In the span of 24 hours, Boss Key announced and released its new free-to-play battle royale game, Radical Heights. It launched into 'XTREME' Early Access on Steam after just five months in development. If you do the math, that's just a few months after the launch of LawBreakers last August.
A mishmash of inspirations, Radical Heights takes place in a neon-infused 1980's-inspired world, a game show where contestants freefall into a map to hunt for cash, weapons, gear, prizes, and each other. The map is broken into a grid, sections of which begin to close off as the clock runs, leading to a final showdown in a shrinking circle.
So, how radical is it?
James: It is radically early. Like, whole portions of the map are unfinished. Greybox buildings everywhere, flat textures—this is as Early Access as it gets.
Evan: Pre-alpha AF, and yet, I'm not hating it. It's easy to poke holes in a game this incomplete, but the main thing rubbing me the wrong way is that Rad Heights' biggest potential appeal—the obnoxious '80s-inspired theme—isn't integrated as deeply as it needs to be. The most interesting stuff, like item dispensers and the Wheel of Fortune-style machines that spit out guns and prizes, are sorta just objects in an otherwise ordinary environment rather than weird, cool systems with strong relationships to the rest of the experience.
James: The way cash works isn't well explained, yeah. I spent my first few matches flailing around trying to figure out how to buy guns. Weapons are scattered around randomly, but you also need to kill people and destroy cash registers and such to find money. Use it at vending machines for health, guns, gear, and such.
Evan: And there's also like… prize rooms and gift boxes with randomized loot in the environment. Did you run into any of that?
Chris: Yeah! I like the little prize rooms, where you have to wait in front of them, exposed, as a little timer runs down. It feels like the door will slide open and you'll see a dinette set or new luggage or something. I also found a big chunky '80s mobile phone, which I used to call in a supply drop, which was a gift box with a gun in it that fell so far away from me someone else got it. But it was still cool, or as we said in the '80s, mint.
James: It's a reasonably good idea for battle royale: drop dozens of high-visibility points of interest all over the map and you’ll ensure players eventually run into one another, usually in contest over some gun behind the glass. The map is just so damn huge for how fast and arcade-y Radical Heights feels.
Chris: The cash system is different, I'll say that. It's a little jarring to see a gun in a vending machine you can't get because you don't have the money, or to run up to a health vendor and not be able to afford a heal. There are ATMs you can withdraw cash you've earned in prior games if you can't find enough nearby, though I would like to point out that in the '80s we didn't have ATMs and when we needed cash we had to go into a bank during business hours and withdraw it by talking to a human being. It wasn't rad.
James: How about that weapon handling? Not much recoil.
Evan: Right now it's basically BB guns all around, with modest bullet drop at long range. I think that's OK. Radical is smoother to dive into than Fortnite because there's no construction, and it's obviously lower-fidelity than PUBG. The ease of getting in and blasting dudes is one thing it has going for it so far—I'd like to see Boss Key take it a step further by putting a single mag of ammo in every weapon by default.
Chris: There's no fall damage, either, which is pretty great—you can jump off a roof or a cliff and just keep on going. Falling to your death, or even just screwing up your health from a fall in other games isn't fun and this ensures if you die it's from combat. And there are possibilities for fun kills. I got a rocket launcher and a trampoline from a spin-to-win machine, which came in handy (almost) when a player was chasing me around a boulder. I threw the trampoline down, bounced myself up over the boulder and fired some missiles while I was in the air. It would have been much cooler if I hadn't missed twice and died, but hey. The potential for goofy hijinx is there.
James: I’m all about goofy hijinx in my battle royale, and Radical Heights appears to be aiming for the sweet spot between PUBG and Fortnite, something like PUBG’s more complex character control (there's a prone command, for example) and massive map with the wacky gadgets of Fortnite.
Evan: I think it's way, way more like Fortnite, given the third-person perspective and colored tiers of guns. There also aren't any drivable cars.
Chris: But there are BMX bikes you can ride around, which currently are absolutely terrible when it comes to steering. But in one match a BMX challenge appeared nearby, where I had to jump on a bike and race to a certain point on the map against a ticking clock, and I won some gold body armor. I think it's a fun idea to see a risky minigame challenge in a BR game, so I hope they make the bikes less shitty to actually ride.
James: They’re the worst. One bump and you go sailing, which is easy with such a visually busy, nonsensical map. One moment I was in a grocery store, the next on a mountainside where I found a large pipe in the ground, and upon leaping into it I shot down into a strange underground facility that opened up onto a lake (which I could run across). With skyscrapers in the distance and ziplines connecting it all, the map is a weird, charming mess. I haven’t spent enough time to know if it’s well designed though.
Chris: I came across a campground, which I guess could be a reference to '80s summer camp movies, but it was just like, why is this in here? This is a boring place to be running around looking for stuff. It just felt like, well, other BR games have trees and campgrounds and quiet outdoor spots so we should too, but there's nothing radical about picnic tables and campers. I feel like 90% of this game should be shopping malls and 10% should be ski slopes. I feel like the '80s had a lot of ski movies.
Chris: If there's a BR game that could do without that mid-to-late game BR lull, it's Radical Heights. It's supposed to be a game show, and game shows have producers, and no producer would let five long, quiet minutes pass while nothing happened and a player lay prone and motionless on a roof. I think rather than timed grid closures pushing players together, it needs to dynamically decided by AI judging how many players are left, how long has it been since the last kill, etc. And if the game detects a lull, it starts closing the map off faster and faster to get more action going.
I also feel like when it's time for the showcase shootout (when the last nine players are left, a final showdown area is marked on the map) the players need to get there much, much faster. Rather than having to slowly run around closed grids to make their way to the shootout, they should have paths opened up for them so they can get there quickly. You're given five minutes to reach the shootout, which feels like an eternity. This is TV. Fake TV, but still. Speed your show up or you're gonna get canceled.
Evan: I'd welcome a faster pace and smaller map that reflects Radical Heights' arcadeyness, yeah. Mostly I hope this thing gets the massive art pass and tons of changes it needs, because 'game show' is a way more appealing theme to me than Fortnite's borrowed apocalypse and PUBG's stale military-whatever. Pieces of Radical Heights remind me of the charm of Smash TV, Super Monday Night Combat, or Crackdown, but so much polish is still needed.
Chris: "You're the Best" playing for the winner, though, is perfect. Much better than a chicken dinner.