SCUM Early Access preview

A tale of survival. And also pooping.

It’s not often a game comes along that keeps me intrigued to the point of obsession. One of the latest titles to do so is a game called SCUM, and it’s currently available to play via Steam’s Early Access.

Flying under the radar since its announcement in 2016, SCUM finally hit Steam’s Early Access portal in August this year. Developed by the Croatian game studio Gamepires (and published by Devolver Digital), SCUM is an open-world multiplayer survival game that feels very much like a cross between battle royale-style games like PUBG and survival games like Rust. And for those of you who care about this sort of thing, SCUM is built on Unreal Engine 4.

Elements like crafting and picking up loot will be familiar to many, but if you’ve never played a true survival game before, ensuring your character doesn’t die of hunger or thirst will prove to be a distinctly stressful experience. Indeed, survival games aren’t for the faint of heart – and in SCUM’s case, that’s even more so.

SCUM is set on an island – or a portion of an island, at least. In the game’s current Early Access state, it boasts roughly 144 square kilometres of playable area, but crafty players have managed to access SCUM’s admin commands and discovered that there’s a much larger map available, one that could eventually offer a total playable area of around 576 square kilometres when the game officially launches.

As soon as you’re greeted by the game’s incredibly detailed character creator, you learn that you are in fact a prisoner on this island. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Absolom: you’re part of a reality TV show, put on by an organisation called TEC1. The foundation of SCUM’s story is instantly intriguing, and it leaves the game open for many new features or potential story arcs. The fact that you’re in a reality show quickly becomes obvious within a few minutes of you waking up on the island. From time to time, you’ll see a TEC1 broadcast drone hovering around your location, monitoring you, seemingly broadcasting a live feed to an audience of viewers. A recent update to the game actually allows server admins to manually control these drones to keep an eye on players. It’s pretty neat.

Survival is not for the weak

You’ll eventually gear up and be able to enjoy many action-packed moments in SCUM, but you start the game with nothing more than an orange prison outfit. You’ll be randomly dropped somewhere on the map, and you’ll be entirely on your own. Your main objective is to survive, and do your best to not get yourself killed. And there are many things that want to kill you on the island.

Crafting is a major part of the game, and your first objective is to make a rudimentary stone knife so that you can chop wood and cut meat. If you spawn close to one of the many villages, you could get away with trying to loot one of the buildings in search of a knife (or something better), but that’s up to you. Managing your storage space is another crucial element, but finding a backpack isn’t always easy. Instead, you’re able to upgrade your storage space fairly early on by using your stone knife to shred your clothes into strips and using a few pieces of wood to create a makeshift backpack. The leftover pieces of material are useful for patching wounds, so keep them. You’ll also want to chop down some small trees and create a few basic spears. They’re surprisingly handy and awfully crucial, as you’ll soon discover.

As you walk around, you’ll notice that a few basic biometrics, displayed via the UI, fluctuate as you move. This is where SCUM starts to come into its own. Everything, from your bladder volume to your vitamin intake, is recorded and monitored as you progress, and you’ll need to keep an eye on these throughout the game to survive. It sounds harder to manage than it is, and eating a variety of foods is enough to ensure you’re sorted. If you do begin to suffer from a vitamin deficiency, you can find vitamin pills in the houses around the game world. When your bladder or stomach volume gets too full, you’ll have to relieve yourself. Yes, you’re able to take scenic dumps whenever nature calls. Just be sure to do it regularly [GOTTA SMASH THAT ALL-BRAN, YO. – ed.], or your character might drop their trousers in the middle of a fight – and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it. [This is ludicrous, but I kind of love it. Isn’t game design a wonderful thing? – ed.]

As the developers improve and update the game, things like illness and disease could eventually affect your character. For now, however, you won’t easily die of hunger – but your character will definitely let you know when it’s time to eat. Hunting for meat can be done by tracking various animals on the island. Some (like bears) will attack you on sight, but deer and other animals will just run away when they spot you. To track your prey, SCUM has a useful feature that allows you to focus on the tracks left by animals you’re hunting. This Focus Mode can also be used to listen for or to spot other players in your vicinity.

There’s also a day/night cycle, which runs at an interval of four hours per day and two hours per night. Playing in the dark can be frustratingly tricky, unless you have the right set of tools at hand. Yes, there are night vision goggles.

You are not here to make friends

Walking around the seemingly peaceful countryside is a risk on its own. With up to 64 players per server, anyone can kill you at any moment and loot all your possessions, leaving you to start from scratch. As you progress, you’ll eventually be able to build wooden boxes that you can use to store your belongings, but for the most part, you’ll carry everything with you. This makes the stakes even higher. A death at any point could set you back hours and hours of play time. If you aren’t killed by another player and no-one loots your body after you’ve been killed, there’s a chance you’ll be able to reclaim your dropped possessions – but that’s only if you’re able to get back to your body from your respawn area, which could be a long, dangerous trek. If you manage to accrue enough Fame Points, when you die you’ll be able to choose where you respawn, which makes things a little easier. Those Fame Points are awarded for playing the game, crafting items and surviving.

This isn’t the type of game where it’s a good idea to take too many uncalculated risks or trust other players. In fact, it’s usually in your best interests to shoot first and ask questions later, especially because they may have good loot.

Not all wandering characters are actual players though. SCUM also features everyone’s favourite non-player characters, ZOMBIES! They’re called “puppets” in this game, and these zombies are actually the dead characters of other players, who’re brought back to un-life to roam the island. Puppets usually hang out around towns in groups of two or more, and can get feisty when they spot you. Killing one usually means dishing out two spear hits to their head, but you’re obviously able to fight them off with your fists or other weapons as well. Once they’re down, you’ll find that their bodies often contain useful loot, particularly if you’re just starting out.

Alongside the various towns and cities you’ll discover scattered around the map, you’ll also find military bases protected by bipedal sentries equipped with machine guns. These are currently the most formidable opponents in SCUM, and it’s best to stay hidden from their patrol paths. Taking the time to sneak past these killers will certainly lead to substantial rewards. Hidden in the military bases you’ll find things like military backpacks, guns, and other valuable items. Chances are you’ll also run into other players here, eager to loot their own pile of goodies.

The road to launch day

Considering SCUM is in Early Access, there’s still a lot of work to be done. But it seems as though the developers have ramped up their efforts, as the last few weeks have brought with them a number of updates and roadmap announcements. The most notable among them is the plan to introduce vehicles soon.

What many players may find lacking in the game right now is an overall purpose or agenda. The current loop of looting and exploring for the sake of it is great, but once players are given a greater sense of purpose, there’ll be a lot more fun to be had in SCUM. Fortunately, it seems that the game’s community is a strong driving force behind some of the upcoming changes.

One last point worth noting is that your character is linked to the server on which it’s created, which means that jumping between servers to find more players is not yet possible.

For those longer gaming sessions, this is a title I’m finding myself enjoying more and more in between bouts of PUBG and Battlefield. It requires a little more time, effort and investment, but I find the slower pace offers a nice change of scenery. Gamepires has indicated that SCUM will be in Early Access for about a year, so expect a full release in the latter half of 2019.

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