Saturday, 5 May 2018

Fortnite: Battle Royale Review - Battle Royale with Cheese

I’m going to use the word Hobbesian for the 3rd review in a row. Which by my estimates puts me in the danger zone of looking as though I’ve learned the word from a Word of the Day calendar, and am now casually dropping it into every conversation to try and convince the girl in the office, with the huge tits and an English degree, to shag me. But if there’s anything which fits the Hobbesian definition of unrestrained brutish and selfish competition, then it’s Battle Royale games.

Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Fortnite: Battle Royale recently. I say recently, but I’ve been at it since November last year. And since these sort of games represent the foreseeable future of the games industry, I thought I should probably get round to reviewing it. So prevalent are these games, that one suspects the government are secretly testing the waters for a real The Purge.

If you’re one of those normie weirdos who has a life outside of their bedroom, and knows the touch of another human who isn’t printed onto a pillow, Battle Royale games are orgies of death. Massive All Verses All games in which you and up to 99 other players do battle until all but one are dead. As the greatest film of my generation proclaimed: there can only be one.

Battle Royale games are a modern recapturing of the spirit of the old-school Deathmatch. A kill ‘em all game mode popularised in the 90’s by First Person Shooters such as Doom, Quake, Counterstrike, and Unreal Tournament. As it was in those games, in Fortnite there’s no incessant grinding to unlock even remotely decent weapons and gear to replace your pea shooter and toilet paper armour.

In every round, all 100(ish) players start with nothing other than a pickaxe, a single life, a murder stiffy, and 60 seconds to jump out of a flying bus. Plonk yourself at a point on an island made up of abandoned remnants of civilisation, salvage whatever guns and items you can from the environment and buildings, and mercilessly kill your fellow man. It’s like a scavenger hunt organised by the NRA. And the boss of the NRA is that gun-spewing head from Zardoz.

If you think that sounds like The Hunger Games, then get out. I’m not having children here getting their sticky hands over my blog. The games are, however, inspired by Battle Royale, a Japanese book/manga/movie series The Hunger Games ripped off. Perhaps the only thing Fortnite didn't take was the social commentary. It doesn't have/need a story. But I choose to imagine UKIP have taken over and sent everyone who reads The Guardian, doesn't enjoy Jeremy Clarkson unironically, and has never used the words spaz or sambo, to fight it out on one of their death islands.

Alongside Fortnite, the other daddy of this fledgling genre is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. These two have a Thomas Edison-Nikola Tesla war of the currents deal going on. PUBG popularised the idea – though they themselves stole it from Battle Royale – whilst Fortnite lounged around picking their arse, before rushing in to steal all the credit and glory 

My first victory

I’ll confess that I’m woeful at these sort of games. I’m just not autistic or Asian enough. For example, if I land in a hot zone with everyone else (the most reliable way to secure good gear like sniper rifles), say Tilted Towers, I’m pretty much dead about ten seconds after the bullets start flying. No, despite the cartoony aesthetic, you can’t use run and gun Arnie rules here. My preferred tactic is to avoid the towns and industrial areas as my starting location, and jump out when I’m near the isolated manor houses and swamp/woods. Generally you’ll encounter one or two other players, and if you’re quick you can get to a gun before them. Otherwise you’ll be in for a tense cat and mouse exercise, like fucking Laurie Strode being hunted by Michael Myers.

Once I’ve got some half decent gear from the road (usually a good quality shotgun and assault rifle, some bandages, a shield potion or two, and maybe some grenades) I’ll hide and wait it out. Yes, the minstrels aren’t going to be singing songs about my heroic bravery anytime soon. But this is a reliable way of getting into the final 20 survivors most rounds. I’m good with playing the coward. A Richard III type, winning through bastardry and cowardly trickery. I’m the guy who once, in a game of Civilisation IV where my girlfriend was being battered by the AI, asked her to give me the tech to make nukes so I could help her, then later threatened to nuke her to oblivion unless she came under the heel of my police state.

So I'm happy to sit and hide in my makeshift fort or attic, like Anne Frank, watching as the player counter dwindles. Oh, there's a Minecraft-lite crafting system, in which you can build structures out of wood, metal, and stone resourced from the game world. Building effectively on the fly to make sniper towers, stairs, bridges, shield walls, landing platforms, is how the best players win the game. Anyway, since the grand genocide can take some time, I’ll put my feet up in the real world and read. Well, The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t going to finish itself.

The only flaw in this plan is that every few minutes, at regular intervals, the map gradually becomes smaller and smaller, with a random section increasingly enclosed by a wall of energy. When the map shrinks you only have so long to get to that section or be killed by the encroaching death storm. If you’re lucky, you’ll already be in the right region when the shrinkage starts, as the map is large enough that’s it difficult to yomp across without attracting negative attention along the way. Like I'm walking down the street during a Black Lives Matter protest wearing that sign John McClane wears in Die Hard 3.

So that's Fortnite for you. It's nasty, brutish, misanthropic, and short. Hobbesian. If you play it like me, it's an intensely lonely experience; keeping a brooding vigil whilst all the cool kids are off doing whatever cool kids do. And whilst it's all those things, Fortnite also represents everything I despise about modern games. It’s slavishly chained to multiplayer, is rife with microtransactions, bloated with cringe-worthy internet humour with silly dances, stupid stuff like pumpkin rocket launchers and dance bombs, and it's popular with ten-year-olds. Live streamed by awkward boys with the haircuts of trendy lesbians, who think they're athletes.

But on the other hand, it’s a fucking laugh. Unlike PUBG, Fortnite remains on the cartoonish side of things. The weapons - which range from handguns to shotguns to guided missile launchers - feel like someone more at place in a Saturday morning cartoon than a real survival game. Which is nice. And some of the 'jokier' items are also great. There's a floor trap which, when it is stood on whilst active, launches victims across the room like they're at a dinner party and just revealed their secret racist opinions. And then there's the item which lets you disguise yourself as a bush. No lie, I achieved 8th place once doing nothing but pretending to be a bush whilst everyone else killed each other. It was though I were The Burning Bush.

A recent update has added space rocks which give people special gravity-defying powers. I wasn't sure about this idea at first, as the game balance was fine enough already. But if everyone has superpowers, however, then I guess it all cancels out. Which goes against the Ayn Rand individualist shit, there. Battle Royale games are right-wing wank fantasies anyway. Like the First World War. And lo and beyond, I'm just more meat for the class system grinder. If I’m lucky, then I might have time to write a war poem about man’s inhumanity towards man, before a 13-year-old blows my bollocks off and shags my mum.

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