Understanding ‘SCUM’: A Survivor’s Log

Jordan Oloman
Games PC Gaming
Games PC Gaming

Have you played SCUM? A game cut from the same ragged cloth as Rust, DayZ and Conan Exiles, it’s a survival title in Early Access that is rough around the edges but hiding the same elusive charm that the genre survives on, offering absurd PVP situations and in SCUM’s case, an extremely comprehensive simulation of the human body, covering everything from your teeth to your bowels.

I waded into its grim world of dystopian reality television in an attempt to understand its popularity and see whether SCUM is just another flash in the pan, or something that can actually go the distance. At the very least, it’ll be a bit of fun….right?

Day 1: Animal Husbandry

I start my adventures in SCUM by designing my convict, something the game forces you to do every time you join a server.

A lot of the character builder is locked off and seemingly in development at the moment, so I just stick all of my points arbitrarily into Endurance, Survival and… Sniping. Just in case. Upon spawning, I follow the advice of a Steam guide which tells me to take off my clothes and cut them into rags in order to immediately create more equipment.

Despite pondering whether this is some kind of sick joke, I follow through and have at my prison garb with my stone knife, before having to come to terms with the fact that everything I own is now lying on the floor around me.

I craft a paltry backpack and a throwing spear.

The way inventory is stored in SCUM has a lot to do with what you’re wearing, which meant that whilst I did have a backpack with my kit in it, I couldn’t carry anything else until I found some more clothes which have pockets… and it’s bloody cold.

Alas, I hoist the spear on my back and explore. Later, I come across a singular barn, and for my effort I find a balaclava and a fanny pack, my first pieces of loot and two essential parts of my makeshift, naked burglar cosplay. I can now stuff things into my waist bag that may be of use later, like some questionable-looking almonds I find on the floor of a shed.

Life throws another haymaker at me when I start to suffer from exhaustion, and soon have to force my near-naked body into a stream to drink the dirty water God gave us. Don’t say SCUM isn’t realistic though, because seconds later I was squatting behind a tree sh**ting on the ground courtesy of the handy TAB menu.

Yes, a core part of survival in SCUM is controlling your digestive system. You have to make sure you’re taking a dump and emptying your bladder when you need to. It’s grim and at times tough to watch, but it means that you could genuinely get caught with your pants down by some pesky raider if you’re not careful.

Still, careful is my middle name, so I soldier on to a set of houses — my first main looting spot. I find a cabin with your stock survival game resources like wood and rags and pieces of metal, but it still amounts to nothing I can really do anything with.

Out of earshot, I hear some groaning and my first enemy appears in the form of a puppet, which, as per the game’s lore, are not quite zombies, but almost reanimated corpses repurposed from the dead bodies of those who failed in the reality show. Grim, eh?

I open the door to face a strange threat and ready my spear… before proceeding to completely miss the puppet. Panicking, I naturally resort to my dukes and punch it. The targeting system is very responsive, letting me angle my attacks to focus on different parts of the body.

If I was really hurt I could knock the zombie over with a punch to the head and make a bid for freedom, instead of being forced to finish it off. Luckily for me though just as I think of running, I peek into the house across the road and find a shovel, which I hurriedly use to cave its head in.

Startled by the ordeal and afraid of what’s yet to come, I grow clumsy with SCUM‘s complex control system and unwillingly carve its body into pieces with my stone knife. Sorry dude.

The sounds of crunching viscera fill my ears and I turn around, now wearing my victim’s clothes. His green tracksuit keeps me warm and most importantly, allows me to carry around his limbs, which will serve as my supper…well, when I figure out how to make a fire.

So far, it looks there is no stone left unturned in SCUM as far as the complex systems go. I wonder if this approach to breaking everything down into core resources is actually a hindrance. Yes, everything is simulated. Yes, that’s impressive on paper, but is any fun when it’s all busy work just to stay alive?

Feeling fresh, I walk out of the door and look up at the moon, but before I can take stock I hear a new, even more offensive noise. Before I know it, I’m laid out on my back in the middle of the road, and there’s a throbbing red notifier on my thigh in the game’s full body U.I element.

I shift the camera to get a good look at my attacker. It’s a four-legged animal. Speeding off into the distance is… a goat, of all things. The master of my undoing is not a player with a backpack full of high-level weapons. It’s a goat.

I check my vitals. It looks like somehow, when the crazed goat attacked, I lost some of my teeth. We’re not talking a few well-hidden wisdom gnashers either — any more and I would actually have to find a means of liquefying my food or face starvation. Luckily then, I don’t last that long.

I limp into the distance and my vision starts to blur. The screen goes black and white. The next thing I know, like a drunk after a night out, I’m standing in a decrepit gas station desperately shoveling almonds into my mouth.

All almonded-out, I have a poke around and manage to score a rifle. Heading outside, there’s a donkey standing in a nearby field looking forlorn. I feel like I’m in a f***king David Lynch movie.

As I watch the last of my health gauge tick down slowly, my animal instincts come out and I aim down sights at the donkey. *click*. No bullets. At the end of my tether, I chase it into the nearby town, collapsing onto the pavement. As the camera zooms out I shuffle off of this particular mortal coil and burn all of my remaining bridges with any goat I’ve ever known. Sorry Goat Simulator, there’s no longer a place for you on my hard drive.

Day 2: Metal Gear?

I decide to layer relaxing Animal Crossing music over my second attempt at SCUM. Perhaps It will numb the crushing loneliness of the exper- oh wait a minute. Here’s a message from another member of the server.

Someone is begging to be murdered. I respond and he even gives me his location. The prospect of human contact is within reach, no matter how ritual, so I start sprinting towards the runway.

A minute into my cross-country sprint I realise that I have spawned with no energy and I have nothing on my stomach. I commit suicide in an attempt to fix this, but it doesn’t change. The only thing to carry over when you die appears to be your poor health? OK then.

Born into a whole new world, I come across a settlement that looks to be previously looted, but instead of people, I soon find a… walnut, a baseball cap, some short shorts and a small toolbox. Muttering to myself, I  take these pathetic supplies, just in case any more local goats want to throw down.

Not totally unprepared, I leave the comfort of the house and head towards the seaside. It’s not long before I spot a wire fence with a guard tower and marvel at it. What could we have here? A dilapidated prison full of loot? Don’t mind if I do. Ready to become the badass I was always destined to be, when I approach the tower I start to hear something, like someone hammering metal. Another player?

I soon get my answer. As I’m climbing, a red glare fills my eyeline as what I can only describe as a budget-looking Metal Gear Ray comes into view. I hear “target engaged” as the hulking robot fills me with bullets and I dash to the nearest four walls.

Trapped inside, I play a game of cat and mouse as it circles my cabin before shooting me through the window and pinning my corpse against the wall. C’est la vie.

As well as the zombie-like puppets, the frankly evil wildlife and the cruelty of other players, SCUM also pits you against huge robots that, according to the weapon luck I’ve had so far, appear to be immortal.

Day 3: Chicken Dinner

This time I’m determined to find somebody but this now feels like something that is at odds with SCUM’s design. One of its core problems is that it has no auto-run button and you have a poor amount of stamina. Combine this with the fact that the map is 12 x 12 kilometres, and that’s a lot of time running around doing nothing.

I find a few populated settlements and pilfer them, the experience soon cementing my concerns about the looting and crafting system. You barely find anything in SCUM, and looting takes a good amount of time for little reward. I feel spoiled by Battle Royale games that cover the floor in powerful weapons you can just pick up. SCUM does do this in places, but you’re mostly waiting for a timer to tell you what’s in a crate or a microwave, and there is often no logic to what’s inside.

This is especially concerning considering that you lose everything when you die, and attempting to find your old body is really not worth the hours of aimless running. A firefight can be over in seconds, so for the amount of time you spend looting, it feels like SCUM only respects the time of the career masochist.

Crafting is a similarly thankless task. The seemingly random spread of items makes it hard to plan for anything and leaves you feeling hopeless.

You can’t craft anything better than things you can find either, meaning SCUM rewards the player who can sit and spend more than 6 hours looting a server in loneliness to later become its demigod, with no real slipstream mechanics to give new players a chance. Widespread reports of hackers on the Steam forums don’t inspire any positivity either.

In my melancholy, I find a perfectly docile chicken (the first in miles) that lets me bludgeon it to death. A drone comes over to scan me whilst I chop it up, but because of the game’s commitment to realism, I can’t fit the chicken breast in my (aesthetically capable) backpack, so I settle with the guts and skin.

In a last-ditch attempt to find a human in a full server, I run to a Deathmatch event. I can’t enter it due to the fact I lack fame points, the game’s notoriety system. You gain fame by crafting and killing, but it costs 25 FP to respawn, meaning if you die once you’re pretty much out of the running and doomed to be the grunt of the server.

I awkwardly stand on the sidelines before moving along to the runway, the violent Club Tropicana of SCUM’s map. I find a bunker with fantastic kit inside, only to walk outside and take one to the head as I’m stuck in the crafting screen, my body ragdolling into the bushes. I guess it’s fate that the only human I ever found playing SCUM didn’t actually reveal themselves. I hope the goat gets you, you coward.

I find SCUM to be an interesting game. I was kept laughing by the absurdly complex simulation of real life, but then later found myself seriously frustrated by the same systems when the veneer faded and it started disrespecting my time. It’s fun for a silly jaunt, but if you’re playing SCUM for the combat or serious survival, I feel like it suits a certain kind of player, only those that are masochistic enough to scrupulously loot its world for little reward.

Gamers looking for a deeply hardcore experience akin to Operation Flashpoint and ARMA should flock to it and help build the game up with the developers. It’s choppy, but it deserves to be smoothed out if not solely for its idiosyncratic nature.

Those looking for instantly gratifying gameplay as seen in other YouTube friendly survival titles should exercise caution and at the very least do some research so you can tread water when faced with its overwhelming, but often hilarious simulation of the human metabolism.

Jordan Oloman
Geordie Journalist & Documentarian With Bylines at IGN, Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, GamesMaster and more.