Battle Royale Games Are Missing an Essential Element: Sadism
I've been playing quite a few Battle Royale games, as I imagine many people have. Since PUBG crashed the market, Battle Royale have sprung up in the form of indie titles and retroactively, in AAA titles. That said, there's been an unfortunately small amount of innovation in this process.
Battle Royale games have surged thanks to the drama of their gameplay. Each encounter is memorable, thanks to both the variety of gameplay and open-ended sandboxes they take place in.
The moment-to-moment gameplay of PUBG is so excellent because of the sheer tension. Even sighting a player a mile away can trigger an adrenaline rush; the process of hunting or being hunted is endlessly thrilling. It's no wonder that PUBG has stayed at the top of player charts so long unchallenged.
But there's one area where I can't help feel there's room for improvement, and it almost certainly makes me a bad person. The thing is, I'm hunting down and killing people on an island: I want to feel like a bad person.
It's for this reason that I feel Battle Royale games are missing this single component: sadism.
In PUBG, you hunt, and then you kill; you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who truly believes the "kill" component is as thrilling as the hunt. The tension gives way to action, understandably, but the action just isn't as memorable. It lacks drama.
The solution is actually pretty easy: up the violence.
In third-person shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted, extreme attention is put towards animations and effects. Unlike a first-person-shooter, you can see your character and have to identify with them. Animations, from the way the character walks, holds weapons or shifts as they stand still, aid that.
What also helps, is how they react. In Uncharted, when you're shot, you don't just lose health. Actually, the game doesn't even include a health meter. Your sole indicator is Nathan Drake. He staggers, moans, breathes heavily and recoils in shock, as he takes hits. His situation is apparent in the character. So, you're engaged.
In Gears of War, you have the opposite. Your character is a stoic brute of a dude whose muscles deflect bullets. You may let out a grunt or two before pulling a bullet out of your neck, but it's not terrible troubling to you. Attention, instead, goes into how you kill.
You don't just kill your enemies, you eviscerate them. Melees splatter, chainsaws tear and bullets punch holes out of people. You don't kill people, you f***ing murder them. It keeps the player perpetually engaged, since you constantly get the reward/feedback.
The 2016 DOOM reboot was also notably adept at this, with the Glory Kill mechanics and overall presentation.
Battle Royale games seek to inspire the same emotions in the same kind of immersive experience. Players shouldn't just be hunted, they should be desperately fleeing for their lives. Players should just be hunting, they should be predators looking for prey to splatter. All the emotions that players take to the table, expressed via gameplay can be heightened by proper animations and effects.
When I finish off a wounded enemy, I don't want to just tap the melee button and watch them drift into the Lord's embrace. I want to enjoy my kill. We are, after all, hunting people for sport. Blood sport requires blood.
Imagine smashing the stock of your AR into a players chest. Or ramming a player up against a wall, knife in hand, and just fileting them. Headshots should leave craters and clouds as the body makes its last futile, unguided steps forward before collapsing.
Imagine fleeing that player, as your character's skin becomes soaked in sweat. Minutes into your sprint, you hear his rasping, gasping breaths for air as bullets crackle over your head. It's the same desperation I feel as I play, so why shouldn't my character feel it? I’m not the one on the verge of death, he is. The gap between player experience and the character can be deftly closed with animations that let us identify with them.
Ultimately, Battle Royale games are about finding your own stories in wild, bloodthirsty hunts. These games are sold on the experiences they create and emotions they provoke. Cinematic games like Uncharted and Gears of War have already mastered this art; Battle Royale games would do well to learn from them. It's time to put the blood back in bloodsport.