Ubisoft on Thursday unveiled Hyper Scape, an all-new free-to-play battle royale (BR) shooter from the Montreal-based team behind Rainbow Six Siege that will attempt to carve out its own niche in the highly competitive genre.
As first confirmed by leaks earlier this week, Hyper Scape is a much more futuristic-styled BR game set in a sprawling urban city, a departure from the usual barren landscapes and apocalyptic settings used by many of its current competitors. It’s also a whole lot faster and more chaotic than what most players might be used to.
I got to play an early “technical test” version of the game on PC for about three hours last week. I was paired up in a random squad with two others, and we were allowed to queue as many times as we liked during our demo session with other reviewers, streamers, and Ubisoft players.
To get it out of the way, I will say now that Hyper Scape is very fun. The game, a first-person shooter and not a third-person one, is extremely polished and offers some genuine innovations not seen in any other BR game on the market. For instance, the final circle of any game transitions from a kill-or-be-killed contest into a game of capture the flag, where teams try to either outgun their opponents or hold onto the coveted crown for 45 seconds.
The big question, however, will be whether this falls victim to the gaming community’s growing BR fatigue. Amazon Game Studios’ hero shooter Crucible, which had its own BR mode, fell flat a month after launch, but Ubisoft is much more established and has a far better track record. Still, Hyper Scape will have to prove, when it launches later this year, that it’s unique enough and more fun than what’s out there today to pull away players that have sunk hundreds of hours into titles like Apex Legends and Fortnite.
Another complicating factor is Ubisoft’s current reckoning with complaints of sexual harassment perpetrated by high-ranking executives. The company has promised to address the issues and completely overhaul its internal culture, but it makes this an especially fraught time for the publisher to be launching a brand-new property.
Unlike most battle royales, this one actually has a semblance of a story. Set in the far future, the fictional technology company Prisma Dimensions oversees a realistic, metaverse-style virtual world akin to the OASIS in Ready Player One. It’s called the Hyper Scape, and it features a competitive sport called Crown Rush, where players materialize in cyberspace and battle one another for a chance at victory. (Ubisoft even published a nice fake website for Prisma DImensions after the game leaked earlier this week.) It’s not exactly top-tier narrative worldbuilding, but at least it’s something.
I know what you may be thinking: “Please no, not another battle royale.” That’s entirely fair. Over the last three years, the industry has thrown mountains of money and teams of game designers toward making last-person-standing video games, leaving behind a graveyard of failed early access indie projects and half-hearted cash grabs from major studios. Ubisoft says it’s been building this game for about two years now, suggesting Fortnite’s early success was the impetus.
Today, some BR games are giant, lucrative, and legitimately fun experiences, like Call of Duty: Warzone, while others are quiet, popular, and laser-focused on the fundamentals like Respawn’s Apex Legends and PUBG Mobile. Fortnite, largely responsible for kicking off the battle royale trend alongside the PC version of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, is still experimenting and expanding with what kind of game it can actually become.
And now there’s Ubisoft’s Hyper Scape. It has all the expected elements; that includes a shrinking circle to contain combat in tighter quarters and lobbies of up to 100 players all vying for a coveted first place finish. But I do think Ubisoft has come up with some truly exciting innovations here that set Hyper Scape apart, and I’m fairly confident the game will find an audience, if not pull away some fans of the more frenetic BR titles like Apex Legends and Warzone.
The game’s biggest strengths are in its unique combat pacing and in-game abilities, as well as the changes to the BR formula Ubisoft delivers. Unlike most battle royales and hero shooters, there are no weapon rarity or mod systems, no unique hero abilities or ultimate attacks, and no consumable health items or armor.
Instead, every player in Hyper Scape can use any weapon and upgrade it to its max potential by finding other versions out in the world. With the tap of a button, you can then combine the two to create a more powerful gun. The same is true of abilities: instead of relying on specific character traits, anyone can find these abilities as loot and equip up to two at a time. Those include a healing ability, one that lets you pull up a wall of cover, and one that encases your character in a protective orb that lets you bounce away to safety.
These abilities are hugely important because, like the quantity and use time of healing items in games like Apex Legends and Warzone, they dictate how easy it is to recover and reengage with an opponent and how long these fights can last as a result. In Hyper Scape, you can engage in multiteam fights that last for huge swaths of the entire match through a mix of sheer luck, smart ability use, and switching between hiding in buildings and maneuvering around rooftops. It’s easy to duck inside a building, pull up a wall for cover, and drop a healing well on the ground to recover. It’s also easy to find yourself battling as many as six to nine other people out of nowhere, creating a sense of total chaos at any moment.
What helps rein in the messiness of these fights is an extreme level of mobility. In Hyper Scape, there’s no fall damage, and every rooftop is traversable. You also have a fast slide and double jump at your disposable so you maneuver in the air or whiz around inside buildings at blinding speed. There are circles of light on nearly every street corner or large open area that launch you high into the air to help you move you from the ground to the rooftops with ease.
The result of all of these combining systems is a kind of BR combat unlike anything I’ve played before. It has the drawn-out, ability-focused feel of a match of Overwatch with the speed and just unadulterated zaniness of the best of Apex Legends and Warzone fights. On top of that, you’re spending half the match literally flying through the air. It’s exhilarating to play in ways few BR games can still achieve today and I suspect it will feel novel to a lot of players used to something slower.
As for the changes to the BR format, Hyper Scape brings some interesting ideas to the table. When you die, you’re not knocked out. There’s no downing and reviving systems. Instead, you become a kind of specter of the battlefield. You can move around and observe what’s happening just as if you were alive, but only your teammates can see you and you cannot fire a weapon.
Your goal, in that state, is to scout for your currently alive teammates and to find a respawn point you can use. Those points are randomly placed throughout the map or at the bodies of perished opponents. Once there, you can queue up for a respawn, but your teammate must come activate the process, risking their own life in the process. This seems designed to keep players active in matches even when they might lose their first or second fight early on.
As the circle closes in, players don’t experience a storm or poison gas as you might expect. Instead, the world starts to become transparent. Buildings become see-through until you can actually run through the walls and, eventually, you will start taking damage over time. The benefit there is that it’s easy to get back into the safe zone without having to deal with obstructing objects, but the downside is that it’s also easy to see opponents and for them to see you as you’re rushing to get inside.
When the final circle closes, the game transforms into a capture the flag contest, with the titular item in Crown Rush descending from the sky and showing up on the map. If you hold it for 45 seconds you win, but every other team can see where you are on the map. In my experience playing this portion of a match, Hyper Scape becomes almost a different game and involves a high level of strategy to succeed.
Ubisoft has some interesting streaming ideas planned for Hyper Scape, too. The developer is working on a Twitch integration that will let viewers decide random map events, like low gravity and unlimited ammo, that occur for short periods of time. The same integration will also let streamers instantly queue up for matches with viewers at the press of a button.
It’s clear from playing the game even just for a few hours that a whole lot of thought and effort has gone into making Hyper Scape much more than a late-in-the-game attempt to cash in on a trend. The biggest sign of its success will be how fast it grows; Apex Legends is clearly Ubisoft’s primary competitor here, and that game grew to tens of millions of players after a single week. Ubisoft is smartly focusing not just on the PC market, but the console one as well.
So the ingredients are there — it all depends on whether players are willing to give yet another free-to-play game an ever-diminishing amount of their attention. But right now, it seems like Hyper Scape is worth it.
Update July 2nd, 2:52PM ET: Clarified that Ubisoft Montreal is the primary developer on Hyper Scape, and not Sweden-based Massive Entertainment, the Ubisoft studio responsibe for The Division.