'80s nostalgia is a rich vein of material, but few games have dug as close to bedrock as Radical Heights, the next game from LawBreakers studio Boss Key Productions. Tapping into a second source of zeitgeist, it's a free-to-play battle royale shooter, but with a hyper-capitalist twist and more luridly neon-painted BMX bikes than ever actually existed. It's also out tomorrow.
So, it's the '80s by way of Robocop and Smash TV, where clashing colours were the mark of high style, lycra shorts were totally fashionable and mullets were the coolest, manliest thing around. In short, it's a world that never existed, fabricated entirely in the past decade or so to tap into nostalgic and irony-driven crowds. Doesn't stop it being fun, though, and a hell of a lot better than the grim, grey-brown and desaturated style that used to rule the roost.
Just from watching the trailer, I have two concerns. First is the proliferation of scoped or otherwise very deadly assault or sniper rifles. All the pseudo-cartoon aesthetics in the world can't hide this being another high-lethality shooter, no matter how many trampolines and BMX bikes you stuff it with. My second issue is with the central mechanical twist of the game: You have a persistent bank account that carries between matches.
The recent addition of vending machines to Fortnite may have seemed initially strange, but it provided a logical sink for you to pour excess materials into. Radical Heights' implementation feels like a potential balancing nightmare. Rich players can cash in from an ATM and grab a powerful weapon from the first shop terminal they see, while less fortunate folk are going to have to grab their guns the old fashioned way.
I appreciate that they're shooting for a very '80s 'Greed is Good' message, but if it ends up undermining the balance of the game and driving a wedge between players, Radical Heights might end up being remembered as an inadvertent critique of unchecked capitalism. At the very least, I can see players intentionally going into matches not to win, but to grind money and cash it out as quickly as possible in order to give them an edge in future rounds.
Radical Heights launches as free-to-play tomorrow via Steam Early Access.