It shouldn't come as a huge surprise to learn that Ubisoft is launching a battle royale to call its own. You only have to take a cursory look at the publisher's history to discover that it's as happy to follow industry trends as it is to set them, after all.
What's more surprising is Ubisoft Montreal's refusal to set its battle royale within an existing IP (Far Cry seems like the obvious choice), and instead chart its own path with a brand new universe focused singularly on the genre's unique brand of competitive, last-team-standing tournaments.
"I think we wanted to do something that was accessible," explains Hyper Scape creative director Graeme Jennings of the decision for the first person shooter to stand outside from any of Ubisoft's other major licenses. "We didn't want to build a battle royale that was super violent, and we also wanted to have a fairly large canvas for creativity. So setting that in a new IP, based around this futuristic virtual world, allowed us to do things that fit contextually within the universe. There's a lot more creative freedom because of the premise."
That premise, one set in the near future where spends most of its time in a virtual online universe known as the titular Hyper Scape (and fight in an gladiatorial arena called Crown Rush), certainly allows Prisma Dimensions (a new team within Ubisoft Montreal) to ignore conventional laws of the genre – including the laws of physics. Its battle royale combatants can parkour freely across the cobbled rooftops of the game's single map, Neo Arcadia, a gorgeous sprawl of renaissance urbanism reimagined with a cyberpunk twist, using jump pads and other gravity-defying tools to stay airborne, or maintain a height advantage at the very least.
Hacks, meanwhile, are unique perks that can be picked up as part of Hyper Scape's sci-fi loot pool, endowing players with abilities such as invisibility, improved armour, or a lethal ground pound attack. Even Hyper Scape's weapons are far from average, each one capable of being upgraded up to five times by equipping them repeatedly across the map, in a clever gamification of the usual frustrations players have with finding loot duplicates.
"We started with the idea of games as a spectacle," Jennings tells me. "So we were looking at how viewers and streamers can be closer, and how viewing can be more of an active experience. That was one of the pillars we started with, and from there began to pitch ideas about how we can make a fresh take on battle royale; something that felt unique and had its own flavour. Our smaller team built prototypes, which is where the hacks came from, and then it started to formulate together and take shape into what Hyper Scape is today."
Hyper Scape's answer to that question of how to bring consumers and creators closer together is the AI host of the arena; an enigmatic overseer who's particularly attentive to the demands of the crowd (a.k.a. Twitch viewers). Prisma Dimensions has worked hard to develop some of the most sophisticated Twitch integration systems yet, in which viewers can vote to initiate world-twisting events to take place in their favourite streamer's current match, or earn rewards by performing certain actions in chat.
Better yet, streamers can even invite viewers into their squad without leaving the game itself, integrating a tradition that content creators have been following for years as a way to give some love back to their fans. Jennings explains that Hyper Scape aims to reflect and synchronise with the rhythms of its own community in this way going forward, promising "ambitious plans" for post-launch support.
"The community will drive toward what interests them and what's fun, and then we will help shape and work within the space based on those things. We do have various different events planned as we go, but Hyper Scape will ultimately grow based on where the community wants to take it. It's really about making sure their voice is tied into how we plan development."
Indeed, a select number of players will be able to begin sharing their voice as early as this week, when Hyper Scape's limited tech test rolls out on PC ahead of the game's full launch sometime later this year.
Prisma Dimensions has been able to use the core multiplayer architecture of Rainbow Six Siege to ensure a stability of service on its internal playtests across the Ubisoft family, but Jennings hopes that the upcoming hands-on session will allow the studio to iron out any bugs and "deliver a quality product on launch day", one that doesn't fall prey to extensive downtimes and hefty patches.
Another key pillar for Hyper Scape, says Jennings, is story. Players will be able to select from a roster of characters before jumping into Crown Rush, and though none boast unique in-game abilities, all enter the arena with their own motivations, personalities, and relationship to the wider universe. Jennings confirms that Prisma Dimensions has already charted out the bones of Hyper Scape's live service storytelling "for many seasons" ahead of launch, with a "large trans-media" plan in the works to keep players engaged with the combatants they're fighting as, and against.
"We've built a game where characters are really characters. Not just skins, but people with personality and desires. There's a large narrative arc behind them that we've already written much of the story for, and then on top of that we've started to build the content that goes with that, tied in with things like Halloween and Christmas, and the battle pass."
Jennings' reference to the battle pass will likely raise eyebrows for different reasons amongst the battle royale crowd. As a free-to-play product, Hyper Scape is going to be heavily monetised with a seasonal progression system and in-game store, but Prisma Dimensions has already promised that any and all microtransactions found in the game will be cosmetic only, and never pay-to-win.
The creative director is less keen, however, to offer any clarity about whether Hyper Scape could launch on the upcoming next-gen consoles, the PS5 and Xbox Series X, when they release later this year, stating that the team is "focused on just PS4 and Xbox One at present time, and then will look at how we address the other platforms shortly after".
Life in the arena
The world of battle royale is a cut-throat one, where new contenders to the genre tend to either succeed with flying colours (Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone), or fall into the digital abyss (Radical Heights, The Culling 2). Hyper Scape, with its focus on streamer accessibility and community driven content, has the potential to really take off, but only if the core gameplay is entertaining enough to support it.
Spending three hours with the upcoming tech test build, I'm not yet convinced its gunplay is either as robust or satisfying as its peers, but there's certainly fun to be had in experimenting with its table-turning hacks, off-kilter weaponry, and freeform mobility. There's room for improvement, basically, but what battle royale hasn't started off with one foot in the mud? The question is whether Prisma Dimensions can find a safe place to land in the ever expanding arena of battle royale games, and hit the ground running.