In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2021, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new staff picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
Scavengers didn't even hit my radar when it launched in April. In fact, I ended up playing it by chance: A colleague's PC had crapped-out, and I agreed to capture a few matches' worth of footage. I sat down with a nice cup of tea for what I expected to be 20 minutes of a generic-looking battle royale genre mashup: Several hours later, I'd realised Scavengers was exactly that. And I'd had enormous fun with it.
The name suits the game. Scavengers picks-and-chooses its way through a hybrid of battle royale and PvE looting, and loosely speaking, matches tend to focus on a bit of exploring and AI swarms and treasure-hunting to start off, before the map then brings the three-person teams together. Oh, and there are storms that move rapidly around the map and will quickly freeze your character to death if they're not in shelter.
The storms are a bit of a microcosm of what Scavengers gets right. A battle royale-type game needs a way to restrict the field, which this provides for, but rather than being one big circle closing-in, you have these fast-moving zones that regularly catch teams off-guard and force fast, unplanned movement. The delightful touch is that you can take shelter in a building and wait it out, which can be either a moment of respite and working out your next move, or the part where you stumble on an enemy team that's had the same idea. It even does some narrative lifting in really selling the idea you're scavenging on this hostile planet surface.
That's a smart element, and another is how matches end, which has a little bit of Hunt: Showdown energy to it. A mothership lands on the map once teams have gathered enough "data" (the in-game currency prize you're seeking), alerting all teams to its presence and giving them five minutes to get there. That's enough time to make it there, wherever you are, but it's not enough that teams can be too cautious about it: This forces you to make quick decisions about whether you're going to take on that enemy trio in the distance or just go for the doors (which have a timer).
Scavengers serves up some amazing standoffs at these moments, particularly when you get teams that really understand their abilities. There are a bunch of characters to unlock, all of which come with very different gadgets and guns, such as drop-shields, heals, and big booms, and the scrap you're scavenging can be used during missions to craft items and loadouts unique to that character: It's a simple upgrade system that's fun to fumble through during matches, making it feel like your looting is worth it in substantial ways (I mean, a new automatic shotgun is pretty substantial).
It's hard to pinpoint why Scavengers landed for me, because there's not much you won't have seen other games do before, and in some cases better. I don't think the shooting is the best I've experienced, the character work doesn't especially appeal to me, the traversal and PvE stuff and vehicles are all perfectly adequate. But the way it all slots together around these clever pieces of design—like the storms and the upgrades and the push-pull of PvEvP—gives a tremendously fun rhythm to the arc of each match.
I don't know if I've ever quite thought of a game in these terms before, but Scavengers is a bit like a nice shepherd's pie served with steaming hot peas. You've seen all the ingredients before: You more-or-less know what to expect. It's probably not the kind of thing you'd ever order in a restaurant. And yet shepherd's pie is always delicious, and you're always happy it's on the cards.
We play battle royales, or I do anyway, for those one-off moments of camaraderie with our buddies. I'll forever associate PUBG with the time a friend and I were pinned down in an aircraft hangar, noticed a motorbike with a sidecar, and zoomed down the airfield, all guns-blazing and laughing our asses off. Like many such games Scavengers is better with friends, and its half-hour matches serve up these kinds of scenarios with consistency. This is not the most original or mind-blowing or perfectly tuned battle royale experience out there. But it is a hell of a lot of fun.