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Nexon’s Embark Studios has unveiled The Finals, a free-to-play, team-based first-person shooter that focuses on changing landscapes, destruction, and player freedom.

Inspired by battle royale literature, films and games, The Finals is set in a world where people watch and participate in combat entertainment game shows. It’s like The Hunger Games, but it has also been inspired by entertainment like Squid Game, Battle Royale, American Gladiators, Running Man, Formula One, Smash TV and other dystopian survival stories.

In this case, players compete for a chance at riches in The Finals, which represents the pinnacle of competition after escalating tournaments. The game features four teams of three players each, all competing against each other in shooter combat.

Kaching! You’re playing for money and fame in The Finals.

Gustav Tilleby, creative director, said in a press briefing that he also worked on the project from the beginning as one of the team’s first six developers.

“The vision has been to make a team-based first person shooter that pushes environmental dynamism, destruction and player freedom to the very limits of possibility,” Tilleby said. “That’s what we set out to do. So we want to build a game that provides players with the tools to meaningfully interact, change and use the world as they play. So it’s a shooter. It’s a game where aiming and shooting is important. But it’s it’s also a game where the players that can use the environment and adapt to the changes in the environment.”

When you take out an enemy in The Finals, it rains money.

The game is currently in alpha and will be having its first closed public playtest from September 29 through October 3. Players can sign up for a chance to play via Steam. The launch date for the game hasn’t been set yet, and the developers want to digest feedback from the alpha test.

“So in this game, you play a contestant in a virtual game show called the finals. It’s an over the top brutal experience, where you and your teammates fight for fame, riches and the favor of generous seasonal sponsors,” Tilleby said. “There are many things that we want to explore when it comes to the world, like what’s going on outside of the game show and who are the show runners and all that stuff. But I’m not gonna spoil them with that today. That’s something that we want to develop over time release. So as a contestant in the finals, you will enter our hyper realistic virtual playgrounds. And these are arenas based on iconic real world applications.”

Dynamic and destructible environments

The environment of The Finals is dynamic and destructible.

Contestants fight it out in virtual playgrounds based on some of the world’s most iconic places. This one in the video is the old town of Monaco, which, believe it or not, I have visited in real life. I’ll have to see if I recognize any of the places.

These arenas are immersive and fully destructible, powered by Embark’s new server-side destruction and movement system that ensures every player experiences the same impact to the world at the same time – whether it’s a piece of furniture blown apart or a whole building collapsing.

“The environmental is fully destructible,” Tilleby said. “You can wreck everything from furniture to entire buildings. You can interact with physical objects around you can pick them up and throw them and set things on fire. One of our key innovations that we’re bringing to The Finals is our own server side movement and destruction system. Where movement and destruction doesn’t happen on the client side of the game. It runs on the server.”

This means that players are always in sync when such destruction is happening. Technically, this is a kind of holy grail that Embark has been chasing, Tilleby said.

“We’re really proud to finally sort of make it into reality,” he said.

Player expression and deep customization

The Finals trailer takes place in the old town of Monaco.

You can notice that there is some foam that players can spray in front of them, creating a barrier or perhaps a bridge to another building. That’s pretty cool, though I would say that I saw this first in the game Prey. It’s a great way for players to manipulate the environment to their own advantage, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen this become a standard part of futuristic games. It looks quite fun.

The visual and gameplay customization allows players to build their own unique contestant. From stealthy ninjas defeating opponents with a katana, to cowboys tanking with rocket launchers, every contestant can control who they are and how they play.

“These dynamic environments are combined with a large degree of individual freedom,” Tilleby said. “So in terms of who you are, and how you play, both through the visual, and the gameplay customization. You get to build your own contestants, with your own loadout, your own abilities. But you also get to create your own look. So you can be a nimble ninja that roams the rooftops, taking down enemies with a katana, or heavy tank with a rocket launcher that can bring down entire levels. That’s really up to you. And you build these characters yourself, rather than us sort of providing, you know, traditional heroes, whatever.”

And if you think of something that might be cool to try in the game, the odds are that it is going to work, the developers said.

Contestants need to rely on their intuition, use the environment to their advantage, and make full use of their bespoke arsenals and abilities to defeat their rivals and complete objectives.

All of this beautiful, brutal chaos is wrapped up into an over-the-top virtual game show, centered on a high-stakes tournament with eliminations between every high-tempo round. Teams of three will need to work together to advance.

The game is coming on the PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X | S. The alpha test will be very limited and it will test certain features. Larger beta tests will be coming later.

Embark’s mission

You can customize your character in The Finals.

Rob Runesson, cofounder chief creative officer, said in a press briefing that the company started back in 2018 and he was part of DICE for a long time, working on games like Battlefield, Star Wars: Battlefront, Mirror’s Edge and more. You can tell that a lot of DICE people worked on it, since the game has destructible environments.

“Over the last couple of decades, the game industry and the games have become more and more complex and expensive,” he said. “That said, the tools and the pipelines and workflows have actually been more or less the same since the late 90s. And the industry has become more and more risk averse.”

Games cost more to make and longer to build.

“And to be very blunt, it feels like the industry have more or less been on a on repeat,” Runesson said. “We’ve been reskinning the same game over and over for almost 20 years. And I’m pretty guilty of a stretch there. I’ve been part of that. But at Embark, this is actually what we’re trying to change. We believe that there’s a much better way of building content and making games. And that’s actually one reason why we founded this company. We have trying to completely change how we produce and build games by removing all the overhead and all the hard manual work.”

That is, the company is using intelligent tools and it’s learning on new technologies such as machine learning and procedural AI to build content in a better way while making each game maker more creative. Still, the team has 250 people and it has two major games in the works.

“And again, me being completely honest, I thought I was done with shooters,” Runesson said. “I worked on shooters for almost 20 years of my life.”

Embark started working on the game because it felt the shooter genre was stale and there was no more innovation. The company’s goal is to inject new energy into the genre.

I asked if there was some kind of backstory for a media show built around the game, since the players are playing for an audience as part of a game show. Tilleby said there is a backstory and universe to the game and the company will roll that out over time. But not at the outset.

“The players are contestants in this game show,” he said. “The world is your enemy. You’re part of a big entertainment show. This is not war. This is something different.”

So am I excited about this game? Yes, I’m a big fan of shooters. But I’m also ready for innovation. Bring it on.

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