There's plenty that's familiar about Ubisoft's belated entry into a bloated genre, but there's plenty that's quietly impressive too.
Spotting the telltale golden glow I throw myself onto jump pad and launch up onto the rooftops. Bullets are flying past - miraculously, not a single one hits me - and I tear after my teammates, roof tiles tinkling beneath my feet. Suddenly, my pal turns and trains his Hexfire over at the rooftop across from me, and I realise we're not alone. But before I get the chance to follow suit - before I even raise my gun - I've been one-shotted by an invisible sniper, and I'm dead. Again.
I wouldn't mind if I was bowing out as a hero. I could cope if I was taking an enemy down with me, perhaps, or heroically throwing myself in front of a squadmate as a final, selfless, meatshield-esque hurrah. The truth, however, is that in Hyper Scape, I rarely take anyone else down with me. Most of the time, I don't even know where my squadmates are, let alone can throw myself into the line of fire. The rest of the time, I'm dead before I've even found myself a weapon.
I keep notes as I play, and never has my handwriting looked more erratic. There's no downtime in Hyper Scape, you see. There's no opportunity for me to pause, contemplate, and jot down an incisive word or two. Hyper Scape is relentless and breathless and almost unapologetically overwhelming, which is potentially why, less than an hour in, I've Sharpied "OMFG I CAN'T COPE" in block caps across an entire double page.
There's a training mode, but much like being shown how to pull a pint will never properly prepare you for the mayhem of bar work in a rugby club at half-time, it does nothing. Yes, it talks you through the mechanics - well, kind of - but in truth, everything you need to know about Hyper Scape unfolds from the moment you're sniped from a rooftop for the first time. I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter how long you spend training, getting accustomed to the weapons and abilities: Hyper Scape is all about on-the-job-training.
And given it's just us here, I'll be honest; I wasn't interested in it. Not at all. My innate love of battle royales that don't start with an F is well-documented here, but it's a market that feels agonisingly close to saturation, and I'm not sure I can shoehorn any other regular game into my weekly rotation. Also, Cyberpunk 2077 isn't even here yet, but I'm already tired of neo-daubed skylines.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I realised Hyper Scape's frantic pace and novel mechanics have hooked me in a way I didn't quite expect.
Rather than take you through all the reasons why Hyper Scape is similar to other battle royale offerings - you know the deal by now, right? - it's probably more helpful to talk about how it differs. Firstly, your choice from the limited character roster has zero impact on your game. Hyper Scape's powers come from the hacks you find secreted in buildings or strewn around the streets, not your character, making it an antidote to the unbridled rage we [I?] feel when a random player grabs your favourite Legend first on the Apex's character select screen.
Surprisingly, there's no catalogue of mods and attachments to memorise. Here, you need only find duplicates of your guns and fuse them to your own to boost their power, perhaps improving your magazine size, for example, or the damage you mete out. Ammo is universal, too, so no longer will you need to hunt down specific clips for specific guns.
While there's a reasonable selection of weapons - you'll likely find whatever you need you match your style, from the D-Tap's auto-homing ammo to the Hexfire's Spitfire-esque spray-and-pray approach - it's the hacks that very much make Hyper Scape what it is. I still feel there's so much more I need to learn - what hack combination is best, for instance? What's most valuable in the final dash as we try and secure the crown? - but I suspect that knowledge will reveal itself in time. For now, though, I'm having a ball - literally - bouncing along the rooftops of Neo Arcadia in my giant bouncy ball, or propelling myself across the map with a well-timed Slam. You can already tell what hacks the community has adopted as its favourites - this urban landscape is stuffed with balls and walls.
Curiously, it feels like Hyper Scape is less about gunplay and more about survival. That's not to say surviving is easy - it really, really isn't - but several hacks come into their own when it comes to making a quick getaway. That said, I've never encountered as many thirsty players as I have in Hyper Scape, that particular breed of players that will stop at nothing to hunt you down and take you out. While your life automagically regenerates, it takes a wee while, so it's always advantageous to avoid losing it at all (unless you have a Heal hack, of course).
The end of each match is also a little different from the usual battle royale fare. While you can, of course, emerge triumphant by eliminating every one of your foes, you can also win by winning the titular crown from the only mode currently available, "Crown Rush". At the end of the match, a crown will drop, and the first player that manages to hold on to it for 45 seconds will win.
Again, this is considerably easier said than done.
There's ostensibly lore hidden within the city, and while this may likely incur your wrath, let's be honest here - it's entirely surplus to requirements. Perhaps the niftiest feature of Hyper Scape, then, is the death mechanic. Fallen comrades aren't kicked from the game and left to spectate through their remaining teammates, but instead, continue to exist as Echoes. These invisible ghosts can freely move throughout Neo Arcadia without constraint (unless you move into a building that still has unbroken windows and doors; something I discovered the hard way). You can't be called back in until you stumble upon the corpse of another player - and these are not as plentiful as you might think, particularly if there was a big fight in a zone that's since collapsed and is now inaccessible. However, even if you've yet to be "restored", you can support your teammates by acting an extra pair of eyes, tracking enemies and/or pinging useful items.
I spend much of my time in PUBG and Apex Legends running across open spaces, just waiting for someone to shoot me in the back. It's to Ubisoft's credit, then, that an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia persists despite the verticality of Hyper Scape's urban landscape. Like a lot of other things in this offering, the vertical map is cluttered, complex and overwhelming - there are lights and sounds and stuff everywhere - but you'll always launch from one of the four corners of the map, which means few, if any, landmarks will be inaccessible. The lack of an encroaching circle - instead, zones randomly across the map collapse - also evens the playing field a little.
It's not entirely without its gimmicks and tropes, though. There's a battle pass - because of course there's a battle pass - and the Twitch audience-voted events dotted throughout the match is fun if a bit... try-hard, I guess? But for a free-to-play battle royale that seemed to waltz in, belatedly, on the shirttails of its bigger, more successful brethren, I'm quietly impressed by what I've seen thus far. It'll be fascinating to see if Hyper Scape's novel features and breathtaking pace are enough to sustain a playerbase long-term. Watch this space, eh?