Battle royale titles are Marmite in video game form; people hate them as much as others can’t get enough of them. That polarity has a lot to do with their successes over the last year: it’s just human nature to go against the grain when something becomes the zeitgeist. However, it may also be down to too many cooks spoiling the broth with plenty of pretenders to Fortnite and PUBG’s thrones not really doing a lot to add something new to the mix.
Fear The Wolves is, luckily, not one such game. It has more than enough quirks under its belt to warrant a look-in for even the most jaded of battle royale fans. At this point of its young life in Early Access, however, the main thing that will hold it back is its sloppy execution and lack of balance.
The basic skeleton of a battle royale is present: you parachute in to a secluded and hostile environment and aim to be the last one alive. That’s where the conventions begin and end, though — Fear the Wolves is a hybrid of many different ideas pulled liberally from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise, often to interesting (if not innovative) effect.
The titular wolves are just a few of the ingredients used to spice up the experience, though they don’t pose much of a fear factor unless you’re without a gun. Fear The Wolves promotes the player landing at specific areas by using different colours to highlight the most popular, and therefore, most loot-heavy spots. As with almost all games of its ilk, it’s total luck whether or not you find a weapon, so expect to be returned to the lobby constantly until you have a vague idea of the map.
The wolves will appear seemingly at random or be triggered by environmental effects, such as the onset of rain or the spreading of radiation. Or, failing that, they could just be patrolling outside the house you’ve just landed at — there doesn’t seem to be a discernible logic in how they’re introduced other than at the least opportune moments.
This would be fine, but Fear The Wolves is a constant balancing act of many moving parts, which are all barely explained within the game itself. The player can find respirators to move through increasingly irradiated areas more easily, though there are points where “anomalies” will lurch out at you and dose you up with radiation anyway, killing you within seconds. Your success in Fear The Wolves seems to be defined by how lucky you get with the spreading of radiation and the loot you find at the start. There’s nothing wrong with the concept, just the execution, which is a running theme throughout.
Similarly to the upcoming Dying Light battle royale spin-off, players can go the whole game without killing anyone and depend on the helicopter extraction at the end. That is, of course, if you can stave off the many cheap tactics the game throws at you. Finding a car is an essential if you want to last the distance as travelling on foot is slow with no guarantees that you won’t just wander into radiation and see your life quickly sap away. Fear the Wolves is as much about luck as it is skill.
To its credit, however, the final throes of a match are pulse-pounding affairs. Once the helicopter is called in, any surviving players make a beeline for it — there’s only room for one. I reached this point a couple of times and the sweating began in earnest on both occasions. The first time, I misread the situation completely and drove straight to the helicopter itself and was shot to pieces. The second time, I stalked through the trees amid the echoing of gunfire only to be killed by someone doing exactly the same thing.
Reaching that point in the match, however, is a test of the player’s patience to put up with the game’s missteps and general lack of optimisation. Concessions should always be made in Early Access games, though it’s harder to do so in a competitive game when the game itself is trying to undermine how well you can play it.
Playing on a GTX 1060 with a decent wedge of RAM on high settings, the framerates can jump from 100+ to as low as 5 in the space of a second. Things are particularly bad when you are landing, which is a common pattern in battle royale games. Rubber-banding is far too frequent for you and other players: I’ve had many encounters where I’ve lined up a player perfectly in my sights only to have them skitter their way to safety.
Fear The Wolves is not a beautiful game by design; Chernobyl is hardly the opulence of ancient Persia. It is a problem, however, when you can’t tell the difference between one area and the next. Fear The Wolves’ map blends into one beige blob of nothing, the only interesting visuals arriving when the weather is changed. It’s not inviting, and neither is it all that exciting.
In truth, Fear The Wolves isn’t that inviting as a whole. Its mechanics are seldom explained beyond the bare basics with me being perplexed when my character was suddenly unable to run properly; hardly great when the game requires constant movement. Fear The Wolves is trying to be a “hardcore” battle royale game, but there’s a difference between being challenging and just generally not fun to play.
Of course, these are still early days for Fear The Wolves and its life in Early Access. Hopefully Vostok will be given the time to implement player feedback and work on the core of the game, though with it currently struggling to fill out a lobby and with long waits before a match, they should really act fast.
Code supplied by publisher for coverage purposes
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