The beginning of a round of Fractured Lands is like that itchy accelerator feeling you get before the green light in Mario Kart, combined with the knowledge that every other driver wants to shoot you dead. Add in some oil fields spewing smog, a deadly storm slowly irising in from the edges of the map, and enough leather and mohawks to make you feel like you’ve wandered into the cover of an '80s tabletop roleplaying sourcebook, and you’ve got a battle royale that doesn’t feel necessarily revolutionary, but definitely brings its own attitude to the table.
Many Battle Royale games include vehicles. In Fractured Lands, the difference is that everyone spawn in one, together at the center of the map. The opening seconds are often a several-way demolition derby as some players angle for early kills courtesy of a well-aimed ram, while others floor it off into the dusty desert to try to lock down the best drops and sniper spots. Leave the melee too early and you may be tailed by someone looking to splatter you across the road before you can grab a gun. Leave too late and you may arrive at the motel to find there’s already an opponent dug in on the roof with that light machine gun you were trying to snag.
Cars can be upgraded over the course of a match with components you’ll find alongside guns and ammo. Off road tires help out a lot when free-wheeling out in the boonies, as the standard ones don’t handle very well at all off of the asphalt. Armored doors and windshields leave far less of a target area for anyone looking to snipe you right out of the driver’s seat, which can keep your vehicle viable much longer into a match. An un-upgraded car can actually be more of a liability once the surviving players have gathered up some accurate automatic weapons, while a beefier one could be your ticket to victory. I liked the uncertainty this brought, as I was never sure at the start of a round if I was going to find the upgrades needed to keep my ride relevant.
Beyond durability buffs, strapping a nice big ram to your front bumper will help you deal more damage than you take when ramming other cars. This really makes a big difference in automotive jousting, a hectic and exciting type of duel I often found myself in around the mid game. Guns have a similar array of lootable upgrades, from high-powered scopes to whisper-quiet silencers for getting kills without giving away your location.
The other major tactical consideration cars bring is when to ditch your ride—if you choose to do so at all. This decision is largely based on the fact that the cars are really loud, so hanging onto one as the map shrinks means you’ll always be easy to find and you’re not likely to be able to sneak up on anyone. Hoofing it has its own risks, though. While it makes it much easier to hide, you’ll have to spend more time on the run from the wall of death closing in on you and less time looting, upgrading, and identifying enemies.
There’s a very tense, asymmetrical, predator-prey relationship that develops deeper into a match between players on foot and players that are still behind the wheel of a claptrap death machine. If you’re caught on foot at ground level by a skilled driver, you’re most likely going to end the round as a hood ornament unless you can quickly duck into a doorway too narrow for your pursuer to follow. I had some memorable moments when the shrinking map forced me to cover a lot of open ground to find a new safehouse and I could hear the exhaust-belching land sharks circling nearby. The flipside, though, is that a gunner with a great perch can take pot-shots at passing motorists with relative impunity, daring them to bail out and engage in urban combat to unseat them from the high ground.
Since the areas of the map designated as safe zones are selected randomly, there were definitely some matches that favored either cars or snipers by the end. Squaring off in a field doesn’t do pedestrians any favors, nor does having a climactic clash in a dense industrial park favor those who spent a lot of time pimping their rides. I ultimately didn’t mind that fact much, though. Dodging bullets from above through narrow roadways as the storm closed in was a fun experience even if I knew I probably wouldn’t make it out alive. It can suck a bit more to get caught out with no good cover as a foot player going up against a skilled driver, but the David vs Goliath aspect of it at least provides some enjoyable desperation in the last few moments.
Beyond that, it’s a pretty familiar battle royale experience. The gunplay feels good, whether you’re wielding a roaring, take-no-prisoners heavy machine gun to tear a few holes in the open wasteland or a deft, semiautomatic pistol for close-quarters duels in mini marts that have seen better days. Melee is a bit of a pain, as the hitboxes are strict to the point that it’s difficult to even connect with an enemy dodging and strafing around you, but guns are plentiful enough that you won’t be stuck whacking away with a bat for long.
The scarcity of ammo makes the endgame harrowing if you’re not careful, though. I often found if I survived to the final five, my best guns were almost all running dry and I had to adapt my tactics to win with what I had left. I could feel like the king of the world if I nabbed a really nice rifle early on that let me ride a kill streak to the ultimate showdown, only to realize I hadn’t been conservative enough with my bullets and was going to have to figure out how to take out the other four most dangerous people in the wasteland with only a .22 and some tape.
Fractured Lands isn’t the prettiest road warrior at the apocalypse in its current state. Lots of the textures look dull, flat, and repetitive. I experienced some chugging on a machine that exceeds most of the recommended specs during the first beta weekend (though not nearly as much during the second), and a couple times I loaded into a round already dead for some reason. With a little wax on, wax off, it could certainly take its place among the growing smorgasbord of battle royale options with the interesting dynamics added by its signature roadsters. The full Early Access launch is set for later this summer.