About a hundred players are being gathered for a battle royale. As they wait for the participant count to be met, they run around punching each other or firing guns playfully with nary a casualty. Then the countdown timer reaches zero and suddenly they are all on board an aircraft. One by one they jump off and drop onto the sprawling island below. It doesn’t take long for the slaughter to begin.
The mobile game is called Knives Out, which sort of implies a knife-only or at least melee-oriented battle royale experience. It’s not. Anyway, what matters more is that I am not one of those who found themselves immediate danger. I run off in search of supplies, gravitating towards buildings because I like buildings and they usually contain a nice heap of supplies. That’s what I think I read online anyway. It does turn out to be true however, and I easily gain myself some firearms. They vary depending on the building, but it’s surprisingly not too hard to find an automatic weapon or shotgun. There are also backpacks, helmets and body armour of different levels.
I had expected things to be tense and fraught from the start, especially given that I am a newcomer to this battle royale thing. Knives Out is also the very first of the three games I will be trying out for the next few hours, and I will later discover that all three games are from a company called NetEase.
However, the experience is mostly peaceful, although I fear that I’d be done for the moment I come across an enemy. I have engaged in free-for-alls before but this is on a far larger scope than those, and I am required to scavenge for supplies. I am also battling on a Huawei Mate 10. It’s a fine-looking mobile device for sure, but the last time I engaged in a firefight on a mobile device, it ended badly. Very badly. Fortunately, the touchscreen controls feel comfortable and responsive, and the screen is large enough that I do not have to unintentionally battle with my own fingers or consider checking for alternate control options. All that I have to worry about in a firefight are my own aiming abilities.
My aiming abilities are awful, but luckily the enemies I encounter are worse than me. Once, an enemy got the jump on me and landed enough shots on me to make me think that this was the end. Instead, I fired back and somehow killed him first. Beginner’s luck, perhaps? At any rate, I manage to do quite well in my first match and achieve 10th place just before I die. The death was caused not by a human enemy, but by the toxic gas of the non-safe zone. I feel proud and snap a screenshot.
I also did not come across a single knife in my time battling in Knives Out.
To be fair, neither did I when it came to the other two mobile battle royale games I tried - Rules of Survival and Survivor Royale. I won’t chronicle my experiences in those titles as in-depth as I did for Knives Out, because the gameplay - at least for solo mode - experiences offered by the three are essentially the same, to the extent that I forgot which was which at one point. Rules of Survival may feature 120 player-size games instead of merely 100, but when I got to Survivor Royale, I was already feeling like I was simply going for another round instead of trying out a new title. The tutorial actually felt uncannily familiar to Knives Out’s, and it is, right down to the design of the tutorial level. Bravo, NetEase.
The most noticeable difference between the games are the visuals. Knives Out is kind of grey and drab, but I didn’t dislike looking at it. Rules of Survival is quite gorgeous and comparatively feels like a big-budget quality production from that perspective. It also suffers the least pop-in when dropping onto the island, although it also lacks a cool wingsuit when doing so like the others. Another gripe is that I couldn’t shake off the feeling that some of that beauty was being held back by the Mate 10’s screen, like the screen was restraining it from reaching out to me and pulling me in. Survivor Royale is more colourful than Knives Out, but that colour feels like a thin mask that barely conceals the ugliness beneath, or maybe even accentuates it a little.
The maps also differ in exact layout and features, naturally, but - perhaps due to my limited time spent wandering on these large open environments - it didn’t feel like it mattered a lot during my sessions. In the end, they were all basically islands with the occasional vehicle lying around, and entering a building in search of supplies in one game didn’t feel any different from doing the same in another (it turns out that Knives Out has drones now, but my matches were drone-free so it’s hard to tell how much their presence affects things). What actually stood out more were little things like the location of the backpack button differed between games, or that Knives Out’s footsteps seem to sound louder. The gun sounds are more consistent in their clarity across the board though, and I managed to startle myself once with an accidental burst even though I wasn’t quite playing near full volume at the time. It certainly makes the firefights stand out from the more peaceful moments.
Of the three, I liked Rules of Survival the most due to its visuals, with Knives Out coming in second. Visuals aside, it’s hard to make a choice. As mentioned previously, the gameplay feels very similar, and the bright side of this is that it extends to the quality, meaning that neither feels particularly inferior to the other. Accessibility-wise, Rules of Survival and Survival Royale seemed to have somewhat higher recoil than Knives Out, but not to the extent that they felt like simulations in comparison.
In the end, I didn’t face more difficulties playing one game compared to the other. That goes for the performance-side too, as even the better-looking Rules of Survival didn’t feel like it ran or loaded at a slower pace than the others or suffer frame drops. I played almost non-stop for three to four hours, by the end of which the Mate 10 still had over 50% of battery life. There was heat, but it never felt uncomfortable. The phone was still ready for more, but I, on the other hand, had been worn out by the repetition.
All three games contained modes for pairs or teams, although I didn’t manage to try these. There’s also the five-player Fireteam mode, which isn’t available in Rules of Survival yet but is for the others. What I did get a taste of were the zombie modes for Rules of Survival and Survivor Royale, which are basically battle royale modes with zombies. The former is a free-for-all affair where every human and zombie is out for themselves, while Survivor Royale involves human squads. The fight-for-yourself nature of the former appealed to me more, but the latter is there for more team-minded players.
A closer examination of these three battle royale titles, as Indie Obscura did, will definitely reveal more distinctions, but they’re not the kind of differences that will make them feel like wildly different experiences. I may not have experienced a hilariously inaccurate shotgun battle or gotten run over by a vehicle in all three, but they’re not events that are exclusive to either one of them, and neither are the basic gameplay elements. This is one of those cases where it’s really less about which is better but which is preferred by the individual. The good thing is, they’re all pretty solid, and they’re all free-to-play.