The battle royale arena has become packed with contenders, all chasing the profits and acclaim behind high-profile genre successes such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite Battle Royale and Apex Legends. Even some blockbuster video games from triple-A publishers have tried to get in on the battle royale craze with mixed success, with examples including EA’s Firestorm Mode in Battlefield V, Activision’s free-to-play Call of Duty offshoot, Warzone, and Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter mode in Fallout 76. Formerly conspicuous in their absence among triple-A publishers dipping their toes into the battle royale pool however was Ubisoft, who, as it turns out, were biding their time, quietly producing their own all-new battle royale IP. That IP is Hyper Scape, and it’s about to have Ubisoft finally tossing their hat in the ring within one of the most wildly popular subgenres of video games over the past several years.

However, there’s also no denying that Ubisoft is very late to the battle royale party, albeit fashionably so. This makes the weight of expectation surrounding Hyper Scape feel extra heavy, having to throw in with firmly-staked territory that Fortnite in particular has largely dominated since its inception. This is why it makes sense that Hyper Scape seems like it’s more interested in competing with Apex Legends than Fortnite, presenting its own spin on a very fast-paced, squad-heavy battle royale experience, albeit without the hero shooter element that sets Apex Legends apart. Ubisoft is pulling out all the stops for this project too, seeing as it comes from one of their best studios, Ubisoft Montreal, who are best known for originating the Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs franchises, as well as handling Ubisoft’s Far Cry sequels. The high degree of polish throughout my time with Hyper Scape was very noticeable as well, sporting an uninterrupted 60fps framerate that combines effortlessly with striking visual fidelity.

So, what’s the story behind the world of Hyper Scape, you may ask? Well, it’s 2054, and, big surprise, the future sucks. It’s practically a rule for video game futures at this point. To cope with the fact that the future sucks in the Hyper Scape universe, a mega-corporation called Prisma Dimensions has designed a sweeping virtual world, not unlike the one from 2018’s well-known Spielberg movie, Ready Player One. This virtual world happens to be home to a new sport called, “Crown Rush”, one that takes advantage of the exaggerated physics and consequence-free combat throughout this virtual landscape. It’s this sport that serves as the backdrop of Hyper Scape’s battle royale combat, held within a highly detailed virtual city environment called, “Neo Arcadia.” No, not the dystopian enemy stronghold from Mega Man Zero. This is a different Neo Arcadia.

Thus, players take control of virtual avatars, which presented a limited degree of visual customization in my demo, but did have the decency to offer all manner of races and genders. Each avatar has a few canned phrases, some being generic, and some being unique, though you won’t dwell on this much, since, chances are, you’ll be paying a lot more attention to the actual players controlling your squadmates. Hyper Scape’s core gameplay divides players into various three-person squads, all of whom must co-ordinate and work together to maintain an edge against their many opponents. While the demo’s player pool was predictably limited to fellow critics and journalists, as well as Ubisoft employees, I was usually able to experience play with around 21 to 24 players per match, with a maximum roster of 99 players per match promised for the final release, potentially totaling 33 squads in a play session. That’s a pretty standard player cap for most high-profile battle royale games, but the wrinkle of three-person squads in Hyper Scape’s core gameplay means that voice chat is a must for ideal results!

Unfortunately, in-game voice chat was disabled for my play session, though I was at least able to sample team chat with a couple of other influencers, thanks to Discord. This was no doubt to help keep chatter clean and un-intrusive, while preventing us early players from constantly having to give away our positions and strategies during vocal coordination with teammates. Obviously, the final release build of Hyper Scape will support in-game voice chat, and like I said, it’s practically mandatory that you utilize it while playing with a reliable duo of friends! Thankfully, my Discord allies proved quite competent and helpful, and that’s good, since you’ll quickly find yourself at a severe disadvantage without quick-thinking, steady team tactics. Hyper Scape does allow you to set waypoints for your allies to follow, and it allows you to use manual character phrases in lieu of voice chat, but these alone are inadequate replacements for actually being able to talk to your squadmates, especially considering how quickly you and your fellow players can be wiped out if enemies get the drop on you!

One thing that’s immediately very enjoyable about Hyper Scape is its ease of movement, especially in its PC build. I primarily sampled the PC version of Hyper Scape with an Xbox One controller, but I also tried several matches with a mouse and keyboard, and both methods are sharp, speedy and intuitive. You can easily climb around ledges and outcroppings by simply tapping the jump button, plus there’s plenty of gravity launchers and other movement-based tools that help you quickly and efficiently navigate Neo Arcadia’s many detailed nooks and crannies, often with impressive verticality in particular. The fact that the game’s framerate never once dipped below 60fps, no matter how chaotic gun fights got, is also very impressive, especially when this performance held steady on even a mid-range computer! Some of the best ways to get the most out of Hyper Scape’s slick movement also come via ‘Hacks’, which can help give players decisive advantages when your selection of guns just doesn’t cut it on their own.

Some of these Hacks have predictable functions, such as turning you invisible, or setting down a healing field for you and your teammates. Others however are more eccentric, and deftly take advantage of Hyper Scape’s high emphasis on agile, almost manic movement. One of these special Hacks, for example, puts up a gigantic wall, Fortnite-style, forcing you to quickly navigate around the surrounding environment, in order to keep attacking enemy players. Another especially memorable Hack involves turning its user into a giant ball, allowing you to quickly bounce around the entirety of Neo Arcadia, conveniently protected from enemy fire to some degree, until you’re eventually forced out to engage opponents. The Ball Hack is intentionally unwieldy, and heavily favours height and momentum over precision, but it is a great way to quickly rejoin allies if you’re separated from your squad, while also doubling as an easy way to beat a hasty retreat, should you become overwhelmed by enemy players.

The Hacks and their many applications blend very well with the need to keep moving and stay vigilant in Hyper Scape, especially when various sectors of Neo Arcadia will disintegrate into raw polygons at certain intervals during each match. At this point, players need to rush out of these sectors, lest they be damaged and eventually killed, if they fail to hoof it out in time. This is an interesting and effective new spin on the usual ‘shrinking battlefield’ trope of battle royale games, with any sector of Neo Arcadia potentially disintegrating at any moment. This can create an intense risk/reward system if you’re engaging enemies within a sector that’s about to disintegrate, or potentially need to run and grab some ammo, Hacks or whatever else, before the clock on that disappearing sector runs out. Fortunately, a timer does appear at the top of the screen, should you be in a disintegrating sector, so you’ll know exactly how much time you have left, before you’re trapped in a damaging hell of broken polygons.

Disintegrating sectors aren’t the only way that Neo Arcadia keeps players on their toes either! All throughout each match, an overseeing ‘host’ A.I. will occasionally introduce modifiers to gameplay, which create temporary special conditions for all players. These can sometimes be beneficial, such as giving weapons infinite ammo, but as often as not, they can also put players on their back feet by creating difficult environmental conditions. These can include severely decreasing the gravity, suddenly turning Hyper Scape’s brilliant emphasis on movement and verticality against every player, or quickly revealing the location of every player on the map, potentially smoking you and your allies out of a tactical vantage point. During my demo session, these unpredictable conditions were completely out of my control, but another key innovation behind Hyper Scape, one that could provide a genuine game-changer for streaming and eSports in fact, is the idea that players in your audience could potentially vote on deliberately creating these conditions in your matches!

This feature is being implemented via a partnership with Twitch, and it’s how Hyper Scape aims to change the competitive, free-to-play multiplayer arena, specifically by utilizing a Twitch plugin that can allow spectators to vote on temporary battlefield conditions, among other things. This Twitch extension aims to create a more interactive experience for passive viewers, bringing them directly into the competition, which could be a big deal for streamers that are looking to better engage with their audiences. Mind you, Ubisoft still seems to be ironing out this feature, and while it was mentioned as being on the way, the specifics behind it are being withheld for a later date. Still, it does appear that Hyper Scape’s Battle Pass can interact with this Twitch extension in some way, and that Twitch stream viewers can spend ‘Bits’, a kind of dedicated currency on Twitch (if you weren’t aware), to create other unique interactions with streamers during their matches. Being a Twitch streamer myself, it’s a shame that I couldn’t put this to the test with my own audience, but I can definitely say that I find the prospect very intriguing, and look forward to seeing where it may go, once Hyper Scape properly releases to the public.

Of course, none of this flash and advanced interaction matters if Hyper Scape doesn’t offer fun, intense combat. Thankfully, it does… If you’re playing with a competent group of friends. As I mentioned, Hyper Scape is very difficult to play effectively without constant live communication with your squadmates, and the second that my Discord allies had to temporarily bow out of matches, my play performance practically dove off a cliff. This is because Hyper Scape’s combat is all about precision, and that’s evident in its rather perfunctory pool of weapons, which include your expected mainstays; A pistol, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and an assault rifle. There’s also an explosive weapon, but this weapon has particularly limited ammunition and accuracy, and I never found a practical use for it during the demo session.

In fact, many of the weapons in Hyper Scape require a lot of sustained hits to do any serious damage to your opponents. Granted, they’ll no doubt be re-balanced before the final build of Hyper Scape becomes publicly available later this year (and no doubt in consistent patches afterward), but even a head shot with a sniper rifle only takes enemy players down to half their health! I, personally found that the assault rifle was the only way that I could reliably kill opponents, rather than just wound them. Hyper Scape’s speedy movement makes the shotgun and explosive weapon hard to use efficiently. Likewise, the pistol just isn’t fast enough to adequately damage opponents, especially when your health regenerates on its own, and regenerates especially quickly in a healing field. Players are also armed with a baton by default, but it’s practically useless against any player that’s not also wielding the same basic baton. The weapons are at least intuitive and easy to use, especially with a mouse, but the fact that they often feel so weak is a bit troublesome. This is no doubt meant to encourage players to utilize Hacks and the environment in order to consistently get the drop on enemies, rather than simply relying on good old firefights, but the TTK in Hyper Scape feels astonishingly high in the preview build, considering how slick and speedy the rest of the gameplay is.

Fortunately, unlike competing battle royale games, being killed doesn’t mark the end of the match for you, at least not on its own. Granted, if all three of your squad members are killed, it is indeed Game Over, and you’ll find yourself being met with your rank, before you and your battle party are returned to the waiting area, or you’re placed in a new battle party, if you aren’t playing with people on your friends list. As long as at least one of your squadmates lives however, players can keep participating in the game as an ‘Echo’, a disembodied shade of their avatar, which can freely move around Neo Arcadia. As an Echo, you can tip off your allies to enemy players, weapons, Hacks, and anything else lying around the battlefield (another reason why voice chat is paramount in Hyper Scape!), as well as potentially serving as a quick distraction for opponents, if they don’t notice your translucent appearance before your living allies can ambush them. This is a very cool feature, and a great way to separate Hyper Scape from the competition! Don’t fret about being reduced to this passive role either. If an enemy player is killed, they’ll drop a ‘Restore Point’, which Echoes can stand on, allowing them to be returned to life by a living ally with a few seconds of consistent healing, albeit without the weapons and Hacks that the Echo player had before they were previously killed.

Failing at combat and squad coordination can be very punishing in Hyper Scape, sometimes too punishing. Fortunately, the ability to keep participating in matches even after death, so long as your entire squad isn’t killed, helps to keep players in the game, while allowing them to continue assisting their allies, without surviving players’ advantages quickly falling away. To be fair as well, combat isn’t the be all and end all of Hyper Scape’s core Crown Rush gameplay. Granted, it is possible to win a match by simply eliminating every enemy player, but the main objective of surviving Neo Arcadia’s treacherous topography, and its many would-be conquerers, is the crown that appears after every disintegrating sector has broken away.

Herein lies the true intensity behind Hyper Scape– The quest for this quite literal crown of champions! At this point, even my squadmates dropped everything in favour of charging to the crown, with players violently converging on this cheesy, yet undeniably sacred target goal. Should a player manage to hang on to the crown for 45 seconds without being killed, they and their squad will automatically win the match. The trade-off however is that any player with the crown is permanently exposed on other players’ maps, so it will be impossible to hide from opponents! If your entire squad isn’t alive, surviving with the crown is a truly herculean task, which is all the more reason why it’s ideal to look after your allies, and stay in constant communication with them. I only once had the pleasure of touching the crown, and was quickly killed for it, though I did manage to hold off most opponents while they targeted one of my squadmates, and we very narrowly won that particular match, were it not for an ambush that my steadfast ally ran into in the building behind me!

As a fast-paced, highly engaging gauntlet of survival, Hyper Scape is exceptionally refined, and genuinely fun to play, regardless of your previous experience with the battle royale genre. Since all players start out practically unarmed, with the ability to drop from a series of airborne pods at a location of their choosing upon the start of every match, all players start out on equal footing, having to rely on quickly securing ammo, Hacks and advantageous positions with their allies in order to survive their opponents. The slick, highly strategic gameplay can be incredibly exhilarating, though this is very dependent on who you’re playing with, whether you’re actively chatting with them, and whether the surprise play conditions work out in your favour. The weapons feel a lot less exciting than the Hacks, especially when they’re disappointingly weak and generic, but seeing as Hyper Scape is bound to adopt a live service model, there’s always the possibility that new weapons, Hacks and play variants could be added in the months after release.

It’s also appreciated that Hyper Scape is free-to-play, not demanding you buy an expensive triple-A game to access it as a secondary mode, nor that you pay an upfront fee like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds still inexplicably expects you to do. Hyper Scape doesn’t seem to demand a beefy gaming PC to effectively run at a crucial 60fps clip either. The game is targeting current-gen consoles at some point, but its flagship platform is definitely the PC, where it can best take advantage of its play speed, along with its flexible, audience-friendly gameplay. Whether Hyper Scape can find a niche amid the crowded, highly competitive battle royale space remains to be seen, but so far, the game does appear to be shaping up pretty well. It favours strategy over raw aggression for sure, but with the right squad, Hyper Scape is nonetheless a lot of fun! I imagine it will fit comfortably alongside Apex Legends as a solid free-to-play battle royale option for those who don’t care for Fortnite, and that’s certainly fine. I just hope that Hyper Scape isn’t too late to the battle royale party. There’s definitely a promising multiplayer foundation here, especially if its engagement ideas successfully revolutionize the potential of social streaming and eSports.

 

Hyper Scape will release in 2020 for PC via uPlay, followed by PS4 and Xbox One.

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