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Butt-slide Royale: Apex Legends and creative movement in shooters

Turn the other cheek

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I’m not sure anyone at Respawn has properly busted their ass on the curb. It hurts. The last time I cracked my rear off the concrete in a moment of skating hubris, I was limping for days. Fortunately for the fifty million folks flying around in Apex Legends, a billowing cushion of air has turned what should be an embarrassing accident into the most compelling movement skill in years. There are, uh, a few battle royale games. And each one has had to find its identity to stand out. PUBG has its impossibly large open fields and tense sniper standoffs. Fortnite requires you be a Minecraft building savant to change the level around you during battle. In Apex Legends, though? It’s all about that need for speed.

In Apelegs, you drop like a rocket and run nearly as fast. You can’t run along walls, but you sure can climb a two-story shack in less time than it takes to hurdle one of PUBG’s chest-high walls. Pathfinder, a speedy, optimistic robot character, has grapples and zip lines that open up a wealth of opportunities for quick traversal and fast flanks. But there’s one tool, one button, that no Apelegs player worth their salt should be sitting on. Nothing matches the butt-slide, Oh lord, that magnificent butt-slide.

There’s an encyclopedia’s worth of nuance to the butt-slide. You can sprint into a slide, jump into it, or leap from one slide to another. With gravity playing a key factor in your sliding speed, every descent, be it a mile-long hillside or a single step, becomes an opportunity to zip along at inhuman speeds. Which goes double if you’re a robot.

The butt-slide feels familiar to anyone who enjoyed skiing in Tribes. Kicking off at the end of a steep descent will send you flying just like that. It’s not the Torque engine’s lofty moon-jumps, granted, but enough to make a meaningful gap between yourself and the nasty end of a fully-loaded Peacekeeper. Movement like that can be magical in shooters. Sure, one-button mobility kits in games like Overwatch are neat, but Apelegs comes from a lineage of baking weird and wild agility tools straight into each press of WASD. Respawn’s battle royale is a joy to simply move around in

Mid-air combat in Quake Champions

But you can’t talk about Apex Legends without mentioning Titanfall 2. Pilots might’ve mourned the loss of wall-running when Respawn’s battle royale came out, but the butt-slide has quietly always been king. There have always been tiny rockets attached to Respawn characters’ rears, kicking you into top gear with every casual tap of CTRL. In Titanfall 2, by landing a jump in a butt-slide, pilots could keep any momentum gained by wall-kicking or launching themselves off a grapple. Basically a more modern version of the ever popular bunnyhop, it became known as the slide hop, a new way to get fast and stay fast while minimising your hitbox.

The butt-slide’s legacy doesn’t start and stop with Respawn Entertainment. For reasons absolutely unfathomable to me, Apex Legends (like both Titanfall games before it) uses a heavily modified version of Valve’s Source Engine. You know, the engine Half-Life 2 was built-in two decades ago. That brings with it a history of games with creative, often skill-based movement that defined the first-person shooters of the time.

Half-Life 2 speedruns, for example, use a trick called accelerated back hopping, or ABH. By turning Gordon Freeman around and crouch-jumping backwards in the right way, you can exploit certain rules in how the game calculates velocity to go real fast on your ass. The engine caps how fast you can move by applying acceleration backwards, but if you’re already moving backwards it just makes you go even faster, until eventually you’re hurled into the air. Put a video clip of that in reverse and you’ve basically got Titanfall 2’s slide hopping.

While each new developer brought their own ideas to the evolving engine, some tricks remained. Rocket jumping works exactly the same in Quake as it does in Team Fortress 2: defy conventional wisdom by shooting rockets at yourself, trading health for high-jumps. Air strafing was another trick to make the jump between generations, messing with momentum to accelerate at ludicrous speeds by turning in mid-air. Bunnyhopping players kept finding ways to reduce the slow-down associated with touching the ground between leaps. Between all of these tricks, shooters took a peculiar form in their early days; frantic games of “The Floor Is Lava” with a lethal twist.

Those games were manic, adrenaline-filled fun, but they weren’t half intimidating. Movement techniques of speedrun-level complexity are practically vital for top-level Quake play, and the skill gap between good players and great players is vast. Even Titanfall 2, for all its streamlining, has an interstellar gap between those who can move and those who can’t.

It was another offshoot of the Quake engine that would drive the next generation of shooters, the more solid, boots-literally-on-the-ground World War affairs like Call Of Duty from Infinity Ward. Infinity would later see co-founders Vince Zampella and Jason West leaving and forming Respawn in 2010. Quite nice of them to close the circle for this piece, honestly.

Apelegs feels like Respawn’s third attempt to marry these two play styles, by way of class-based shooters and battle royale. It’s a melting pot of contradictions that shouldn’t work, but somehow all work in perfect harmony. It succeeds by letting its wilder movements sit confidently in the background. Butt-sliding will get you across the map faster and gain an edge on your opponents, but you’ll never be truly running circles around them. Pathfinder’s grapple can get you initiating fights from arcane angles, but long cooldowns mean they’re never a truly deciding factor.

Apex Legends sold itself on a thousand tiny improvements. There is very little it does that Fortnite can’t steal – and isn’t already in the process of doing so. But by taking just a pinch of Titanfall’s movement and throwing it into the blender, Apelegs is the first battle royale where crossing the map feels as effortless and enjoyable as pulling the trigger. And you can do it sitting on your butt.

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Natalie Clayton

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Edinburgh-based freelance writer and game designer. Won an award once. Well chuffed.

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