This past week, Cliff Bleszinski‘s company Boss Key Productions released a new game on STEAM PC Early Access and it’s already got everyone talking…maybe not in the most flattering of ways.
If you’ve never heard of Boss Key or their undeniable disappointment of a debut game, the first person competitive arena shooter title Lawbreakers, you’re not alone. The game released in 2017, bouncing out of the overfilled pool that includes juggernauts like Blizzard’s Overwatch. Within a month of Lawbreaker‘s release, there were less than 200 active players on its servers, not something a game of its ambitions can afford. You may remember Bleszinski’s work for his previous employer, Epic Games, and the Gears of War franchise. Admittedly, Lawbreakers isn’t a bad game, just one that doesn’t seem necessary or standout from its competition. The studio’s next endeavor has much to be skeptical about but is definitely getting picked apart unfairly in some cases.
The studio’s next game, Radical Heights, looks to compete against Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Epic Games’ Fortnite in a genre of video game referred to as Battle Royale. A one versus all virtual fight to the death where your avatar is dropped into the middle of an isolated battlefield and you’re forced to rummage for supplies and weapons to eliminate the other players in order to be the last person standing. Highlights from games like PUBG and Fortnite are all the rage on YouTube right now and Radical Heights is merely looking to get into the consciousness of gamers early, instead of waiting till the product is finished at risk of once again being dubbed late to the party.
Radical Heights hit STEAM Early Access after only about a five-month development time. In contrast, a typical big budget game made by a larger studio takes anywhere from 2-10 years before it hits store shelves. Early Access means the game is still in the majority of development and is worked on and improved via player feedback and testing before the official final release. Boss Key themselves have stated Radical Heights is on the “extreme end of Early Access”. It certainly shows as the game is full of bugs, disappearing equipment, and unfinished textures. That’s the fair part of the argument any defender of Radical Heights will concede. On a purely mechanical level, this game feels more like a proof of concept for a pitch meeting than something you’d want the public to have access to.
Because we’re in the age of it’s cool to hate, many pundits and journalists are already writing off Radical Heights and calling Boss Key trend chasers. We’re already seeing publications like Ars Technica lambaste Boss Key and its founder, former Epic Games creative lead Cliff “CliffyB” Bleszinski, for ‘cashing in’ on the battle royale craze. A craze typically refers to an oversaturation of something in a given market, but there are literally only two games in the battle royale trend. In what world is that crowded or trend-chasing?
I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of either Fortnite or PUBG. I can see why they have the massive fanbases that they do, but neither has ever clicked with me. Perhaps I am in the minority but not everyone has to be a fan of them. It certainly leaves room for a game to try something new in the genre. While Radical Heights isn’t reinventing the battle royale wheel it’s doing some stuff which will potentially set it apart as it progresses into full release. The retro Miami Vice 80s action movie vibe is on point. And there are bikes that you can race and do tricks on along with those mini trampolines. It’s look and feel are like setting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man in a 1980’s city. Even from the moment you fall out of the sky randomly (not from a plane or a bus) and dive straight to the ground without a parachute. It’s a superhero landing. Basically, there’s lots to show off the potential of the game.
One of the love-hate things about the game was its currency system. Doing anything in this Radical Heights nets you some kind of in-game cash reward to purchase equipment. This world also has ATMs that allow players to deposit and withdraw that currency for future matches. In one point of the map, as I took game money out of an ATM, I got jacked by another player making the game equivalent of going to a bank ATM in Compton after dark.
I can’t recall a time where I’ve disagreed with this many people in the industry talking about a game. Yes, Boss Key jumped the gun by at least a year in letting Radical Heights be played by the public this soon. However, it isn’t jumping into an oversaturated niche or simply making a clone of a more popular game to cash in on a trend.
A studio in infancy such as Boss Key isn’t supposed to survive a financial failure such as Lawbreakers, at least not without taking on work for hire gigs from other studios for years before even attempting a new intellectual property. Cliff and his team going back in on an original property is a last stand that needs to work for them. So maybe instead of sh**ting on a free to play game currently in a program designed to help games be better, we should tell it how to be the game we want. PUBG and Fortnite are good for the industry both commercially and creatively, when something like that happens it’s good for everyone. So there’s room for more.