Radical Heights is the latest Battle Royale game to make a play for the growing audience that's building around the likes of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite. Like early genre offering The Culling it's heavily based on a TV show premise, and it borrows a lot of the staples that have been pioneered elsewhere. However, it stands apart from the crowd thanks to its neon-edged art style, with grainy VHS-era visuals further immersing you in the '80s mood that Boss Key Productions is trying to capture. Straight away you'll be running around in tight shorts and tighter spandex, riding on your BMX, and generally looking awesome/terrible (edit to suit your opinion of '80s fashion) with your aviators on and your perfectly-curled perm blowing in the wind. Throw in the game show commentator who bombards you with rad comments and you've got a game with plenty of attitude.
This latest foray into the world of last man standing online multiplayer landed just days after Boss Key announced that the development of Lawbreakers had been put on ice. After the dust had settled on that piece of news, the studio moved to refocus our collective attention on its next project, and it's fair to say that the tactic worked. For better and for worse.
Lawbreakers could yet become a turning point when viewed through the lens of hindsight. It was Titanfall 2 before it that proved that you can make an excellent shooter and still watch it struggle in the face of the entrenched heavyweights (the likes of CoD, Battlefield, Halo, and CSGO). Overwatch is the obvious exception that proves the rule, but then again, the hero format derived from the MOBA genre set it apart from the military-themed crowd and Blizzard are, well, Blizzard. Even the old guard can struggle; people purred about the reboot of Doom, but it was the solo campaign that wowed players and the team-based part of the package was farmed out to an external studio and never really hit the mainstream. You could argue that Rainbow Six: Siege has mixed things up a little, but that's not strictly speaking a new IP and even then Ubisoft backed it to the hilt. Lawbreakers had everything it needed to survive the landscape as it once was, yet it never developed the critical mass of players needed to take off, and so its creators essentially put it out to pasture and moved onto something else.
The top tier shooter franchises are still plenty popular and the audience is definitely there, but the obvious risks associated with going up against the games mentioned above with a new property are going to put off plenty of devs and many of those who brave it are going to struggle. Boss Key found out the hard way. But there is another path, and as PUBG and Fortnite have so aptly demonstrated over the last year or so, there's still an insatiable appetite among shooter fans for online action and excitement. It's just now the landscape has changed and the stakes have been raised, and instead of 4vs4 or 8vs8 squad battles played between polished teams on tight maps with respawns galore, now we're seeing game modes and standalone titles that give each player one life and a selection of weapons, and then encourages them to kill everyone and anyone they meet. Mortal peril is proving to be a simple but effective hook. The rise of permadeath mechanics and their spread into other genres no doubt helped, but it took mods born of the survival genre on PC to completely refocus the FPS space (more on that here) and give birth to the Battle Royale phenomena that we know today.
That's a lot of context for a preview of an early access game with such a simple core concept, but the fact that Boss Key and Radical Heights are at the very intersection of this shift between squad-based combat and last player standing chaos makes it an interesting case study. It's no coincidence that a number of these games are themed around TV shows: they're pure entertainment. There are no second chances and mistakes are severely punished, there's always plenty going on, and lots of people are involved which ensures unpredictability. Throw that lot together with guns, explosions, and the odd dash of luck, and as we've established by now, you've got a winning combination.