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The Biggest FAIL of 2018: Radical Heights

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
2018 had a lot of amazing games, but also had a lot of games that either fell short of expectations, or straight up crashed and burned. Boss Key Production's Radical Heights was, unfortunately a huge casualty in 2018. Find out why right here on MojoPlays.

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Biggest Video Game Fail of 2018

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, you should know that battle royale games have dominated the market since 2017. Released via Steam's Early Access program in 2017 in an attempt to captured the frantic survivalist tension exhibited by films like "Battle Royale" or "The Hunger Games." "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" took the world by storm! Dropping a hundred players into a large map without any weapons or advantages, "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" stripped the survival genre to its core and earned a big thumbs up from millions of players.

A couple of months later, Epic Games published "Fornite Battle Royale," a free-to-play spin-off of their zombie survival game now known as “Fortnite: Save the World.” which featured cartoonish aesthetic and a unique building mechanic. In terms of popularity, "Fornite" steadily surpassed "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds", allowing Epic Games to approximately earn all the money in the world. One massively prosperous game can be chalked up to a lucky break, but two cultural phenomena in the space of less than a year? Unsurprisingly, the battle royale genre caught the attention of numerous other studios.

This brings us to Boss Key Productions. Established in 2014 and co-founded by Cliff Bleszinski, a seasoned designer who worked on "Unreal Tournament" and "Gears of War," the studio desperately needed a win after its first game, "LawBreakers," failed to make much of a splash. Initially advertised as a free-to-play hero shooter, Boss Key opted to ultimately add a price tag and published "LawBreakers" on August 8, 2017. Despite earning a nod of approval from most critics, "LawBreakers" failed to obtain a sustainable player base in the face of "Overwatch.” Barely lasting a year, the hero shooter’s servers were shut down on September 14, 2018.

After failing to hitch a ride to the hero shooter bandwagon, the studio turned its gaze to battle royales and "Radical Heights" was the end result. 2018 coincided with the release of countless fantastic games, and almost just as many disappointments. For every "Red Dead Redemption II", we can point towards a "Metal Gear Survive." Even amidst other steaming piles of crap, "Radical Heights'" smell is particularly pungent. Released into Early Access on April 10, 2018; Boss Key's second official game may not be the worst battle royale to ever grace Steam's pages, but "Radical Heights" epitomizes the genre's least flattering components.

Originally slated for a full 2019 release, "Radical Heights" stumbled out of the gate and never regained its composure. Pitched as an extreme take on the 100-player free-for-all concept, Boss Key blended "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" game-play with "Fortnite Battle Royale's" colorful visuals, before sprinkling a dash of ‘80s nostalgia and extreme sports. Putting aside a handful of minor variations, one cannot escape the feeling "Radical Heights" sought to mainly copy the biggest names in the business and little else. Nevertheless, if executed well, Boss Key could have won over those select few players who wished "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" was slightly less dreary. Considering this video's title, it should come as no surprise that "Radical Heights" botched its execution.

Going by Steam's statistics, "Radical Heights'" peaked at just over 12,000 concurrent players, an achievement unlocked during the game's launch window. Now, in all fairness, that is a pretty respectable start and would land "Radical Heights" in Steam's Top 20 Games on most days; however, Boss Key's battle royale averaged less than 3000 concurrent players during April. Within two weeks of entering Early Access, more than 80% of "Radical Heights'" base had collapsed, and the free-fall was far from finished. June was the last time "Radical Heights" attracted enough participants to stage a complete 100-player match. By October, 18 concurrent players would have been considered a good day.

Where did things go so wrong? While some initial excitement did surround the game, "Radical Heights" launched in an almost impressively buggy state. We are willing to give Early Access games the benefit of the doubt, but there has to be a selling point to hook people in, especially when referring to a multiplayer-only project. "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" serves as a prime example of how potential can overcome a messy presentation, but the far less appealing "Radical Heights" arrived in an even rougher state. If the majority of a contest is spent fighting bugs rather than opponents, then any initial excitement will start to wear thin.

To give credit where credit is due, Boss Key introduced a fairly interesting in-game currency system designed around storing cash in an ATM for future matches. Essentially, playing the waiting game increased the odds of winning later competitions, and this component suited "Radical Heights'" game show theme. Even though there was the option to purchase items with real cash, only in-game currency could be used to obtain weapons. Overall, this system had potential, but it was the one element that stood out from the competition. In fact, ATMs happen to be among the only objects that rise above the level of standard asset flips, as the majority of "Radical Heights'" map consists of nondescript gray buildings or generic corridors.

There are two main reasons "Radical Heights" failed so spectacularly: Boss Key's desperation and the pre-existing battle royale IPs. By the end of 2017, "LawBreakers" was a confirmed commercial flop. Less than three months after launch, the hero shooter was struggling to crack 100 concurrent players on Steam, leaving Boss Key in a critical situation. For a relatively young studio with one dud under its belt, a win needed to happen today and not tomorrow. Described as a "last-ditch effort" by Cliff Bleszinski, "Radical Heights" felt haphazardly put together and should never have been released into Early Access at such an undercooked state. A bad first impression tends to stick.

In April 2018, "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" averaged over a million concurrent Steam Players, and a week scarcely seemed to pass without "Fortnite Battle Royale" shattering a record or two. Even without taking into consideration other battle royales like "Darwin Project" or "H1Z1," "Radical Heights" was competing with two of the most popular titles in recent memory, including one that happened to be free-to-play and well-optimized. Why would anyone invest time into an uncultivated newcomer with little to no future?

A month after taking on the battle royale genre, Cliff Bleszinksi announced Boss Key's conclusion and expressed a personal desire to temporarily step away from the industry. But then in November he took things one-step further: claiming on Twitter that he’d never work on another video game ever again. If he holds true to that, it’s a very sad end to such an illustrious career.

As it caused the closure of a studio that once held promise: "Radical Heights" is undoubtably 2018’s biggest gaming failure. Seeking to capitalize on popular trends and dumped onto the Steam store as a final Hail Mary, Boss Key attempted to grab a piece of the battle royale pie, instead, the studio was eaten alive.

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