Hyper Scape Beta Review – IGNJuly 27, 2020
I first fell in love with battle royale games at the launch of H1Z1 in 2015 and have been fascinated by watching good ideas evolve the genre and bad ones flame out ever since. Enter Hyper Scape, currently in open beta – which, for a free-to-play game, translates into “it’s out.” Ubisoft claims this is the “future of battle royale” and, with its flashy sci-fi setting and urban environments, it certainly looks the part. But in the present, it’s overstuffed: in trying to differentiate itself, Hyper Scape adds loads of unique gameplay mechanics, but none of these twists really stick out as outstanding improvements. The poorly balanced result is instead full of frustrating gun fights and a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the genre fun.
On the surface, Hyper Scape’s 99-player battle royale currently sticks to the last-man-or-team-standing formula with just two game modes: solos and three-player squads. The map, however, breaks the mold by being a polished cityscape that’s what I imagine a mashup of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Division would look like. It’s composed of 99 districts that gradually “decay” in random patterns over time, causing all their buildings to collapse and depriving anyone there of cover. That pushes players around the map in a refreshingly different way than the traditional and predictable shrinking circle. Without giving any hint of where the late-match action might end up, Hyper Scape kept me guessing and constantly on the move. It forced me to stay alert at all times and expect a fight at any moment.
Another big difference that I like in principle is that you don’t necessarily have to be the last team standing to win. When a match narrows down to its last few players, a Crown will spawn somewhere on the map and, if you can hold onto it for 40 seconds, you’ll earn a victory. You can still just take everyone else down as usual instead, but the Crown offers an interesting new way to win if you’re not as confident in your skills to fight against multiple teams. The problem with it as it exists right now is that so many teams can potentially grab the Crown when it spawns and then just run around while spamming the abilities you can pick up and be essentially uncontested. This isn’t too different from what can happen during the beginning and middle of matches, but since all you need to do is hold the Crown for 45 seconds, spamming the movement-enhancing abilities makes this final phase way more chaotic than strategic, since you and your last remaining opponents are desperately trying to catch up to the Crown holder. This resulted in a lot of unsatisfying endings where the match would just abruptly end after you try to finally corner the Crown holder and the timer runs out, declaring a winner.
Going in, Hyper Scape’s urban aesthetics and mobility were a huge draw for me, almost bringing the look and feel of arena shooters like Quake Champions or Splitgate into a battle royale with so much vertical movement and speed thanks to a double-jump, bounce pads, and plenty of movement-enhancing abilities that make high rooftops just as accessible as the streets. As a result of that and the decaying map design, match pacing feels much faster than more recent battle royales, such as Apex Legends or even Call of Duty: Warzone, since Hyper Scape is almost constantly closing off sectors.
Another thing I genuinely liked about Hyper Scape is that when you’re down, you’re not out. As long as at least one teammate is still alive you’re able to roam the map as an Echo (basically a ghost) to help scout out the area for your teammates, calling out enemies, loot boxes, and guns. You can even find restore points (dropped wherever a player dies) to be brought back to life by a teammate. (By contrast, in most battle royales, being taken out first means you basically just sit in front of your screen waiting or go join another match.) It takes a few seconds and you don’t come back with any of your loot, but this mechanic gives you hope of coming back right up to the end of a match.
Unfortunately, your life is prolonged in a less than ideal way as well, as all players naturally heal up over time. It’s not a revolutionary new idea or anything, but it has some really negative effects in the context of the battle royale format. I’ve engaged in so many fights that ended up with nobody dead as both me and my opponent retreated to hide and heal up for a bit. This made Hyper Scape feel like a drawn-out game of cat and mouse, but not in the good way.
Abilities like health regen are universal, because even though there’s a roster of generic and slightly obnoxious characters, called Contenders, they don’t come with unique preset skills or traits. Instead of being a hero shooter like Apex Legends, Hyper Scape takes the more traditional route of having all of its upgrades exist as loot you pick up during a match – in this case, items called Hacks. While you can only have two equipped at once, I liked the idea of being able to personalize my playstyle on the fly instead of being bound to a set that I might not entirely like – unfortunately, there’s less flexibility here than it first seems.
All Show And No Go
There are 10 types of Hacks total, and using them well is crucial to navigating around the map. Vertical movement is easy to manage thanks to your default double jump and the plentiful amount of bounce pads – but for horizontal movement to get you out of a jam in a hurry, you’ll need to pick up abilities like Teleport and Slam. Some Hacks have fun effects that make things much more interesting, like one called Ball that covers you in a weird metal ball and allows you to bounce around everywhere. There are also non-movement based Hacks that allow you to play more offensively or defensively depending on your preference, like Mine (which drops a powerful proximity bomb) or Invisibility (says what it does and does what it says).
You can also upgrade each Hack up to four times by picking up duplicates of them (a trick that also works for the weapons you find). Sometimes that means there’s a reduced cooldown or increased time for the ability’s duration. It only took a few matches to get familiar with the different Hacks and figure out which ones I felt more comfortable with: since I like Hyper Scape’s mobility, I’d usually try to find movement-based Hacks to keep myself constantly on the go. Slam is really supposed to be used offensively, since it launches you up in the air and then brings you back down to superhero punch the ground and deal damage to opponents within a small radius. Instead, I prefer to use it to launch myself up and away from a fight I didn’t want to engage in, crashing down in a completely different and safer area.
As cool as these abilities are, the power disparity between certain Hacks limits creativity and choice. Options like Mine and Invisibility are incredibly strong, while others aren’t powerful enough to even consider using over them. While battle royales obviously have a fair amount of luck in terms of finding good loot, Hacks don’t follow the usual rarity system in that they all have the same likelihood of showing up, making which players get an unexpected power spike seem far more random.
This may still be a “beta,” but there’s a lot of work to be done in balancing each Hack to be fair and reasonable. There are some Hacks that should seemingly counter others, but don’t offer enough power to fulfill that goal. For example, while the Reveal Hack shows the location of nearby enemies through walls, including someone using Invisibility, players with Invisibility also get to move slightly faster, making it a weak response on its own.
The Invisibility Hack being one of the stronger abilities was a surprise to me because most games have some way of noticing a cloaked enemy if they get too close, but not Hyper Scape. The number of opponents who ended up getting away after disappearing while literally right in front of me in the middle of a fight was infuriatingly high, and came at no cost to the other person. You’d think that such a strong ability would come with a drawback, such as slowing your movement speed while cloaked, but there’s no such check on its power. In any ability-based game you expect there to be a give and take with the strength of each mechanic, but Hyper Scape’s strongest Hacks break that rule in a frustrating way.
Despite there being 10 different Hacks to find and choose from, this power imbalance means there’s only the illusion of player choice. It’s a system that made me hope I could happily pick any two to personalize my playstyle the way I wanted, but the more matches I played, the more I realized that the small handful of Hacks everyone else seemed to be using were the only realistic ones to equip. My first impression was that Hyper Scape was one of the more difficult battle royales I’d played – but once I became familiar with its systems, I realized that the original sense of difficulty only came from not knowing where to watch for the imbalanced abilities. This made staying alive seem artificially harder.
Hack balance isn’t the only thing that doesn’t feel properly tuned, either. The more I queued up, the more I realized that outside of the standard assault rifle, shotgun, and sniper rifle, there is a huge disconnect between a weapon’s appearance and its damage output. The Skybreaker, for example, is a single-shot energy weapon with a long reload time that fires a condensed electric ball that explodes upon impact. It looks like it should obliterate anything in its path, as it’s one of the heavier looking and sounding guns, and has a decent radius in which the explosion hits. However, even when it’s fully upgraded, it doesn’t do nearly as much damage as its extreme visuals would imply, and it fires much too slowly to be viable in Hyper Scape’s fast-paced fights, rendering it one of the least effective weapons.
Hyper Scape screenshots
In general, if your weapons aren’t upgraded fully, the amount of damage done is so frustratingly small that I found myself not wanting to engage in fights unless I had a fully-powered shotgun, which is essentially a two-hit kill, or the sniper rifle, which is a one-hit kill with a headshot. That just makes it incredibly aggravating to feel like you’re at a disadvantage just because you weren’t lucky enough to find more copies of the same guns you’re holding and then get taken out in the first fight you encounter by someone who was. While luck in finding the right guns is in the DNA of most battle royales, there should still be some level of hope that good aim and technique can win you fights against opponents with better equipment.
If you’re really lucky, you could even find a fully leveled gun or Hack totally by chance, but being on the receiving end of someone who has right at the start of a match sucks. That unlucky draw isn’t unique to Hyper Scape, but the meager damage of its lower-level weapons makes it a serious problem. The time-to-kill also feels a little too long in general, so unless you have upgrades for your weapons that increase magazine size, you’ll likely be the first one down in a straight fight.
A good battle royale should encourage you to engage in fights at every point in a match, regardless of your looting luck, and reward you for taking such risks if your skills let you come out on top. Hyper Scape instead feels like it punishes that fun, aggressive behavior just because your weapon level isn’t high enough.
In testing out guns in the training area, I also noticed that the more overpowered weapons don’t have any recoil – even the Hexfire, which is essentially a minigun. If you don’t aim down the sights it does have a wider spread, but it never kicks back like you’d expect. When comparing this to the assault rifle, the Ripper, there was a noticeable recoil pattern that pulled the gun up as I fired it. Gun recoil helps maintain the balance of gunplay by rewarding mechanical skill no matter what the damage numbers are, but the inconsistent standards in Hyper Scape throw that balance out the window. The result of all of these incongruent systems is that fights are incredibly frustrating to engage in, and it seems like camping in buildings to wait out the match until the Crown spawns is not an uncommon strategy as a result.