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PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds may have popularised the genre inspired by the Japanese movie, but it’s not the only battle royale game pitting players against each other in desperate fights to the death. Below are 11 games, modes and mods that you should check out if you can’t get enough of hunting your fellow man.
Let’s get the current top dog out of the way first, shall we? PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, is still in Early Access, but it’s already swallowed up the lives of millions of players. In each match, 100 survivors are air dropped into a bucolic Russian island, seemingly abandoned during or just after the Soviet era. It’s a huge place, but the play area is always shrinking, forcing players to race towards safety on foot or using cars, bikes and boats, all while trying to murder each other with a wide range of guns and melee weapons. It’s a game filled with long moments of quiet tension, punctuated by chaotic, nerve-racking battles.
Another Early Access game, H1Z1: King of the Kill was spun out of Daybreak’s zombie survival game. The survival aspect became its own separate game, Just Survive, while the more competitive, PvP side of things became King of the Kill. Frenetic and fast-paced, it’s more of an arena shooter than a game like PUBG, so you won’t have to wait long to get into a gunfight. Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene was also a consultant on H1Z1 before making Battlegrounds.
Like H1Z1, Ark: Survival of the Fittest is another arena-style battle royale game, and is similarly a spin-off. Its hook, not surprisingly given its progenitor, is that there are dinosaurs and monsters to watch out for, as well as 71 human adversaries potentially hunting you down. Other elements from Survival Evolved have made it in, too, including riding and taming creatures, tribes and traps. Unfortunately, it’s struggled to retain its playerbase in the face of PUBG.
If you prefer battle royales of the more intimate variety, there’s The Culling and its 8-player and 16-player blood-soaked arenas. Though it’s fast-paced, there’s still time to craft equipment and set traps. The central conceit is a big draw, too, set as the game is in a crazed game show for sadists. It’s been in Early Access since March 2016, and while it was popular initially, it looks like player numbers might be on the wane.
Budget PUBG is probably the clearest way to describe Last Man Standing. It’s set on an island with 100 players trying to kill each other, the play area is a big circle that shrinks over time, mods can be scavenged and attached to guns, it’s got loot crates—there’s a long list of similarities, but Last Man Standing is free. It’s not quite as polished as its premium counterpart, however.
GTA Online recently got a competitive mode called Motor Wars, which has some similarities to popular battle royale games: a shrinking kill box, arriving from the sky, then finding the best weapons possible on the ground. The key difference is that it's more focused around vehicle combat, and all the cars are marked on the map, as well as the players driving them. The shrinking kill space provides a similar amount of tension, though, and there's tons more potential in building on the idea, given the size of the map they've got to play with. Sam had fun with it, even though it has some flaws.
Epic has announced a new battle royale mode for their base-building romp, Fortnite. It’s due out this month and will see up to 100 players duking it out until there’s only one left. The mode was put together by Epic’s Unreal Tournament team, who were busy experimenting while Fortnite was in development. The scavenging and building from the game’s regular mode will also feature in this new one, so you’ll be able to create bases and fortifications to hole up in while you wait for everyone else to die. They’ll probably be doing the same, mind you.
Unturned is a blocky, free-to-play zombie survival game, but it’s also got a battle royale arena mode. Players are spawned at random points on the map and must hunt each other down while a barrier closes in, damaging those outside it. It’s as straightforward as a battle royale can be, but there’s one odd wrinkle: you can’t damage people with your fists, so you’d better get a weapon as quickly as you can.
Before PUBG, Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene created DayZ: Battle Royale, an offshoot of the original DayZ mod for Arma 2, inspired by the Japanese film. When players started leaving DayZ for the standalone Early Access version, Greene switched to developing Battle Royale in Arma 3. Later, it was licensed to Daybreak for H1Z1 and became the foundation for King of the Kill. A lot of Battlegrounds’ features started in PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale, and Arma 3’s realistic aesthetic isn’t far of PUBG’s.
Rust: Battle Royale is an unofficial mode for Facepunch Studio’s survival game, made by Intoxicated Gaming. Inspired by the Arma 3 Battle Royale mod, it combines the brutality of Rust—you even begin naked—with the race to be the final person left alive. All the survival and crafting elements have been torn out, with the focus being entirely on gearing up and murdering your fellow players in a map that becomes smaller and smaller as bombs start to fall.
Created last year, this Garry’s Mod game mode, like so many in this list, owes its creation to the Arma 3 mod, being a lightweight recreation of it designed by IC4RO so they could play it with their friends. Since then, however, it’s become popular, no doubt helped by the fact that Garry’s Mod is considerably cheaper than Arma 3 or Battlegrounds.
Unturned, a free-to-play zombie survival game, is more popular than Rust and DayZ combined. Currently sitting as the 16th most-played game on Steam with 28,000 players, it's more popular than a lot of things. When I bring this up to Nelson Sexton, Unturned's sole creator who began working on the game at just 16-years-old, he pauses a moment and then awkwardly says "thanks" like I just paid him a compliment. I think even he is having a hard time comprehending Unturned's success.
"It was just a hobby that I originally posted on my website, but when I did a revamp for version 2 I thought, maybe I can get this on Steam through Greenlight?" Nelson says. "I used to come home from school and take a look at Steam to see if it did. The first patch didn’t get through, but the next patch did and there was a big celebration. I think we had pizza that night as a celebration dinner. It’s crazy. I feel so lucky."
Nelson and I are sitting in a coffee shop on the outskirts of Calgary, Alberta, the city we both share. Calgary is a city with a lot of things—hot-to-trot oil and gas executives, people who own a pair of cowboy boots they only wear once a year, and the highest amount of 4x4 trucks in Canada per capita. It's like Texas, if Texans apologized more and wouldn't lose their shit over a few measly feet of snow. But Calgary isn't a place for game developers, so the idea that one of the most popular games of the last few years originated from a city best known for an outdoor show so ubiquitous with alcohol poisoning that Jugo Juice sells is very amusing to me.
Last month, on its third anniversary since entering Early Access, Unturned finally released. It seemed like a good time to meet Nelson and ask him how he felt about telling a stranger his life story.
"Everything is still pretty normal for me," Nelson tells me over coffee. He says the success of Unturned hasn't really bled into his life in any dramatic way. He drives a Honda, has a girlfriend, and lives at home with his dad. Most times, his success is felt indirectly. "My girlfriend’s mom is a teacher and she tells her students that she knows the creator of Unturned and her students get excited," he laughs. "I love hearing those kinds of stories."
Unturned is undoubtedly popular with a younger generation of players. Conceived off the back of Nelson's experience building games using Roblox, its simple, blocky aesthetic feels more like Minecraft than DayZ. But it's still a zombie survival game at its core.
Nelson began making games when he was only nine. After attending a summer camp at our local university where he got to mess around with GameMaker, he convinced his dad to shell out the cash for it. "He had to sign up for a Paypal account and was really unsure about it because it was so new," Nelson laughs.
Eventually he upgraded to making games in Roblox before some members of that community got him programming in Java and then, finally, C#—the language used by the Unity engine. Unturned was never meant to be a commercial game, Nelson tells me. It just seemed natural that if he made something, he should share it with people. Growing up in tightly knit communities like Roblox, getting Unturned on Greenlight seemed like an obvious thing to do.
And then Unturned took off.
Three years ago, Unturned hit its all-time peak at 62,000 players just months after launching on Greenlight. Nelson says he owes it all to a few YouTubers who started playing it on their channels. Beyond word of mouth, Nelson has barely invested anything into traditional marketing. He won the indie game lottery, and he knows it. "I feel really lucky to have gotten on Steam when I did, as opposed to now when there’s so many more games coming out and it's impossible to get noticed," he says.
Once Unturned had a thriving community of players, Nelson became trapped in the precarious circumstance of having to juggle school, being a teenager, and managing a community larger than every small town scattered around Calgary's city borders combined. "During school, I’d try and do my homework in other classes," Nelson says. "I’d finish math class really fast so I could do my English homework. I was always trying to cram as much work into school time when I had to be there so at home I could work on Unturned. I’d get home and work until dinner and then work until I had to go to bed."
I point out what an astonishing amount of discipline that takes for someone who is only a teenager and ask how he made time for being a kid. "I’m not the most social person," he responds. "I was able to do things like talking with friends online while working on the game."
That dedication paid off. During its time in Early Access, he developed around 260 updates, far exceeding the number of features Nelson had originally promised. New maps, vehicles, tons of new weapons, weather effects—the list dwarfs the features of other survival games and that's without counting the thriving Workshop community that creates their own maps and mods.
But for Nelson, his unending thirst to continue developing Unturned isn't motivated by much more than a desire to bring to life whatever he thinks is cool. "One of the nice things about Unturned is I can find it a whole bunch of different things from other games I like," he tells me. "There is kind of the core of survival games, but then I can bring in things from other games. Like, I played World of Warcraft for a number of months so I brought in NPCs to Unturned."
I ask Nelson how he managed to skirt the negative reception that seems to haunt other Early Access survival games and he shrugs. Unturned currently has 91 percent positive reviews on Steam, where other popular games like Ark can barely keep above 50. "With Early Access, there’s a lot less trust in it. At first it seemed more curated and the games were seen as trustworthy, but I think there’s some really unfair hate lumped on Early Access."
I suspect a lot of it has to do with Nelson himself. Since he's the only person working on Unturned, he interacts with his community directly. He tells me that he gets some hate mail here and there, but by and large everyone is very understanding and appreciative of the work he's doing. Unturned has also avoided the drama that seems to constantly haunt its peers. No sudden price hikes, no paid DLC expansions, no splitting the game in half and selling off its two parts.
Looking into his patch notes, many are appended with intimate details that offer a window into his life. "Next week on the 3rd I'm off to Toronto to look at apartments for rent, and then several days later leaving to Italy for a holiday," he writes in his most recent update. "I'll be getting back home on the 22nd. I'm excited—this is my first vacation since I started work on Unturned 2.0!"
It's obvious that his candor pays off: "Have fun on your vacation, Nelson! It's good to take a break and relax, don't feel obligated to put out updates if you feel you need to chill for a bit," reads one of the more recent comments, with many more echoing the same sentiment.
I ask Nelson about it and he shrugs again, saying that there's no particular PR or marketing strategy. He just talks to his players the only way that feels natural to him. He treats them like humans and they respond in kind. "I originally added the [paid] gold upgrade because new games were coming out and I wanted the money to buy them," he says a little sheepishly. "As soon as I could afford videogames, I wasn't worried about money."
Even though Nelson isn't exposed the drama that can sometimes come with being a big developer, Unturned has made him enough money to live on his own terms. Later this month, he plans to move with his girlfriend to Toronto so she can attend university. It's a big move and the first time either will have lived on their own—let alone together. But at least he won't have to fret about finding a job. "It’s definitely going to be a big step, but it's nice not to be too worried about money," he says. "Finding a place, sorting out all the new things of living together and on our own will be a lot. I’m very excited."
The change in scenery won't impact Nelson's approach to updating Unturned however. He tells me that he has a great deal of ideas left and an infinite checklist of things he wants to improve. "One decision I'm trying to make around now is trying to figure out when and how the right way to do version 4 is. Unturned has been in version 3 for the last three years, so it's lasted quite a while. But some of the earlier decisions are coming back to haunt me."
He tells me that, following some talks with developers at GDC, he's considering rebuilding Unturned from scratch using Unreal 4. "It's crazy to think I might spend another four years rebuilding Unturned again, way better than it is right now," he says and pauses to consider the monumental effort. "But there's not really another game I want to make. There's just a bunch of improvements I want to make to Unturned."
And part of that is because Unturned is still the hobby that Nelson started when he was 16. Unturned is as much a living chronology of Nelson's growth as a developer as it is a game. It's a canvas covered in eraser marks where he drew a line, decided he hated it, and started over.
"I'm very confident that I can always do better and improve," he says. "I think it is unlikely that whatever game I make next will be as successful or get as much traction on Steam. Unturned is probably the most popular game I'll ever make, and if I make a sequel or version 4, the core audience will transition and enjoy it. And as long as they're still there, I'll be happy. It doesn't matter to me too much whether it's 30 million players or a few thousand."
Free-to-play DayZ-o-Minecraft ’em up Unturned [official site] has launched in full, after three years in early access. The biggest part of the update taking it to full release is a new sandbox map set in Germany. Chris Livingstone had a crack at Unturned after it rocketed into Steam’s top 10 most-played games within a week, a position it has impressively clung close to ever since (it’s twelfth right now, with around 32,000 players in-game). Perhaps we should feel guilty about how many early access survival games he played for us. But this, this one is meant to be pretty good as they go. … [visit site to read more]