ABOVE: A brief montage of gameplay showing off various elements of the demo we played. Note that this video only shows one player, though; we played in squads of four and had a LOT of fun.
Teams of four band together to try and gather as many Scourge samples as possible, so that they might be brought back to the space station orbiting Earth that we flew down to our messed-up planet from and analyzed by Mother, the AI that oversees the vessel (which has been exempt from the Scourge’s presence and effects so far). The development team at Midwinter Games – headed by former Halo 4 lead designer and 343 internal studio head Josh Holmes – describes the flow of each match as “explore, hunt, extract.”
I got to see that flow in action in one 30-or-so-minute match on PC, set in the fictional Cascade Springs region. You begin by choosing from one of eight different heroes, each possessing a different unique ability that recharges on a cooldown timer. Jae is the melee brawler with a dash-forward attack to quickly close the gap between you and an enemy (my choice in this round), Kali is a tracker who has an active camouflage, Halden is a healer (self-explanatory), and Valora is a Ranger whose special skill is an energy shield that deflects incoming shots. And each player has a Keeper, a little robot buddy that floats behind your shoulder a la Ghost in Destiny or the MAG in Phantasy Star Online. It is the narrative conceit for allowing you to build weapons and upgrade your weapons and gear.
You begin by each match by, as the name implies, scavenging. My team and I had to fight off Outlanders and Scourge bears, searching run-down houses for any kind of weapon – a pistol for me, at first. Scavengers includes an easy-peasy team sharing mechanic, where you can click and drag any item you have over to your teammates. I went with a pistol for a while and so my crew gave me all of their pistol rounds, while I donated all of my rifle ammo to a teammate using that weapon. Armor is also important, as is your health. You’ve got a biohazard meter that shows your level of danger to the Scourge infection, as well as a hunger and cold meter. The latter is of particular note, as the categories of storms get worse the longer the match progresses – though at least each storm has a radius, so you can sometimes circumvent them.
And yes, there are rival teams of human-controlled players with the same goal as your squad; each team spawns in a different random area in the map, so that there’s a decent chance you’ll cross paths prior to extraction, but you won’t necessarily be forced into it. Speaking of extraction, that is the endgame. Whoever can escape with the most samples – assuming you get out alive at all – wins.
But first we needed samples. And better gear. So we came to a meteor crater in a clearing, carved out by a giant space-chunk of Scourge rock smashing into the earth. Infected humans swarmed us, and as we fought them off, we also started mining the area for samples. If another team had found us, they could’ve made our mission a lot tougher, or potentially killed us and taken that site’s samples altogether.
We did finally happen upon another team just prior to the dropship arriving (which, by the way, does not arrive anywhere nearby, and when it does happen, it triggers a mad dash to get to the extraction point before the dropship leaves). It was a cobbled-together base of sorts. Once we disposed of the Outlanders, we spied another team trying to clear it out themselves. We took them head-on and managed to take out one of them before they evened the odds and sent us running away – just as the dropship arrived a couple kilometers away.
We beelined straight for it, having to walk around a couple of mountains in the process. Finally, we did arrive, though, and so did other teams. Our Midwinter tour guide asked us our preference: fight or flight. I said, “Let’s just get out of here!” and so we took what samples we had and successfully boarded the ship. We waited to get the word on our victory or defeat until the timer had run out, at which point we learned that no, we hadn’t quite won this round. Another team had brought more samples than we did. But I had a great time and came away with the sense that Scavengers is doing a great job of blending plenty of familiar elements into an experience that feels fresh. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one!Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.