It has been, as ever, a very Ubisoft reveal. You know the details well before the official embargo is up: Ubisoft Montreal, along with a flotilla of other Ubisoft studios, is working on a triple-A, free-to-play battle royale. You know the name as well, and you may, like me, still be struggling to get your head around it. Hype Escape? So that's what you call it when another big Ubisoft title leaks ahead of time. Oh, Hyper Scape? Yeah, I'm still not feeling it I'm afraid.
I'm happy to say that, having had a deep dive into the thinking behind Hyper Scape and a handful of matches, there's some real promise here, though, and more than a handful of smart ideas it's bringing to the table. First, the details - Hyper Scape is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC later this summer, with a tech test that's effectively a closed beta starting on PC today. The premise takes us to the not-so-distant future of 2054, with Hyper Scape's fiction like William Gibson on happy pills. It's a world which gets all its entertainment from the internet and where the virtual space is used for an all-out Battle Royale which keeps people occupied (actually, typing it out, it's not so much a fiction as a mirror of our current world, but there you go).
There's plenty more that's familiar about Hyper Scape, too. You'll start matches by soaring in over New Arcadia - the heavily built-up map which Hyper Scape will be offering from launch - and picking a spot to land. There'll be a slowly shrinking map, too, with the twist here being that areas glitch out. It's down to the last person standing, too, with the final showdown being decided in either a free-for-all fight or Crown Rush, in which players or teams must hold onto a crown for some 45 seconds (the frenetic game of tag that results reminds me, quite happily, of Mario Kart's Shine Thief mode).
What Hyper Scape is really about, though, is blurring the line between player and spectator, and offering some meaningful interaction between the two. "We started development about two years ago," says creative director Jean-Christophe Guyot, "and we were looking around playing a lot of games but also we were starting to watch more and more games. We really wanted to develop the notion of a game as a spectacle - the idea that it's a place where players but also streamers and viewers come together in order to interact in new ways. That really was the starting point for the whole thing."
In practice, that means events are often triggered during the run of play - during the handful of matches I played we contended with a period of low gravity, another where ability cooldown was drastically reduced and another where our double-jump fleetingly became a triple-jump - all of which lends a cute spin on the genre. It's hard to get a handle on exactly how effective it'll be until there's a decent amount of people in the audience and until it's possible to fully understand how the viewing experience will work when there's a critical mass of people - features such as being able to invite players into a squad via Twitch, or earning progression through the accompanying battle pass, are planned but won't be present at launch later this summer. For now, though, it's a feature that does have some potential.
It's easier, however, to get a handle on other areas where Hyper Scape is looking to distinguish itself. This is a pointedly streamlined Battle Royale experience, with two weapon slots and two 'hack' slots - Hyper Scape's in-game abilities - available. Those abilities are useful and, most importantly, fun to play with - I snagged one that let me see through walls, while another unleashed a devastating ground pound - especially if you're lucky enough to be witness to an event where they're properly unleashed without a cooldown. There are other decent ideas, too, such as the way loot is handled. Dupes actually serve a purpose, being fused to help you power up your hacks and weapons, all of which lets you focus on the important stuff like surviving and shooting.
Another point of distinction in Hyper Scape is its map which is much more urban than what you'd find in other Battle Royale games. New Arcadia is heavily built up, with an emphasis on verticality and enclosed spaces - which, in my brief experience, makes for a much more claustrophobic flavour of Battle Royale. It makes for one that can be kind of hard to parse, too - building interiors look a little samey for my liking, meaning it's easy to get lost in all that urban sprawl, and while a move away from snipers and camping is welcome the more intense action might be a bit too much for my aging reflexes.
There's hope for less talented players in the form of some sort of afterlife after you've been downed, with the defeated becoming an echo that's free to scout ahead and with the ability to revive once you've come across a restore point, a feature that has dim echoes of Apex Legend's respawn beacon. I've avoided comparisons up until now - partly because Battle Royales aren't a personal strong point, and partly because upon its reveal Hyper Space deserves to be discussed on its own merits - but of course it's the likes of Apex Legends, Warzone and Fortnite that Hyper Scape will be competing for attention with when it launches, and at present it's got a little way to go until it can be a serious contender, but these are early days.
"We wanted to create an idea in a world that was very large," says Guyot, who's got a team of 200 at Ubisoft Montreal behind him as well as many more across Ubisoft's various global studios. "It's a brand new IP, a brand new universe, obviously we want to start with a battle royale experience but we also want to grow beyond that I want to develop a story within this universe that is going towards season after season and want to make sure that we could use game mechanics, new game modes that are tested with your audiences here."
Will it live up to its billing and the backing of such a substantial workforce before the hype, er, escapes? Well, there's really not too long until you're able to sample Hyper Scape and make your own mind up.
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