Hands on with Auto Royale, H1Z1's chaotic new cars-only battle royale mode

One of the best parts of battle royale is being jammed into a car with your teammates, speeding across the map, encountering another car filled with enemy players, and then smashing into them, shooting at them, chasing them down, and blowing them up. Well, now there's a battle royale mode that is not just exactly that but only that. H1Z1 is leaving Early Access today: surprise! And a bigger surprise: it's launching with an arcadey new cars-only mode called Auto Royale. Check out the trailer above.

H1Z1's Auto Royale is a mode for up to 30 teams of four players, with each team packed into a car together—and there's no getting out. Launch over ramps, collect power ups, shoot at other cars, avoid the poison gas, and fight to be the last car standing (on wheels). I got to play a couple rounds of Auto Royale this week: here's a few minutes of footage from one match, and you can watch the entire match further down.

Auto Royale begins with each car in a cargo container that has just landed in a random spot on the map. There are currently two cars to choose from, a sedan (faster but with less health) and a military-style vehicle called an ARV (slower but more durable). The round begins, you bust out of the container, and teams speed across the map while the gas cloud closes in.

Scattered around the map are ammo and weapon pickups that can be collected by driving over them. Once collected, they appear in the trunk of the car, which acts as a communal inventory. Some pickups are in crates that must be shot open by players leaning out of the car windows and firing their weapons. More valuable pickups are dropped by planes and marked by beacons, or can only be reached by driving over jumps—sometimes a series of jumps.

It's not just guns and ammo you can collect while you drive, but Spy Hunter-like gadgets: deployable oil slicks, smoke screens, and landmines that can be activated by any player in your car. There are four different car-based power-ups that can be found and upgraded as well, including those for car durability (roll cages that mean you take less damage from the environment, or let you smash through fences without losing speed), water speed boosts (for driving over lakes—yes, you can drive on water, and with enough upgrades you'll actually drive faster on water than you will on land), health upgrades for the car itself, and bullet-proof glass, which protects players from gunfire provided they're not leaning out of the car windows when they're shot.

There's even a spring you can collect to allow you to double-jump the car, useful for snagging pickups on rooftops or launching your car over obstacles.

As for players, you can't die in the car from being shot (unless the car itself takes so much damage it explodes, killing everybody), but if you're shot enough by other players you'll become incapacitated until you heal yourself. If a driver is knocked out, another player will have to seat-swap and take the wheel. If the driver is the only one conscious, they can't shoot at all until another player in the car is healed, but they can still deploy defenses like landmines and oil slicks.

I had a pretty good time in my two matches of Auto Royale: it's goofy and arcadey, it's different than pretty much any other battle royale game or mode out there (except perhaps Motor Wars, GTA Online's BR mode), and who doesn't love speeding around, leaning out of car windows, and shooting the shit out of other cars? Combat is chaotic, with bullets spitting, smoke filling the air, and cars careening wildly over the landscape, dropping landmines and spraying oil everywhere. By the way, that oil slick you activate? It can be set on fire, meaning your car might wind up being chased by a river of flames. Fun.

Auto Royale does, however, feel like a mode that should have its own special map, perhaps one without so many unbreakable obstacles. Driving through the woods or through narrow alleys between buildings isn't much fun because unbreakable objects will stop you flat, and the game is at its best at high speeds in open areas to really let you go wild. It also feels a bit dull at the start of matches, too, because there's simply not much for the passengers to do except shoot crates open and keep a lookout until you spot another vehicle. When a couple cars engage each other though, it's good crazy fun.

There are plans to add an additional vehicle in the future, and Daybreak says there's the possibility of testing a duos mode (one driver and one passenger per car). You can watch one of the entire matches I played (as a passenger) below.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.