Deep breath. The Cycle: Frontier is a free-to-play PvPvE first-person shooter. Whew, that's a lot of parts smushed together, but think of it like a baby's first Hunt: Showdown. You're a Prospector, tasked with descending into Fortuna 3, an alien planet filled with minerals and plant matter and dinosaurs. Corpos hire you to get these goods and bring them back safely. The catch is other players and inconvenient helicopter schedules. Other Prospectors will murder you for your precious rocks and weeds, so your aim is to get a helicopter out of Fortuna before this happens. It's a setup where success breeds success in its current closed beta form, but failure also begets frustration. In the end, you might wish Fortuna was yours and yours alone.
Having spent some time with The Cycle: Frontier's closed beta this week, I've come to realise that noise is everything. Whether that's the pad of your feet or the rattle of your assault rifle. Any action you take better be well thought out, otherwise you'll attract unwanted attention. Die and you'll lose almost everything, depending on whether you take out insurance cover; no, I'm not kidding. Before you head into a match, you can insure your most valuable items for a fee, so they'll return home safely even if you don't. Unfortunately there's no price comparison website that'll help you get a decent price, a shame.
But before hopping into Fortuna and getting down to business, you'll need to make some business deals yourself. These aren't complex in any way, really, just a case of running around your hub space and grabbing quests from the leaders of three NPC factions: some tech-wizards, some dodgy mega-corporation, and some civilian advisory board. There's also a shop where you can purchase supplies for your outings and other vendors who stock fancy weapons and season pass things. Right now, though, it all feels a bit hollow, as it's not exactly buzzing with NPCs or other Prospectors. I'm hoping this will change as the game evolves.
Once you've strapped on your armour and popped all the things you need in your backpack, you'll pick one of two maps. These equate to "Normal" or "Hard" mode, essentially, with the key differences being resources and weather. Choose "Hard" and it'll pop you into a more volatile Fortuna with frequent storms and more valuable mineral deposits and the like. "Normal" is a nicer variant where you'll spend most of your early hours mining nickel and pocketing metal slabs and shooting dinos for cash.
Exploring Fortuna is a real treat. Both maps feel alive and have a real sense of place, with a nice ratio of concrete to planet. Gaps in fences naturally lead to dirt paths and rising cliffs. Colourful flora provides ample cover in abandoned construction sites. Raptors prowl lakes and stalk streams. You really get a sense that the planet's ecosystem has overrun any human attempt to colonise it.
It means any human activity comes as a neat surprise, as occasionally you'll see space shuttles roar overhead and deposit rival Prospectors. In many ways, the game strikes me as the Jurassic Park FPS we've been waiting for all these years. The rhythm of prospecting lies in whipping out your mineral scanner and seeking out deposits that'll ping as the scanner's waves spread across Fortuna. Alternatively, the tech-wizards back in Blighty might have asked you to find some rare flowers, so you'll be consulting your map as you seek out anything vaguely watery. Metal plates might also lurk in research centres, while dinosaurs might drop special items. Once you've got all you need, it's time to find an evac point and 'copter outta there.
Each mission requires a good look in the mirror and a quick chat with oneself, "How brave am I feeling today?" If it's "Yeah, very brave", then you'll aim to stuff loads in your backpack. If it's "No thank you", then you'll bring the bare minimum back. Much like Hunt: Showdown, The Cycle feels like you're at a poker table that's resting above a shark tank; one bad decision and you'll be munched into cranberry juice. Make it back without being gnashed by Great Whites and it's a fantastic feeling, there's no doubt about that. You'll earn dollary doos which you can invest in new weapons and others ways to optimise your earnings. Success breeds success.
But success isn't all that simple. The Cycle's PvP elements make it a difficult game, which borders on off-putting when you're first getting to grips with it. The game isn't immune to a problem that plagues many other battle royales – sudden, inexplicable death. You could be happily mining away, or trotting between destinations, and BAM! That's your life snuffed out in an instant. It also doesn't help that, in my experience at least, I struggled to see my opponents at long range and the footstep audio was quite choppy. Firefights can feel janky as a result, but it hurts even more because you can't just re-queue and start afresh, like you would in Fortnite or Warzone. All your belongings go in the BIN. No insurance? NO COVER. Instead of re-queueing, you're re-buying stuff you lost. Failure is demoralising.
I know, I know. Other Prospectors add to the tension and the overall threat level helps the world come alive, I get that. But there's a big part of me that wishes this was a PvE game, and that the other player-controlled Prospectors weren't a thing. The planet is lush and the resource gathering relaxing, so I'd almost prefer it if this were a survival game. Coming home empty-handed is deflating, especially if you've spent loads of time and energy pruning the planet. It has similar energy to doing the gardening and being invaded by a red phantom like you would in Dark Souls.
Hey, that's how it goes. The Cycle: Frontier is still in closed beta at the moment as well, so there's plenty of time for it to develop. Not that it's going to switch genres just for me, mind. If you're a Hunt: Showdown fan or a glutton for punishment, then you may want to check it out. Otherwise, it might be worth waiting to see how it pans out.