Despite arriving on the scene well ahead of PUBG, Daybreak's H1Z1 has had to live very much in the shadow of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Originally launching into Early Access back in 2015, the project was eventually split into two before H1Z1: King of the Hill became simply H1Z1. It's probably fair to say that the game/s development has been an up and down affair, but we're not here to talk about that, rather we've been playing the game as it is now.
Upon launch, H1Z1 went free-to-play almost straight away. It kinda had to; despite the fact that PUBG is a full-priced game, the game that kickstarted the genre now has more than 30 million paying players. Then there's the not-so-small matter of Fortnite: Battle Royale, which is doing great business too and even outperforming PUBG thanks to its free-to-play model. Both games recently moved onto consoles and mobile platforms, further expanding their respective reaches. Looking beyond the headlining acts, there's a growing number of Battle Royale-inspired games popping up on various platforms and as part of existing games, and they're all vying for the attention of the same group of players.
Despite H1Z1 getting there first, it never managed to capture hearts and dominate the genre that it helped pioneer, and so even though it's got pedigree, even though it's been around for years longer than the competition, and even though it's now free to one and all, Daybreak's third-person last player standing shooter still faces an uphill challenge if it's going to step out of the shadows and compete shoulder to shoulder with the new genre giants.
The now free-to-play game offers up Battle Royale-inspired modes built for one, two, and five players, and there's an Auto-Royale mode which is basically two or four players strapped into a car waiting to die. There's a convoluted progression system on top of this (you can pay to speed up your progress, as well as buy cosmetic items) that ties things together, but ultimately this is a free-for-all online shooter with very few bells and whistles.
The main attraction is, of course, the solo mode, but there is fun to be had from banding up with buddies for team-focused matches, and in the Auto-Royale mode you can only play with others, so if you want to get behind the wheel you'll have to either party up or play with randoms. Either way, in that mode you'll be searching for other cars and seeking out crates ranked according to their rarity (the rarer they are, the longer you'll have to shoot at them to get at what's inside). This part of the game is actually in beta at the moment, so we won't dwell on it for too long, but we will say that it certainly changes up the dynamic of the game and provides a bit of variety for those looking for it.
Back to the solo mode and we have to say that, while it's perfectly functional, it doesn't have the same fluidity offered by some of its competitors. From your descent from the sky through to your movement as you traverse the world itself, H1Z1 does the basics well enough, and if you're a fan of the genre coming to it for the first time, you'll know exactly what's going on as soon as your boots touch the ground. That said, it never really excels at anything in particular, and that familiarity we mentioned earlier also means there's very little in the way of surprise. It certainly doesn't help that assets are overused to a fault, and you'll get regular deja vu as you explore your surroundings, with identically arranged campsites often situated way too close to one another. It's not game breaking by any means, but it also didn't leave us particularly impressed either.
There's a shallow pool of weapons to draw from too, which certainly doesn't change this impression. In terms of the range of options open to the player, H1Z1 isn't as generous as other games in the same genre, and that lack of variety also takes out some of the excitement when it comes to scavenging for supplies. In the end, most matches come down to a race to the action in the middle, with players drawn together by the ever-shrinking playable area; in that sense, there's intense action on offer for all players. You've just got to get over the repetitive and relatively uninteresting early game to get to it.
H1Z1 ticks all the right boxes, but it never really grabbed us in the same way as PUBG and Fortnite did. It doesn't look as good as the competition and it's not as interesting nor as varied as the games it's going up against. It's free-to-play which certainly helps, but with Fortnite also playing the same trick with its Battle Royale mode, that's not the selling point that Daybreak no doubt envisioned it would be. If you're a fan of the genre and you've not played it already, there's no barrier in place to stop you having a look, and given how it offers a solid experience we'd certainly suggest that you check it out, just don't expect to delete PUBG or Fortnite from your hard drive to make room for it.