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Last Game Standing: The Best of Battle Royale

We take a closer look at the genre where being last is the aim of the game.

  • Text: Mike Holmes
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They're everywhere. They're inescapable. Everyone is talking about them, from the kids in the playground through to the streamers and their armies of followers. Even the red tops are taking note of their sudden rise in popularity, as they swim further into the mainstream. And then, even if you want to avoid them, some developer will probably try and crowbar one in as an attempt to enhance and make relevant again that online shooter that you still play from time to time. Even if the devs aren't looking into it or have discarded their tentative plans after indifferent initial testing, you can bet your bum that someone in the community is still going to be asking for one to be added to your game. Of course, we're talking about the Battle Royale.

Just like we saw with the MOBA before it, we're seeing a gold rush at the moment as a large number of late-to-the-party developers start throwing together their own takes on this burgeoning genre, or even retroactively adding modes to existing titles where it can be made to fit. There are mobile interpretations and handheld adaptations, there are VR experiences that may or may not make you want to hurl, and you can still play the original mods that started it all (that's if you don't mind your multiplayer games a little rough around the edges and experimental). Battle Royale inspired games and modes are on top of the world right now, and if you hadn't worked it out by now, they're very much here to stay.

And so with such a variety in terms of games, we thought we'd collect together everything and anything we can think of relating to the existing and upcoming games and modes that can easily be defined as Battle Royale experiences. We're going to waltz through the mobile games and the VR experiments, the mods and the failed attempts, before wrapping things up with a list of titles that we think are worth either playing or keeping an eye on. It's entirely subjective, plenty speculative, and totally up for debate, so let us know in the comments below if you think some other game deserves a mention.

A Minecraft mod got the part started.

Let's begin with mods because, after all, that's where this story started. We delved into the history of this genre once before, so we'll not do so again, although we will pause here long enough to drop a few names. First up there's Minecraft: The Hunger Games, a direct reaction to the movie, and the mod that kicked off this whole genre. It was one of those "how have we not thought of this before?" moments, and since then we've seen a steady stream of imitators and reworked interpretations of the same simple concept. They all stem from this original, pretty much, although let's not pat the modders too firmly on the back - they got the idea from a movie based on a book based on another movie based on a book. So really we need to say a big thank you to Koushun Takami for writing Battle Royale. Everyone else is just borrowing.

Then the concept matured a little with the equally important Battle Royale mod created by PlayerUnknown for Arma 2/3, which would go on to directly influence H1Z1 and then PUBG. As Brendan Greene revealed previously, he still maintains a server for dedicated players of the original mod, who no doubt enjoy the fact that they were there at the very beginning, killing and glitching and clipping and dying. There's another mod of note for Rust, which is worth mentioning as it's probably the only game featured in this article where there's a good chance that you'll get horribly beaten to death by a naked man holding a rock. How barbaric.

Moving on, the world of VR also has its fair share of Battle Royale inspired shooters in the works. Stand Out: VR Battle Royale is, ironically enough, the one that stands out the most, but Pavlov VR looks vaguely promising too. Beyond that, though, it's already looking like a sea of vapourware and trashy low-budget money grabs. We might be wrong and doing one or two games a disservice, but we had a good look on Steam and there was nothing there to dissuade us from our opinion that, for the time being at least, last man standing shooters are not going to find their home on VR in quite the same way as they have done on those old-fashioned TV things that most of us still insist on using.

Stand Out: VR Battle Royale is a virtual shooter with potential.

The other place we all play games is on our mobile devices, and quelle surprise there are a growing number of mobile Battle Royale shooters trying to worm their way onto your phone and definitely not steal all of your personal data and monitor your calls. Rules of Survival is a fairly straightforward PUBG clone, but it was one of the first to do it well, so well done there. Another game on mobile that just about fits the bill is Surviv.io (it's also out on PC), although it's a far cry from main entries in the genre with its top-down view and super simple visuals. With such huge potential audiences, however, it didn't take long for the big guns to make their way to the smallest of screens, and PUBG and Fortnite have both since been adapted for touchscreen devices. You can even play on your mobile against keyboard-owning PC players in Fortnite. Guess who's going to win that particular battle nine times out of ten... Still, it's nice to have the option, right?!

And finally, before we whittle this lot down to the last games standing, it's probably the right time to look back at those less than successful attempts. Crytek's first go ended up in a game type being added to Warface. At least the studio's second attempt, which we'll get to later, did a much better job. Another notable game that didn't quite catch on was The Culling, a title that we tried and enjoyed, mildly, back when it still had players and before development was halted. This one riffs heavily on the Hunger Games/game show vibe, with players emerging from cages and looking for the equipment needed to survive in the world. It was a case of "close but no cigar" for the devs at Xaviant, who deserve their mention for being pioneers in a genre that ultimately passed them by.