After the gigantic, world-spanning, landmark release of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, a tide of developers and publishers were quick to flock to the latest and greatest of gaming trends, the battle royale, to get their slice of the cake. While that kind of thinking doesn't always bear fruit, a number of follow-up success stories have emerged, and these are still on-going and successful today, from Apex Legends to Call of Duty: Warzone, from Fortnite to Fall Guys.
However, as stated above, it's not always strategically sound to headlessly follow a trend created by others, and on the other hand, we have witnessed some prolific and outright embarrassing failures, like The Culling 2, Radical Heights, H1Z1, and even Firestorm in Battlefield V to some extent.
So now that the market seems filled to the brim with worthwhile battle royale experiences, Ubisoft has arrived with Hyper Scape, and the publisher is, of course, hoping, like Apex and Warzone, that there's just enough room for another major hit filled with updates, microtransactions, and one season pass after another. The question is, then: is Hyper Scape good enough to stand with the rest of the successes? Let's find out.
At first glance, Hyper Scape seems to do just the thing that I've come to expect from BR success stories, which is a relatively new spin on a very well-worn and well-known formula. Yes, in Hyper Scape you are thrown into an open-world arena with little to fight with, and then you and your team are gradually funnelled into an increasingly smaller part of that world in order to encourage conflict so that only one victor ultimately remains, but it's the mobility and verticality that separates this particular version of that expected structure from its peers.
The Hyper Scape is, in the game's universe, the next version of the Internet, or Internet 2.0 if you will. The human race has been relegated to living in toxic urban slums, suppressed and confined to Mega Cities in the year 2054, and the only way to escape the grey void is through Prisma Technologies' remarkable invention, the Hyper Scape, which presents itself a digital city, Neo Arcadia.
Or... well, why am I even summarising this? It's just Ready Player One. Just imagine a pretty direct, and pretty shameless, copy of Ernest Kline's iconic science fiction novel, and you're there. When that's said though, it's pretty clear that Hyper Scape insists on having a bit more to say than most of the competing games in the genre. It would also seem that Ubisoft, going forward, will expand on this intriguing premise through events and storytelling expansions, which does sound interesting. At least you have to give it to Ubisoft; they haven't settled for the Apex/Overwatch premise of introducing heroes to the fight because, well, reasons. So like another Wade Owen Watts you log into the Hyper Scape to escape your meaningless existence, and here the primary pastime is Crown Rush, where 100 players fight for control of the crown in the digital city of Neo Arcadia. So far, so good.
However, it's not perfect, far from it, so let's start with the stuff that is good. Hyper Scape bets on verticality above everything else. Neo Arcadia does consist of sparkling, almost Parisian streets, which, when viewed from above, do appear rather beautiful and exciting to explore, but it quickly becomes clear that it is on the rooftops where it all goes down, like islands in a deadly game of platforming.
So let's dwell on Neo Arcadia for a bit. Again, the city is beautiful, and the various areas are clearly marked when you drop in from the digital stratosphere, and it's here you'll improve your gear and abilities. In broad strokes, the visual concept of fighting in the streets of a major European capital is a good one, and it is one of the finer examples of an excitingly crafted arena. Like many others in the genre though, the visuals and structure get a lot more generic when exploration, loot collection and ultimately conflict is done inside rather than out. Apart from those distinct high-risk areas mentioned previously, there's practically only one type of building in the game, consisting of the same non-decorated rooms. Even worse is the fact that merely a tenth (or perhaps even less than that) of the buildings in Neo Arcadia have explorable interiors at all, and you are then forced to look for the distinctive orange barriers that cover the doors and windows of the buildings that do have loot inside. It removes a big part of the excitement of loot collection and exploration when the buildings themselves are rather half-heartedly implemented, and right now, they appear as nothing but distractions. At this point, Ubisoft might as well just toss out all the loot on the street, and not have interior exploration at all.
That said, most of the action in Hyper Scape does take place outside anyway, and specifically on the rooftops, and there's a lot of fun to be had here, and that fun is experienced through a mind-blowingly quick pace not seen in major competitors such as Call of Duty: Warzone, or even Apex Legends. The verticality is only increased through the double jump and the fact that you can easily scale a building quickly through well-placed awnings, small plateaus, and balconies. Changing the level of your elevation is key to success here, and even though the general controls are rather uneven, especially with a controller, it does feel like Ubisoft may be on to something here. However, the long and short of it is still that currently, Hyper Scape feels a lot worse to play than it looks. And by that, I mean both the accuracy with which you control your character, but also the fact that the game seemingly has a hard time deciding whether it wants there to be any sort of weight or gravity behind your general movement, or whether it should all be light as a feather.
The same, sadly, needs to be said about the weapons themselves. There's quite the selection, for sure, and each weapon does, in its own distinct way, feel useful for a particular situation, but there's really not enough weight or heft for them to feel effective against your opponents. Sure, bullets fly and strike your target if you're lucky, and that's regardless of whether we're talking about the minigun-inspired Hexfire, the Mammoth shotgun, or the cool Skybreaker. But it all feels a bit too light, a bit too joyless for it to feel like you're properly damaging an enemy.
And since we're talking about the weapons, the problems for Hyper Scape don't end there. In Neo Arcadia, there are no attachments, here it's all about finding the same weapon as you currently have in order to upgrade that particular weapon to the next level, thereby increasing its base stats, as well as adding attachments. If you do this enough times, well then you're pretty much invincible. First off, it's not the most exciting way to encourage people to find new gear when they need to find the same weapon four or five times, nor does this system encourage any sort of experimentation, because as soon as you've found the same weapon twice, you're kind of in it for the long run. It's neither flexible like Apex Legends, nor is it as unpredictable as Warzone. It doesn't help that visually, it's pretty bland to just have the weapons suspended in mid-air with no distinctive visual features when you pick them up. In a hurry, which you will be, it's even hard to tell them from one another, especially when you're just getting started. You know you've done goofed when a shotgun, at a quick glance, looks like an SMG.
It's pretty clear though that Hyper Scape tries to innovate, and it's when it truly embraces these innovations that the game is at its best. First off, there's the Echo system, which is a brilliant idea. You see, when you die in Hyper Scape, you get the opportunity to move around freely on the map as an Echo. You may then ping enemies to help remaining teammates, and should they manage to kill another player a respawn point will appear and you'll have a chance to be brought back into the fight. Here, you're given real purpose, even in death, and other games could learn something from this. At the same time, Hyper Scape draws inspiration from Radical Heights, because here it's not a set circle that squeezes you into specific portions of the map, but rather sectors that are being closed off constantly. This encourages more sporadic firefights in different parts of Neo Arcadia, and at the same time, the "map decay" animations are pretty slick. Points for that.
And then there are Hacks, the game's answer to Apex Legends' character abilities. Instead of being locked to one particular class, you may collect Hacks throughout the game's world, and they grant you a particular ability that you may use for as long as you hold on to it. You can have two equipped at any given time, and these can both be exchanged at your leisure, as well as improved through the same systems as with the gear. There's a pretty broad selection, and using these are vital for your chances. Some are pretty cool and effective, such as transforming yourself into a giant bouncy ball in order to escape incoming fire, and pulling your enemies towards you in brilliant Doom Eternalesque style, while others are less innovative and more the sort of thing you'd expect from a BR shooter. It's a fantastic idea though, but they feel pretty unbalanced at the time of writing. For example, there's an invisibility Hack than grants you invisibility, but there's no movement speed penalty, a short cooldown, and no way for other players to counter it. That said, there is a lot of flexibility in this system and that becomes obvious rather quickly. If the teams jousting are good enough, it looks less like a standard firefight, and more like a futuristic Harry Potter duel.
All in all, the Hacks encourage aggressive play, and so does the speed with which you move and fight, but these systems are then actively undermined. The game has, for example, automatically regenerating health, which does appear to be a rather odd addition to the overall structure, because if players want to simply withdraw from a given duel to regenerate, there's literally no strategic disadvantage to doing so. The game has no armour or shields that permanently break either, and combined with the overpowered invisibility Hack, some fights drag on for too long, as players from various teams constantly withdraw to recuperate. At the same time, the game's version of battle royale is called 'Crown Rush', and the operative word here is "Crown" because you don't actually need to be the last man standing to win, you can either eliminate all other teams, or simply grab the crown, which spawns at the very end of each match, and then protect it for 45 seconds. Numerous times during testing, teams would actively hide, saving all their upgraded Hacks, their amplified weapons for the very end, run with the crown and win without ever defeating another team. That's not battle royale now, is it?
So Hyper Scape has many problems, but most of them are actually fixable in the long run, and the potential is definitely there. In the broadest strokes, Ubisoft's take on the genre is innovative and at times even exciting, however, some of the design decisions that have been made only detract from the entertainment. Uneven controls, weird balancing issues, boring interiors, and a strange loot system holds the entire thing back. Hyper Scape is, however, free, so I'd still encourage you to try it. As for me? It's back to Apex Legends.