Developer: Daybreak Game Company Publisher: Daybreak Game Company Platform(s): PS4, PC Battle Pass provided for review purposes
It’s common knowledge that the battle royale market is about as crowded as the London Underground during rush hour, and it’s getting worse and worse. You think there isn’t enough room on the carriage for another battle royale game, but lo and behold, five more appear to just take up even more room.
The cause of this latest craze to sweep the gaming world can be attributed primarily to H1Z1, with its Battle Royale roots coming in the form of King of the Kill back in 2016. This was also when H1Z1 was supposed to be a zombie survival game, if you can remember those halcyon days.
Still, despite its status as the elder of the battle royale genre, H1Z1 has been neglected in favour of PUBG and especially Fortnite. Even though it’s been around since 2016, it’s still taken two years for it to fully launch on PS4, which has allowed Fortnite to establish a nigh untouchable player base on consoles.
So how does H1Z1 stack up, now that it’s finally launched on Sony’s little box of wonders? Honestly, it’s not bad. It’s good, even. The team over at Daybreak have managed to create a battle royale experience that mostly manages to walk the line between Fortnite’s immediacy and desire to get players into the action, with PUBG’s focus on gunplay rather than building a four storey structure to protect yourself from snipers.
Games in H1Z1 start a little differently than in other battle royale games, as instead of choosing where to drop, the game spawns you in at a random point above the map, and it’s up to you to parachute from there. Players might not like the fact they can’t choose where to drop, but this method eliminates the possibility that you land miles away from the first circle.
The philosophy of getting players into the action as much and as quickly as possible extends to the vast majority of the game’s mechanics. Like all battle royales, the area of play constricts as time goes on, with the toxic gas that envelops the map doing more damage as the match continues. However, H1Z1 does this at a rate faster than Fortnite. While Fortnite takes around 10 minutes for the storm to finish its second stage, H1Z1 achieves this in about six.
Because everyone spawns in a more general vicinity to each other, and the circle closes in quicker, you’re always more likely to encounter other players, which makes every game feel more action packed. It’s rare that you’ll spend the game wandering the landscape without seeing anyone else, but if you do, it’s probably because you killed someone foolish enough to drop next to you. That’ll teach ‘em.
H1Z1 also includes a number of quality of life features that both help you get into the action quicker, or just away from the ever encroaching toxic gas. The map clearly indicates a number of key locations, such as the fairground, which can become a hive of player activity, but also makes a note of small towns and villages that still contain loot but can often be forgotten about.
The map also lets you know where the nearest vehicles are, which is fantastic if you’re outside of the safe zone with plenty of distance to cover. Too many PUBG games have been lost not knowing where the nearest car was, so this feature is a godsend. Unfortunately, you can’t leave custom markers on the map, but the in-game compass does a good job of letting you know where the key landmarks are.
Inventory management can be one of the biggest bugbears when playing a battle royale game on console, but H1Z1 has a good handle on things. Though there are still backpacks which increase how many weapons, ammo, health items and grenades you can carry, H1Z1 ditches the weight limits of PUBG. You don’t need to worry about dropping certain ammo in favour of others, or dropping a medkit so you can pick up a sniper rifle. Everything just works automatically, which is great.
The weapons you actually procure as you loot aren’t great. In order to find the good weapons, you must either loot military crates scattered across the map, which you can find by listening out for a morse code broadcast, or by pilfering one of the many airdrops that occur periodically throughout the game.
As the game progresses and the circle gets smaller and the toxic gas does more damage, the weapons contained within airdrops also get better. Again, you’re incentivised to join in on the action instead of hiding away from other players. Even though you managed to claim a drop at the start of the game, the contents of a drop later on will always outclass you.
In a way, the decision to have different tiers of weapons and equipment does work to the detriment of a game as a whole. At times, it can feel like a death came as a result of you simply not having good gear as opposed to your adversary being a better shot/player, but that’s the nature of battle royales as a whole. There’s an undeniable luck factor required to pull off a victory, and H1Z1 is no exception.
There are a couple of bigger drawbacks ,though. The graphics aren’t exactly award-winning, and sometime it can be hard to distinguish which polygon is shooting at you from a large distance. Also, when dropping in, it can be hard to control where the parachute is going to land, especially as you approach terra firma. The slightest nudge of the control stick becomes a sudden jolt 20 feet across the street.
Perhaps the biggest issue at the moment is the current state of the meta as the game approaches its end. Right now, the last 15 or so players of each game looks akin to something out of Mad Max, as each player drives around in their own vehicle practically impervious to harm. Yes, there are explosives, yes, there are EMPs and yes, you can force them out of the safe zone, but none of the above actions do enough damage to really dissuade this behaviour.
It’s a similar issue that PUBG faced back in the early days, and it’s one they combated by upping the damage that vehicles take, and it worked there. Perhaps this is an update that Daybreak will consider implementing in the future, as right now, the only top 10 finish game I’ve played that didn’t turn into bumper cars ended in the fairground. Good luck to anyone trying to drive around that without getting lit up like a Christmas tree.
Nonetheless, there’s something about H1Z1 that’s drawn me in more than the likes of PUBG and Fortnite. Again, it represents the middle ground between the two ideologies of fast paced gameplay yet grounded in some semblance of reality. Some semblance, anyway. The fact you can’t run people over on the PS4 version kind of breaks that.
Even though the battle royale genre continues to add new competitors, H1Z1 should stand out amongst the pack, not just because it’s one of the concepts founding fathers. Hell, it got me, noted battle royale curmudgeon and all round miserable bastard, to enjoy my time with the game. That’s worthy of some merit.
Though it’s not without fault, and will likely do little to take away from Fortnite’s ever-growing popularity, H1Z1 on PS4 is a worthy addition to the crowded genre. Plus, it’s free. Can’t complain with that. Microtransactions: Yes, you can buy in-game currency for money. It's free to play though, so that's pretty much expected at this point.
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