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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.

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.

Last Game Standing: The Best of Battle Royale
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.

Last Game Standing: The Best of Battle Royale
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.

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Before we get into the countdown (which is irrelevant really considering the fact the some of the games aren't even out yet - but hey, we like lists), we should probably round-up the modes in or coming to existing games. For example, there's Paladins which is getting a Battlegrounds mode in the nearish future. This is probably our favourite of the bunch purely because of the straight-faced audacity of Hi-Rez to call the mode Battlegrounds. Dying Light: Bad Blood sees last player standing action coming to Techland's well-supported co-op zombie adventure. Then there's Crossout, the vehicular MMO, which has recently gotten a limited Battle Royale mode, although if you want carnage on wheels your best bet is probably going to be found on the streets of Los Santos in GTA Online, via the Motor Wars mode. And last but not least, let's spare a thought for Ark: Survival of the Fittest, as its creators saw which way the winds of progress were blowing very early on. While the free-to-play mode landed way back in early 2016 as a standalone release, it's locked away as part of Ark: Survival Evolved now, but, for a time, it was a mode that explored new territory, and that's worth celebrating.

Europa - Tencent is wading into the Battle Royale genre with Europa, which is on Steam, kinda, but doesn't support English. The screens and gameplay we've seen look good, however, with plenty of weather effects, smooth animations, and destructible environments all pointing to a promising game in the making. Will we get to play it over here though? Now that's the question to which we have no answer.

SOS - Less pie in the sky is SOS, an early access multiplayer game with survival aspects that blends the more realistic PUBG approach with a setup more akin to the game show premise we've seen elsewhere. The results? Divisive so far, but the asymmetrical design and how it mixes PvE and PvP is certainly interesting, with contestants dodging each other as three of the fifteen players look to survive and escape. The zombie-like creatures out for blood in the wider world further spices things up.

Radical Heights - After the catastrophically lackluster reception to the otherwise quite decent Lawbreakers, Boss Key jumped aboard the good ship Battle Royale with its own take on the genre. Cliff Bleszinski and his team decided to dip their game in '80s neon and the art style certainly sets it apart. Although it still leans more towards the realistic end of the spectrum when it comes to the weapons while keeping an irreverent, cartoon-like approach to traversal, it strikes a nifty balance between the two towering giants, PUBG and Fortnite. The launch of Radical Heights has proved polarising, however, as it's clearly part of the gold rush we alluded to earlier. Not a single person will complain if Boss Key can nail down the essentials, though, and the studio's pedigree means that this one to keep an eye on.

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Islands of Nyne - There's a slight futuristic lean to many of these games, such is the gladiatorial nature of the genre. Given how devs aren't looking back to history for their last man standing games (though now we think about it, a close combat focused game with a load of players armed with melee weapons set in a colosseum would be amazing), setting them in the near future where audiences are happy to once again revel in bloodsports makes perfect sense. Islands of Nyne takes the futuristic aspect and dials it up to 11, with Crysis-like metallic suits and giant alien domes to house all the PvP carnage.

Fear the Wolves - The team behind Fear the Wolves had a hand in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series in a different life, which instantly has us intrigued about the studio's recently announced effort. There's going to be a radioactive element at work here, what with the action taking place against the backdrop of Chernobyl. Other than a few scant details we don't know a huge amount about this one, but we're still very much looking forward to seeing what it mutates into over time.

H1Z1 - One of the elders of the Battle Royale movement, H1Z1 is a solid shooter that grew directly from the Arma mods of old, thanks largely to a consultancy period with PUBG designer and modder extraordinaire Brendan Greene. It's free-to-play and drawing in crowds thanks to an emphasis on esports, but in terms of gameplay it's fair to say that this pioneering effort has since been overtaken. Still, there's a fun Auto Royale mode included, and the whole thing is completely gratis, so we're still gonna recommend you check this one out if you're a fan of the genre.

Last Game Standing: The Best of Battle Royale
Auto Royale is a fun way to play H1Z1.

Mavericks Proving Grounds - Automaton's take on the genre is being made with a bigger is better design mantra, and the Proving Grounds are therefore going to be filled with up to 400 players. We're expecting carnage, and we can't wait to see what the increased player count is going to the do for the overall dynamic of the genre. There's a big question mark next to this game, but then again, with big risks come potentially huge rewards. Keep an eye on this one.

Darwin Project - Another game that takes the TV show format in an interesting direction is Darwin Project, which puts convicts in a snow-filled environment and lets them have it with axes and arrows. There's light crafting involved which offers interesting new possibilities, but the big twist comes via the involvement of the director; an eleventh player who can spice up the action and essentially play god while the other ten mere mortals scurry around and try to kill each other. Darwin Project is primed for the streaming generation with its interactive element, and the lower player count makes for a more personal experience.

Hunt: Showdown - Crytek may have underwhelmed with Warface, but Hunt: Showdown is an extremely promising attempt to do something a little different with this burgeoning genre. Small two-player teams must hunt down a dangerous target found in a swamp-covered map filled with environmental dangers (that's the "Hunt" part of the title), and then once the beast is taken down the remaining players must then scrap over the spoils before making good their escape (and there's the "Showdown"). What's currently available in early access might be a little barebones, and Crytek has a lot of work to do to fully optimise the game, but apart from that, this is one of the most promising games in the genre.

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PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds - We got there eventually. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds - or PUBG as most people call it these days - is the game that refined the experience laid down in Arma and then H1Z1, and then used it to take over the world. Since it released on PC in early access last year, the game has gone on to become one of the most successful paid-for titles of all time. The game hit 1.0 on PC just a couple of months ago, and it's now in early access on Xbox One, further expanding its reach of more than 30 million players. This is the game that defined the genre, and its incredible success has to be attributed to a mix of great design and a compelling concept.

Fortnite - Fortnite wasn't originally a Battle Royale game, but after watching the success of PUBG, Epic decided to have a go themselves. The studio re-purposed its own assets to make what is arguably the game of 2018 (so far, at least). Fortnite: Battle Royale most certainly picked up speed in the wake of PUBG's rise to prominence, and the fuss surrounding Bluehole's annoyance at Epic's brazen copying has, looking back, proved extremely helpful in raising the profile of this free-to-play addition. That said, once a critical mass of players had formed around the game, Fortnite stepped out of the shadow of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and became a monster in its own right. Thanks to its playful art style and some unique construction mechanics, Fortnite has emerged alongside PUBG as one of the defining games in this growing genre.

Last Game Standing: The Best of Battle RoyaleLast Game Standing: The Best of Battle Royale
PUBG and Fortnite, the two games that stand apart from the others.

Before you leave... we've got enough time for some wild speculation, right? Might we see more multiplayer-centric games like Halo, Overwatch, and Call of Duty add their own Battle Royale modes in the future? Indeed, speculation is already starting to build around Black Ops 4. In the same vein, Battlefield is a shooter series that arguably is even more suited to hosting a last player standing mode thanks to its focus on large-scale warfare (update: this little gem popped up in the hours after we published the article). We've heard that Massive is looking into making a game of its own, and of all the Tom Clancy games, something based around The Division (which Massive was lead studio on) certainly makes much more sense than Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. We also like the idea of something similar in Sea of Thieves, a game which boasts some of the best and most unique PvP combat out there and that would be a great fit for the genre if you ask us (and by reading this far you kinda did). In fact, any game with a huge open world could potentially support a decent Battle Royale game or mode, which is why the rumours that Red Dead Redemption 2 is going to launch with one are entirely plausible and even believable (but this is Rockstar, so we'll have to wait and see).

Whether we're talking about games that have added a mode retroactively, new titles looking to jump on the hype train with game types being added in the future, or even whole titles built solely with Battle Royale experiences in mind, it's crystal clear that this genre isn't going anywhere. Once the gold rush is over, things will likely calm down a little, but it's fair to say that PUBG, Fortnite and all the rest of them have changed the face of gaming forever.

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