“Press F to pay respects,” was what I basically thought when I first saw Boss Key’s new battle royale game, Radical Heights. The combination of its 80s game show theme and cartoony, comic book-like visuals - a huge contrast to their super-serious class shooter LawBreakers - made me feel like they were trying too hard to stand out and make a splash in the battle royale market. I gave it a try anyway, since it was free-to-play and didn't need a non-Steam account like Fortnite. Expectations admittedly weren’t high, but would I deem the game to be a trashy cash-in attempt anyway?
Well, apparently not - I actually found the game to be pretty fun. Full-featured it is not however. Radical Heights is an “X-TREME” Early Access game, proven primarily by a fair amount of very barebones-looking buildings, low framerates and occasional floor-clipping. Also, although it has ”radical” in its name, it still features the usual trappings of a battle royale game. A hundred or so players? A large playing field that shrinks over time? A battle that ends when only one player is left standing? Yup, that's all there. The shrinking map thing is done differently here though. Instead of the typical circle of death the map is divided into grids, and the order and pattern in which they become red zones changes from match to match. There are other unique elements too. I initially dismissed them as being mostly insignificant, but after a couple of hours I now think that they do somewhat succeed in giving Radical Heights a sense of identity.
Most of these elements are tied to the colourful 80s game show theme. I’m not too crazy about the looks of the characters and their outfits, be it the bodysuits or purchasable shirts and such. A lot of the purchasable cosmetics seem to require real money, by the way, although I’ve also read that finding cosmetics in-game unlocks them for in-game currency purchasing. I do however like the atmosphere set by the voice of the announcer and the occasional audience chants. There’s also the awesome guitar riff that plays during the initial freefall, which is frankly one of the main reasons I keep coming back to the game. Unfortunately, matches are usually pretty devoid of ambient sound, which I assume is due to Radical Heights’ “X-TREME” Early Access state. Hopefully, the finished product will have more lines from the announcer, and maybe even insert the guitar riff occasionally at appropriate moments in each match.
Gameplay-wise, the game show theme manifests itself with Mystery Doors that open to reveal a trove of loot, prize boxes and even prize wheels. These are either scattered across the map or dropped from the sky periodically. More prevalent is the presence of cash. You can pick them up like any other loot, or smash cashiers to get them. What this cash does is let you buy weapons or gear that require money to pick up. Alternatively, you could deposit them in ATMs and withdraw them for use in future matches. It sounds like there’s potential for clear imbalance, especially when these bought weapons tend to possess tiers and are thus superior to non-tiered/lower tiered ones. Seriously, wearing level one armour in a head-on firefight got me killed in seconds, while level three armour allowed me to survive two or three encounters. I can’t really say for sure how much the cash aspect actually affects balance though, especially since tiered weapons can be looted without a dime spent. There was an early controversy involving a cash bonus for Founders Pack members, but that ended up resolved before I dived into the game.
The designs of these game show-themed elements are predictably flashy and colourful. The main battle royale experience itself however doesn’t feel as goofy as I’d initially expected. The silliest item I’ve come across is probably the deployable trampoline, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use it yet. The only form of transport is a bike, which in the context of a battle royale looks a bit sillier than driving a car I guess. When it comes to the gunfights, the typical arsenal of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and such are what you’ll find. The shooting is satisfying, and enemies explode in a confetti of loot when they die, but I had expected a greater sense of wackiness here.
That said, Radical Heights does spice things up a bit with its slight element of mobility. In this game, players don’t take fall damage, so you can feel free to leap from the top of a building any time when you’re getting shot at. It also means that when players drop onto the map at the start, they do so without a parachute, which is cool. There’s also the ability to roll, which I find useful for making successful jumps between buildings. My opponents on the other hand utilize it effectively in combat to get close and inadvertently make me panic - at this point, seeing an enemy roll towards me is probably the most terrifying aspect of the game.
Although I haven’t played Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite, Radical Heights does give off the impression of being a middle ground between the two in terms of realism. However, I’d personally like to see more zaniness. Considering that the theme is “game show”, wacky traps and obstacle courses scattered around the map would be sweet. So would having a gun that shoots something other than bullets, like candy or something. Right now, I spend more time thinking that I’m in a comic book-inspired world - thanks to the cel-shaded graphics and the colourful nature of the more filled-out parts of the map - than a game show. And when the bullets fly, I sometimes feel that the map design seems better-suited for more realistic gun fights, like what PUBG offers. I stand by my statement that the game is fun, and that it has its own identity, but more could definitely be done in regards to the latter.
Even so, I can easily see myself spending a decent amount of time with Radical Heights (unless someone gifts me PUBG). Perhaps in the future, the game may end up feeling more like a game show too, assuming if it can sustain a playerbase. SteamDB stats show that it had a peak of over 12 thousand players. At time of writing, there’s less than two thousand. That’s still better than LawBreaker’s current player count, but that’s not saying much. Radical Heights’ future is already looking less bright than its aesthetics, but while there’s still an active player base, I say it’s worth a try.
Radical Heights is currently in Early Access on Steam for free with a release date planned for next year.