Multiplayer games are all the rage these days, to say the least. PvE MMOs continue to rake in enormous player counts, and PvP shooters and squad games, while always a staple of the PC gaming scene, are bigger than ever. Another genre has also seen massive growth over the years, with games like Don’t Starve and Rust gaining critical acclaim and big sales numbers. Midwinter Entertainment, a small studio formed by industry vets and based out of Seattle, aims to combine all three of these genres into one game with Scavengers, a Survival Shooter co-opetition, and CGM got a hands-on preview at this year’s E3 where we got to chat with the devs and sit down for a brief but intense and thoroughly entertaining game session.
Midwinter Entertainment has a hell of a pedigree. The studio was founded by Josh Holmes, former Studio Head and Creative Director for Halo 4, as well as Fredrik Persson, Peter Burzynski, and Daryl Anselmo (who was on my team for the session), all AAA industry vets. However, when it came to working at big studios like 343, Holmes was over it and wanted to condense things.
“We deliberately chose to move away from all that, we wanted to get away from a culture of hundreds of people bumping into each other, trying to make decisions, where it would sometimes take weeks to negotiate things through multiple layers of production. [We wanted to] just get back to the joy of developing games in one room together where everyone has a voice.”
The studio now has about 30 people, and Scavengers will be their first big release. Scavengers is a Survival Shooter Co-opetition. In Holmes’ words, it blends together elements of exploration, combat, and survival into a repeatable and re-playable session based multiplayer. Co-opetition is a word used to describe the intersection of PvP and PvE and a session based experience where there are elements of co-op that are necessary to survive and be successful, but where competition is always at play and PvP is always an option. It’s not required, and not the way you win the game but it is one path to victory if that’s your style.
Scavengers takes places in a future where the moon has been shattered by an asteroid and the debris has encircled the globe and blotted out the sun. Because of this debris, the sun has become blotted out and the Earth is now in a permanent state of winter. Along with the asteroid came a strange and mysterious disease called the Scourge that has infested, infected, and mutated much of the life that remains on the planet. In order to deal with this world-changing event, a small group of survivors were placed aboard a space station called Sanctuary and they’re under the care of an AI called Mother. When you begin the game, you’ve been re-awoken by the AI and sent down to explore the surface of the planet and retrieve samples of scourge DNA to be analyzed and hopefully find a cure.
This is where the co-opetition element comes into play. Each team is sent down to the surface and tasked with retrieving samples of Scourge DNA for Mother to analyze. Once a certain amount has been collected, a dropship is sent down to retrieve you. If you don’t get the required amount in time…you’re out of luck, and will be left down there to freeze to death. Working in conjunction with the other teams will allow you to hit the target number for rescue quicker, but your rewards at the end of the mission are based on individual team performances and the number of samples your team collected. Work with everyone peacefully and you’re guaranteed a safe exit, but with low reward. However, try to eliminate the “opposition” too early in order to get better rewards, and you might run out of time before you hit the required amount and that means no rescue and icy death. It’s a fun balance the can lead to unique sessions every time and the development of clever tactics.
There are three main phases in each match: Explore, Hunt, and Extraction. The explore phase is a nice peaceful opening where each team runs around collecting crafting materials and weapons while planning their routes for the next phase. The Hunt phase is where most of the action happens, as each team then races around the map hitting up Scourge areas to harvest samples, all the while dealing with the hostile AI forces and nasty, lethal weather. Once that magic number of samples is hit, a dropship location is announced and each team then races towards it in hopes for rescue. The initial player count for our session was 12, broken up into four teams, but Midwinter said plans are for 30 player matches when the game launches next year.
During our session, I was lucky enough to play with two of the developers who were very helpful in ensuring that I knew what materials to gather, how to craft my first guns, and what items I needed to have on me once the Hunt started. The Hunt phase found us racing around the map, blasting wildlife (wolves and deer mostly), scrambling for samples in pits infested with enemies, and trying to keep warm in sheltered areas when the storms hit. These sheltered areas were often crammed with enemies as well. Early on we were attacked by another team of Human players, which we dispatched fairly easily. I struggled a bit with the survival mechanics (making sure I had enough food and keeping my cold meter down) but the actual gunplay and combat was pretty tight. Things really took a turn when one of our players couldn’t get to a fire in time and froze to death, leaving it up to myself and our other teammate to acquire new samples, continue fighting enemies, and try to resuscitate him. The final phase, Extraction, was where things got wild and intense. Everyone was scrambling to get to the dropship in time, and of course, I managed to become incapacitated in the final minute, leaving it up to our one remaining teammate to get a vehicle, load up our bodies, and try her best to get us to the ship in time. We were, quite literally, one second too late. Our vehicle was essentially on the dropship ramp when the timer ran out, eliciting groans and cheers from the entire group.
Had I been able to play a few more sessions, I definitely think I would have attempted to scum, backstab, and ambush the other teams late game during the Extraction phase. This is where I can see the most potential for multiplayer chaos and hilarity. Work as a large team for the Hunt phase, get the dropship launched, then turn around and start blasting. The size of the map and the sheer amount of AI adds some very interesting elements to the mix, and the continual addition of more enemy factions and more human players down the line will provide a very unique twist on the Battle Royale formula. The game is definitely still in the early stages, but during our session, there were no bugs or glitches. Everything ran smoothly, and hopefully, with more time and polishing it will continue to do so even at a larger scale. I had a lot of fun with Scavengers and the talent and pedigree of the staff are clear and evident. They definitely know what they’re doing and have a clear idea for something fresh and original in what is becoming a very saturated online marketplace. Keep an eye on this game.