but once my squad saw a stranger, we gave into our feral instincts and treated them like any PvE non-playable enemy. We might have ruined someone else’s fun, but once we downed an entire squad, we thrived after picking up their pieces of equipment (many that can be salvaged to craft your character’s unique weapon) and their samples.
Once all squads have reached that combined quota, the endgame begins. A dropship lands in a designated area and like Left 4 Dead or Titanfall, it will leave after a certain duration of time, whether you’re on it or not. From there, you have to make the split decision: do you value these fragile alliances you might have forged, or will you instead backstab the other squads (a la Payday), turning them into piñatas of samples? My squad attempted to do the latter, but our planning wasn’t quite there—all three of us were downed, and we ended up in second place as the winners made off with our samples.
So to sum up, what Scavengers comprise of is squad-based gameplay on a large battle royale-like map, with both survival mechanics and “hero” or “champion” characters, each with a unique role, weapon, and ability. There will be NPC enemies to ward off while completing the objective, but other squads are both competing and cooperating to complete that objective too—it’s impossible to do it without them, but there is an incentive to do better than them.
I came out of the demo excited, but with many questions. For one, a lack of variety was a big concern, with the same frozen wastleland “look” throughout the whole map. And what about the lore behind Scavengers—would we ever find out what led to this catastrophe, and why these scavenger squads are incentivized to outperform the others? Was this also some sort of dystopian Hunger Games society? After the demo, I briefly sat down with Daryl Anselmo, Midwinter’s director of art and UI to clarify one of these points.
Scavengers will indeed be going for a unique look with its “beautiful frozen wasteland,” but there will be more environmental features to look at, including a “sandstone biome,” craters (from some sort of meteor shower that contributed to this worldwide disaster), and fortresses run by the Outlanders. The zombie-like Scorge, I was told, was less so inspired by specific pieces of fiction and more so by general monster archetypes. All of these elements from the environment to the enemies is meant to inspire this “allure and mystery.”
Of course, being in an early stage, there was still much work to be done on the technical aspects of the game. While one of my squadmates encountered a glitch with the inventory system, I hit some audio glitches myself. Stuff that will be ironed out for sure, and Anselmo promised that voice acting would be coming soon—the characters were oddly quiet throughout the match. Before we ended our talk, I asked Anselmo if any of the folks at Midwinter consider themselves to be survivalists. “We’ve been watching a lot of Bear Grylls,” he responded.
I can absolutely see Scavengers become a sleeper breakout hit—while all of its elements are familiar, they are mixed in such a way to make a gameplay experience that can result in a number of different scenarios and permutations. Ultimately, I imagine that it will come down to marketing: can a unique mix of the familiar be easy to convey as such through a cinematic trailer or an online banner ad? Whoever is making those decisions will have time to do so—Scavengers will release on at least PC at a currently undetermined time.