Ubisoft is unveiling its new science fiction battle royale game called Hyper Scape, where 100 players battle each other in first-person combat to be the last one standing while the audience tries to influence the outcome.

Such free-to-play battle royale games are a hot trend in the game industry during the pandemic, as the barrier to get into the games is low. Call of Duty: Warzone saw more than 60 million downloads in two months, and Electronic Arts has been busy updating its Apex Legends battle royale game. And Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds continue to have huge audiences.

This is Ubisoft’s first battle royale game, and creative director J-C Guyot said in a press briefing that Ubisoft Montreal has been building the free-to-play game for two years. While Hyper Space will debut on the PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox One at an undisclosed date, the first tech test is available now on the PC in parts of North America and Europe to see how the game can handle large numbers of players. The technical test runs from today through July 7. Some details leaked last week. I checked it out at an Ubisoft online event.

The audience participation part is a new trend. ControlZee announced today it is making a game that streamers can play with their followers. And Retroit is a street-driving game similar to Grand Theft Auto where the viewers can drop things into the game to either mess up or aid drivers. SOS tried to do similar audience participation in a Survivor-like show.

Hyper Scape takes place in 2054. By that time, the internet has morphed into a virtual world dubbed “The Hyper Scape.” It’s a portal to the future (a kind of Metaverse, or virtual universe) where you work, learn, or play, said Guyot. The first map is a virtual city dubbed Neo Arcadia. It looks a bit like Paris, but with a super-modern architectural style. The city has nine districts and nine landmarks. Each match can have 100 solo players or 33 teams of three players each.

“It’s a mixture of Rainbow Six meets Assassin’s Creed,” said Graeme Jennings, a senior producer at Ubisoft, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Diving in

Above: Diving into Hyper Scape’s Neo Arcadia map.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

When you dive into the arena, you are in a “personalized deployment pod.” As you near the ground, the pod opens and you land on your feet, without a parachute. (This is the future, after all). You start with just a club as a weapon, so you have to hit the ground running. You can whack people with it, but the best thing to do is to find better weapons. You can do that by running around or looking for buildings with shimmering orange glass. Some areas have more gear than others.

You can jump far, but it’s easier to reach to the tops of buildings if you find booster pads that are sprinkled through the streets.

Hyper Scape’s spin on battle royale

Above: You have to level up your sniper rifle to get a one-shot kill in Hyper Scape.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Jennings said Hyper Space has three key pillars. It takes place in an urban environment with vertical gameplay. You can fight in the interiors of the buildings or in the streets. You can also gather items dubbed “hacks,” or ability items that you can use periodically with a cool-down period, and use them at key moments to give you special abilities, like turning into a rolling iron ball. You can use a dash hack to jump in the air and crash down on enemies. You can drop mines or put up giant walls to protect your squad.

You want to make sure your squad is balanced in terms of the abilities it has across all of the hacks in the squad.

“Hacks really have the ability to change the game,” Guyot said. “These are tools for players to be more creative. At key moments, you make split-second decisions.”

If you get a weapon and find another of the same kind, you can pick it up and “fuse” them. Fusing levels up the weapon so it is more powerful. You can have two hacks and two weapons at any given time. If you level up a sniper rifle to 5, you can get a kill with a single headshot.

The game has two modes: Crown Rush for squad play and Dark Haze Solo for solo players. In the latter mode, you play in the dark. The test will feature 10 tiers of the battle pass (which players get for free), nine weapons, and nine hacks.

Bringing spectators into the game

Above: You can win Hyper Scape by holding the crown for 45 seconds.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Hyper Space can also bring spectators into the action. A streamer can play, and viewers can vote to see what special event to trigger. Viewers who spend money on Twitch’s currency can contribute to the game. For instance, they could vote on what kind of special event to trigger. They can make first-aid kits available everywhere or make it easier to jump to the tops of buildings due to low gravity. They can provide infinite ammo. By participating, fans who watch the game can earn points toward a Battle Pass, which helps them progress in the game when they play it.

“Low gravity is really entertaining because it lets you jump super-high,” Jennings said. “But you are an easier target for snipers.”

Ubisoft said the game is deeply integrated with Twitch. With Squad Invite, a streamer can invite spectators to play in a match together.

Fast-moving play

Hyper Space moves really fast and doesn’t reward you if you stand still. You have to rush to get weapons and then get the jump on the enemy.

If you are shot and killed, you don’t automatically die. In team play, you become a kind of ghost who can be a scout for your two other comrades (you play in teams of three). And you can go to a restore point, which spawns at a point where an enemy has been killed. There, you ping your squadmates and they can come revive you. When you come back, you have to dive back into the game without weapons.

As the match progresses, parts of the city will decay and eventually collapse. Players have to move out of them or die. The Hyper Scape crown spawns in the final remaining sector. In that sector, you can fight to be the sole survivor or hold on to the crown for 45 seconds to become the victor.

Playstyles and strategies are abundant. You can find a teleport hack and use it with a shotgun. That lets you teleport quickly to the side of an enemy, where you can blast them and then zip away before they know what hit them. You also can use an invisibility hack with a sniper rifle to take pot shots without being discovered, Jennings said.

In squad play, you can ping an enemy (an innovation from Apex Legends) to warn other players of threats or loot to pick up . Each character has a backstory, and each season will have a narrative.

“We want to inject meaning into everything we do with the characters and narrative,” Guyot said.

Hands-on demo

Above: Viewers can turn Hyper Scape into a “low-gravity” fight.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

I went into a tutorial to familiarize myself with the weapons and the hacks, but I probably should have studied them longer than I did. I played a couple of hours of matches in a preview session. In my first game, my team got wiped out with zero kills. I kept pairing up with random players without talking to them on audio (we used Discord). That was a disadvantage, as other teams were more organized.

I found that where you land is important, and so I started aiming for buildings with the shimmering orange glass, where the gear is often concentrated, so that I could break in and find weapons quickly.

In my second game, I got a single-shot pulse weapon that got me a kill when I blasted it at an enemy from close range. The sniper weapons felt good, but you have to get two headshots for a kill if you have a weapon that isn’t leveled up. That’s difficult to do. I found that staying on top of a building paid off most of the time, but I couldn’t stay there forever. Snipers inevitably found me. The minigun suited me well because my aim is never that good and I could bring a target down with enough surprise. When I got killed, it wasn’t easy to find a respawn point, as that depends on where others get killed. But my comrades revived me a few times.

You have to look at your minimap often to see where the collapsing sector is. You have to move really fast to get out of that sector or you’ll eventually die. I found it hard at first, and it took quite a few matches before I could get consistent kills. But I liked it once I started getting the hang of it. I was able to get a small number of kills each game, but other players were very good.

I don’t know if Hyper Scape is going to drag me away from Call of Duty: Warzone, but it’s certainly going to make the battle royale genre more competitive. And it’s good to see Twitch integration coming into the game in an intelligent way.