Impressions: Radical Heights is rough around the edges, but it has potential

Now that LawBreakers is pretty much dead in the water, its developer Boss Key Productions has quickly shifted focus to a new project: a free-to-play retro ‘80s-themed battle royale game called Radical Heights. It’s a logical move given the overwhelming popularity of similar games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale, but it also carries some degree of risk given how much those two previously mentioned games dominate the battle royale market.

After having played several rounds of Radical Heights myself, I can say that the game feels rather barebones at the moment, but it also has a lot of potential as a new contender in the battle royale genre.

Trying To Fit In

In the past, I have sampled both Fortnite Battle Royale and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and I think it’s fair to say that, while they are similar in structure, each of those games is built with a different sort of audience in mind. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (known more colloquially as PUBG) is a more “realistic” battle royale experience whereas Fortnite Battle Royale’s unique combination of combat and crafting mechanics allows for some truly unorthodox strategies (like building a massive staircase up into the sky so you can snipe unsuspecting players from above).

Radical Heights, meanwhile, operates as a sort of happy medium between the two, providing a more colorful and humorous aesthetic than what you’ll find in PUBG but also cutting out all the crafting and structure-building elements of Fortnite Battle Royale.

The game is loaded with clever ‘80s and ‘90s references, like a cheeseburger healing item called a “Royale with Cheese” (Pulp Fiction) and a pistol weapon called the PPK (the signature weapon used by James Bond). The entire premise of the game also has a definite Running Man vibe, right down to the overly cheerful announcer and the bright jumpsuits worn by player avatars.

Work In Progress

Boss Key Productions stresses in Radical Heights’ Steam page that the game is in very early access (development on the game began a mere five months ago) and it certainly shows once you get in and actually start playing. Textures for both player characters and the environment look very rough, there’s no animations for swimming so you just walk over bodies of water, and there are several core features that are still missing like playable female avatars (they’re ‘coming soon’ according to the in-game character creator). There also aren’t a lot of cosmetic items to unlock or buy, and a fair number of items that are available are locked behind Radical Heights’ $14.99 Founder’s Pack.

The controls could use some work as well. They aren’t terrible, they’re just a little too complex for my liking. If you already play shooters on the PC, you’ll recognize most of the control staples. There’s WASD for movement, Shift key for sprinting, etc., but there are also separate keys for crouching, going prone, jumping, and performing a combat roll.

Trying to remember which is which during a tense firefight can mean the difference between winning and losing. Again, it’s a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, especially given how early we are in Radical Heights’ development cycle, but one which bears mentioning nonetheless.

The good news is that what Radical Heights currently offers in terms of gameplay works surprisingly well. One hundred players are dropped into a massive outdoor map that is clearly modeled after the sunny Hollywood area of Los Angeles before gunning each other down until there’s only one player left standing.

Items such as weapons, armor, and gadgets can either be found out in the world or bought from vending machines using cash which is gained by destroying cash registers and looting valuable items like television sets and cameras. Cash can also be deposited into ATM’s to your global ‘Offshore Account’ which persists between matches.

Now, while the ability to amass a large nest egg of cash you can draw upon during each new match may sound a bit unfair, it is actually a pretty balanced system. For one thing, cash is used both to buy in-game equipment and to purchase permanent cosmetic items. Since even low-rarity cosmetic items tend to be pretty pricey, players who are saving up will be less prone to blowing their savings on a powerful gun that they’ll probably just lose when they’re killed.

Plus, even if a player does withdraw funds in order to purchase an expensive high-powered weapon, they still have to run over to wherever that weapon’s vending machine is, leaving them exposed to a potential ambush where they’d lose all that cash for good.

I also found it to be kind of fun amassing cash and then trying to find an ATM to store it. The ATM system functions as a sort of pseudo-progression mechanic which has actual stakes, since if you’re killed you drop all the cash you have.

The system might need some tweaking in the future, but for those who are worried that being able to store cash indefinitely will lead to severely one-sided matches, I don’t think you have much to worry about.

Shooting For The Moon

I’ll admit I was worried that Radical Heights’ super-edgy ‘80s rock aesthetic would turn me off (much like how LawBreakers turned me off with its own edgy take), but once you’re in the actual game it’s a lot easier to bear. Boss Key Productions is certainly making quite a gamble by publicly releasing a game that’s so clearly unfinished, and it’s hard to say at this point whether or not that gamble will pay off.

From what I’ve seen so far, Radical Heights has a lot going for it. The gunplay feels solid, the aesthetic is surprisingly pleasant, and elements like the ATM system and cosmetic prize unlocks help to differentiate it from the competition. Only time will tell if Radical Heights can achieve the mainstream success that LawBreakers never quite could, but if Boss Key can keep the game’s development process on track, I like its chances.