It isn't very often that a game truly sideswipes me, but Embark Studios' The Finals absolutely did. This multiplayer FPS coming from a developer that is made up of a boatload of veteran DICE developers has crept out of the woodworks and suddenly arrived as a Closed Beta product. After getting my hands on access to the title, I've been mucking around in the really, really chaotic gameplay and have a bunch of thoughts from what I've seen so far.
And from the few hours that I've spent playing this Closed Beta, I've come to a rather conflicting impression. Because on one hand, the presentation, concept, action, and performance is all very, very high quality and interesting and fresh, but on the other hand, there are a bunch of areas that leave me less impressed. Be it the gunplay, movement, character class systems, and level design, a few areas of The Finals leave me wanting more - but then again, this is a Closed Beta and as of writing the title literally doesn't even have a release window, so there's plenty of time to iron out any problems.
But what is The Finals, you ask? This multiplayer shooter sees teams of three competing in a combat-centric game show. For the sake of the beta, this means taking part in a game type known as Cashout, which tasks teams with breaching vaults on a medium sized map, and then taking the objective block that resembles a lump of money to a cashout station so that you can bank the money and earn points to put you ahead of rival teams. The catch is that there are usually only two vaults and two cashout stations active at once, and with four teams on the field at one moment, everyone is jostling for the same or similar objectives.
It's a very simple game mode to understand but a challenging one to master, because The Finals doesn't play like a typical boots on the ground shooter. If anything, it more resembles Apex Legends' movement suite, with rapid vaulting and long slides, and all manner of abilities and gadgets that throw additional movement options into the mix, for example grappling hooks, rappel ropes, and jump pads. But this is also one of the areas that I don't think has quite been mastered in The Finals, as characters aren't really designed for rooftop combat and with each map being very vertically-focussed, a lot of the time you are just scrambling for an elevator or running up flights of stairs. It's not the most fine-tuned movement suite as of the moment, as it feels like what Apex Legends brought to the table but on maps that remind me of what Hyperscape offered.
Initially, you might look at what The Finals brings to the table with its gunplay and destructive physics and be blown away, but in truth it's not any more impressive than what we find in Battlefield games. Yes, the destruction physics in Battlefield is awesome, but it's also more of an accompanying factor for the gunplay at the game's core, whereas in The Finals it feels vice-versa. The characters and the weapons they bring to the table all are designed to blow the map the smithereens, and sure there is a lot strategically to gain from doing this (i.e. displacing a team by literally destroying the building floor they are standing on), but as the gunplay feels a little clunky, you mostly meet players running explosives as these get the most value as of right now and this means the game is absurdly chaotic, to the point where it's difficult to really focus on what's happening. With some changes to damage numbers and the destruction system this can all be levelled out, but then the problem will be the actual maps themselves.
The Finals has some of the most striking and cool looking maps I've seen in a long-time in a shooter, but the problem is that they feel really hollow. Buildings are empty and lack in furniture and aesthetics to make them feel real; there is no other life on the map bar the 16 players making them feel barren; and (while I'm not someone to complain about reused assets as I understand how challenging and time consuming game development can be) the fact that most buildings and rooms look identical - particularly in the Monaco map - generates a real repetitive feeling.
But what about the customisation? Well, with it being a beta there was only a limited number of weapons and items to play around with, yet still for the most part, this is all excellent. Some are designed solely for damage and destruction (like frag grenades and automated turrets), whereas others feature a more strategic and supportive design (goo mines to block doors and slow enemy attacks, and heat vision to spot enemies through smoke). This side of the customisation suite shows great promise, but I'm less sure about the class types right now, which allow for Light, Medium, and Heavy character types.
Light are weakest but most agile, and Heavy are slow but hard to take down, with Medium being somewhere in the middle of these. I found that the Medium class is by far the most balanced of the three, with Heavy feeling too oppressive and hard to take down a lot of the time, and Light being a too-high skill class that is either untouchable or useless - with this usually depending on whether they are using the invisibility ability combined with a one-hit kill knife or not. Again, with a bit of tuning and perhaps some overhauls in places, this class suite could come into its own, but as it stands, it's not a part of The Finals that really blew me away.
Generally speaking however, The Finals leaves me with an uncertain impression. On one hand I can see how this game could be great, but on the other I can also see this title facing the same fate of countless other 'promising' shooters over the years. So the question I have following the beta is what else will there be to do? Cashout is a blast, and the ranked Tournaments mode (which sees you competing in a bracket of matches against 16 other teams in Cashout matches, where the two top teams in each bracket stage continue to the next round until a winner is decided) is a great concept to feature, but there needs to be more if The Finals wants to survive.
This game will not thrive without other equally engaging game modes, as the monetisation suite and the progression looks like every other live service multiplayer title that has been released in the past decade. It's troubling and I hope that The Finals isn't overwhelmed by monetised offerings, but when a beta features a battle pass and an arbitrary working store, alarm bells start ringing in my head. Perhaps that's a bit prejudicial, but I refuse to let myself be reeled in and fooled any longer.
Still, The Finals doesn't have a release window, and we don't know when the game will actually be arriving, so for the time being I'll remain cautiously optimistic about what I've played. It needs some tweaks here and there, but as a starting point Embark Studios' developers have proved that even without the might of EA and DICE behind them, they can still crank out interesting looking multiplayer shooter experiences.