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Radical Heights: Everything You Need To Know

If you blinked, you may have missed it, but the first-person shooter genre is undergoing a transformation before our very eyes. Since 2007, FPS multiplayer games have largely been defined by the seminal Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, whose blend of fast-paced team action, persistent rewards, and customizable classes conquered the world. Then in March of 2017, a small game from a small team debutedPlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds eschewed much of the CoD style, instead focusing on survival game mechanics like scavenging and exploration. While some of this elements had been explored by other games already, PUBG's blend became a global phenomenon and catapulted the so-called battle royale genre into the stratosphere.

PUBG continues to be a sensational success, even as a new BR game, Fortnite: Battle Royale, has surpassed it to become the biggest game in the world. It's safe to say that the BR genre has a long life ahead of it, and we can all expect a horde of BR games to drop from the sky soon.

And indeed, one new entrant in this budding genre has already arrived: Radical Heights from developer Boss Key Productions. What is Radical Heights, where did it come from, and why is it any different from the others? Turns out, despite its early access state, the game already has a long history behind it, and a lot of weight on its young shoulders. Here's everything you need to know about the new contender.

CliffyB returns

Cliff Bleszinski knows a thing or two about designing games. He joined Epic Games in 1992, going on to design games like Jazz Jackrabbit, Unreal, and the Gears of War series. His relaxed swagger made him something of a celebrity in gamer circles, especially once Gears of War became a defining franchise of the 2000s. His penchant for tight controls, inventive weapons, and exaggerated masculinity have inspired other games throughout the industry. He's a legend in his own right.

But he left Epic in 2012, first thinking that he would retire altogether, but then deciding to set up his own studio instead, Boss Key Productions. The gaming world was ecstatic: the man who brought us chainsaw-guns was back to doing what he did best (namely, bringing us chainsaw-guns). Surely, amazing games would be just around the corner.

And there indeed has been a game: LawBreakers, released in August of 2017. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the sensation that Gears of War was. It released to decent but not exceptional reviews, while its playerbase dwindled so quickly that by April of 2018, Boss Key was forced to cancel all future development on the title. Oof.

They did say, however, that they were working on a new "passion project." Guess what that could be?

They slapped Radical Heights together in five months

LawBreakers lost its audience astonishingly fast. While that's bad news for CliffyB and Boss Key, it also left no doubt in their minds that they were going to have to come up with a new game sooner than later. And so just a few months after LawBreakers released, work began on a new title, called Radical Heights. Star to finish – or, actually, start to early access — only took five months, which is beyond quick. Very likely, Boss Key salvaged a lot of the codework they did on LawBreakers and repurposed it for Radical Heights, which means that the new game is effectively a giant mod of the old one.

Still, it looks and feels quite a bit different. For one thing, the perspective has changed from first- to third-person. For another, the realistic graphics of LawBreakers have been replaced by the cartooniness of the 1980s-inspired Radical Heights look. In a company statement, Creative Director Zach Lowery described it as a "passion project," and that shines through in the upbeat and vibrant atmosphere dripping out of every corner of the game.

It's in very (very, very) early access

That said, the hairpin turnaround shows in some bad ways, too. It's not just that the game is buggy or missing a few items: as of this writing, Radical Heights is still missing huge segments of the actual map. Meanwhile, the guns don't have much in the way of recoil or feel of any kind, and texture pop-in is more of a way of life than a mere glitch. Boss Key has tried to spin this as "X-Treme Early Access," as opposed to normal early access, because anything X-Treme must be cool, right?

The fact is, in the modern era, early access releases are becoming increasingly common. They can generate interest without a big marketing spend. If people pick up your game during development, like it, and share it with their friends, then you'll have an audience waiting for you on the official release date — or so the theory goes. It's worked for some games, not the least of which being PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Of course, infamously, many games never come out of early access at all.

But Radical Heights has now pushed the early access concept to its limit, effectively releasing the game the instant it was remotely playable. Whether they've taken the idea too far, or are taking the right risk at the right time, remains to be seen. But it does seem like a desperation move on the part of a studio fast running out of cash.

It's the second time in a row Boss Key has chased after success

LawBreakers is a first-person shooter game built around team compositions: players must pick from a broad lineup of distinct heroes that complement their teammates against their rivals. Sound familiar? This hero shooter format was first popularized by Valve Software's Team Fortress 2, but has recently rocketed to top popularity with Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch. LawBreakers was seen as a follow-on product, attempting to ride Overwatch's wake. It didn't, and instead just sank.

So did Boss Key decide to innovate and make a bold new kind of game, rather than copying a new, successful title? No! Radical Heights is a battle royale game, full stop. While it does have a few tweaks that distinguish it from its competitors (which we'll get to below), at the end of the day, it's trying to ride the same wave as PUBG and Fortnite.

After the commercial failure of LawBreakers, it's not necessarily wrong to play it safe, and join a popular genre. But recall that Bleszinski worked at Epic for 20 years, and now, suddenly Epic is the force behind the biggest game in the world. That does feel like Bleszinski might be a little jealous of his former employer, and is copying the guys he left in the first place. But then again, everyone is thinking about making a BR game nowadays, so Bleszinski isn't exactly alone.

It's already doing better than LawBreakers — just

There are lots of ways to measure success, but one stalwart metric is to count the number of concurrent users — that is, the number of players who are logged into the same game simultaneously. For poor LawBreakers, which never reached the success it wanted, its highest concurrent player count ever was around 7,500. By comparison, PUBG now regularly pulls in around 2 million.

So when Boss Key released Radical Heights for the low, low price of free, people expected it to perform better than the paid flop that LawBreakers was. And indeed, it did! Barely. 

On its first day of release, with buzz around it spiking because of its surprise reveal on the same day, Radical Heights only managed to snag around 8,500 players at once. Over the following days, its peak concurrent player count rose to about 12,000. As of this writing, it has yet to beat that number again.

This glass can be viewed as half-empty or half-full. From the empty perspective, these are paltry numbers in a hot genre, only barely exceeding the game that nearly tanked the studio. From the full perspective, most early access games aren't smash hits from the get-go, so the fact that it's getting better numbers than LawBreakers could be seen as a good start to a long uphill climb.

It has an in-game economy

Radical Heights is a battle royale game — unabashedly so. There are 100 players in a match, you drop from the sky, you gather weapons from across the shrinking map, and whoever's left alive at the end wins. Simple enough, right? But the current kings of the genre, Fortnite and PUBG, already do all that. They're polished, refined, and have massive playerbases. What does Radical Heights have that they don't?

Aside from its wildly joyful 1980s vibe, Radical Heights introduces the notion of an in-game economy. This is not to be confused with the standard microtransaction practice, in which players can earn points each match to spend on virtual items and clothes. No, this is an economic system within the match itself, in which players can find bundles of cash to spend at vending machines. What kind of vending machines, you ask? Soda? Candy? No: guns. Obviously. Welcome to Radical Heights!

This provides Boss Key with an interesting way to balance out the luck factor in finding the best weapons. In Fortnite, say, one player might happen upon a trove of great weapons as soon as he or she drops in, giving that player an enormous advantage from the get-go. The in-game economy of Radical Heights would allow less-lucky players to purchase better guns, hopefully pushing the game to reward skill more than chance.

It's not exactly going over well

All the elements are in place for Radical Heights to be a mega-smash success: CliffyB, one of the most legendary shooter designers of all time. The battle royale genre, the hottest ticket in the entire gaming industry right now. Free, literally the favorite price point of every single consumer.  But even still, so far indicators aren't looking so rosy.

For the most part, opinions on Radical Heights have been fairly negative. ArsTechnica called it "a new low for cashing in." Forbes called it "half-baked." These are probably not phrases that Boss Key was hoping for. In general, journalists have found that Radical Heights isn't doing enough to distinguish itself from other battle royale games, and it seems more like a desperate ploy to jump on a train that's currently leaving the station.

For early access games, word of mouth is essential. The whole point of an early release is to build buzz throughout the community, until hopefully a point is reached when so many people are playing, the game is already a hit on the day of its release. PUBG itself followed this exact model, and Fortnite still hasn't even officially released yet! So if these first impressions take root, Radical Heights will be in serious trouble down the road.

It's got potential...if it can survive

And yet, hope remains! While outlets like Forbes trashed the game, outlets like ... well, like Forbes loved it. True to the developers' pedigree, the core shooting mechanics are tight and responsive. The wacky '80s vibe is colorful and fun. There are still only two major battle royale games (not counting older fare like H1Z1), so there may yet be room for a third, particularly given how many people are playing in that space right now. And let's not forget, PUBG only released in early access to the world at the start of 2017. The battle royale phenomenon is so new, it could still turn in any direction. Might it turn Radical Heights' way?

It could. Concurrent player counts can grow over time. If Boss Key can take player feedback and respond to it quickly, the game might dramatically improve over a matter of weeks. And keep in mind: Fortnite and PUBG are two of the most popular games on the planet right now. If RH can capture even half, or even a quarter, of that momentum, it will be a huge success by conventional standards.

So can Radical Heights succeed? Of course. Even the studio's backstory itself — a great development team down on their luck, trying to stage a comeback — might help elevate the game's attention and potential. In the end, the game's fate is up to you, the player. Give it a spin. Maybe you'll like it. Worst case, all you spent for it was nothing.