Cliffy B’s Radical Heights Isn’t As Bad As It Looks
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The greatest enemy of Cliff Bleszinski, somewhat affectionately also known as Cliffy B, isn’t the gaming press, nor is it the AAA industry. It’s Cliff Bleszinski. His “outspoken” personality paints a massive target on his back whenever he releases something new, as discovered when LawBreakers came out and promptly went away again. The humbling failure of the doomed shooter meant that he and his studio, Boss Key Productions, would have to start afresh.
Radical Heights is his next gamble: a free-to-play battle royale game with an eighties aesthetic and “attitude”. Due to the growing discontent with the influx of battle royale games and likely Bleszinski’s own notoriety, many have turned their pitchforks towards Radical Heights without even trying it — it currently has a slew of negative reviews on Steam from people who have only played for twenty minutes.
Here’s the thing: Radical Heights is actually not bad. In fact, it shows glimpses of being something great and hitting a niche that Fortnite and PUBG can’t.
Released in “X-Treme Early Access” (read: alpha), Radical Heights is as rough around the edges as you would expect. Even with that, there’s something about it that’s irresistible, a heady combination of its unique twists on what are now well-worn conventions and how easy it is to pick up and play.
You start off in a waiting area; so far, so familiar. However, this is where Boss Key set the tone for the rest of the match. It’s an absurd arena filled with trampolines, bicycles, and, mercifully, tutorials on Radical Heights’ interesting spins on battle royale. There’s all sorts of weird quirks to Radical Heights’ brand; some work, some don’t. At least it’s not just trying to completely ape its competition, however.
Rather than landing via a parachute/glider, you simply float to the ground, do a roll, and then feel like a true eighties action hero. The hunt for guns quickly begins, which can either be picked up from the environment or bought from machines. You accrue cash from exploration or by killing other enemies, so while you may want to save up to buy a powerful weapon, you won’t want to lose your money when you get destroyed by a random guy on a BMX. It brings a nice little tactical edge to the game, deciding whether to amass a small fortune or keep it safe via offshore accounts.
Compared to 99% of battle royale games, Radical Heights doesn’t opt for an encroaching circle to keep things moving. Similarly to the actual Battle Royale movie, certain zones are off-limits and rotate in and out seemingly intuitively depending on player positions. This culminates in both sides of the map being squeezed closer and closer to the center, which is where the fingers get twitchy and the pulse starts to quicken. It’s a welcome spin on things, buoyed by Radical Heights’ presentation as being part of a game show.
Like the also recent The Darwin Project, there’s more to Radical Heights than the straightforward battle royale experience. Throughout matches, a disembodied voice calls out new mini-games, such as the ability to spin the wheel (though it was glitched out whenever I tried it), race to the finishing line to get armour, and to stand under money “fountains” while fully aware that you’re a prime target.
The aesthetic of Radical Heights contributes towards it feeling like a parody of eighties culture, as if Smash TV was updated for current day. With it being in such a primitive state, however, the washed-out, lo-fi visuals won’t exactly help to sway people that this isn’t a rush-job to try and capitalise on the biggest trend in gaming.
Player customisation is scant and bland with no option to choose sex. You can unlock extra cosmetics through microtransactions, the Founder’s Pack, or by finding them in-game to then buy with in-game money, but it’s still somewhat lacking. Environments, too, lack any real kind of polish, looking about as plain as day-old porridge.
From an optimisation standpoint, Radical Heights certainly isn’t the worst offender when it comes to Early Access games — whenever I play one, I switch to medium settings by default to not stress an already stressed out game. Expecting pre-release titles to run smooth as butter is just lunacy. There was a strange visual glitch wherein it literally looked like I was trying to watch a VHS tape at a rave, but I switched to a borderless window and it turned out just fine.
Boss Key are keen to mention that Radical Heights is in its very early stages, going so far as to implore players to “embrace the jank” in the game’s menus. While some of its faults can be overlooked for now, they really need to strike while the iron is hot. Radical Heights is unlikely to hit the same heights as the “big two”, but it’s hard to imagine it falling by the wayside quite as dramatically as its cynics would hope.