There’s no shortage of battle royale-style games to sate my need to drop onto an island and fight to be last man standing. Yet I can’t help think about the one thing so many are lacking: an arena that wants to kill me as bad as the other players do.
Photo: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate Films)
I re-watched the first couple of Hunger Games movies recently, and after playing so much PUBG and Fortnite, I couldn’t stop thinking about how different the playing field is in games compared to those films. In PUBG, the arena is mostly apathetic towards your presence, casually nudging you towards other players with a tightening blue circle. Same with Fortnite, where at least player-built traps and fortifications can liven things up.
The Hunger Games had fire, dogs, natural disasters. In the first movie, Katniss drops a hive of deadly insects onto her opponents. Catching Fire’s arena is a clockwork machination of doom, demanding you adapt or perish. The format is obviously different, as fighters in The Hunger Games are as focused on basic needs of survival as they are killing each other. It’s a different kind of fight compared to the tight, contained melees of video games, where you want a round to last minutes rather than days.
But since Battle Royale the film, many have innovated on the concept. The Hunger Games’ reality show presentation is one; shows like Mirai Nikki introduce phones that give their holders’ special advantage, and others have toyed with the game show aspect as well.
Radical Heights came out of left field this week, and while it’s certainly still in early access, it toys with ideas like random events. Bike races, spin-to-win wheels, and climactic shootouts change up the creeping pace of your average battle royale match. It isn’t quite the avaricious arena I’m looking for, but it’s a start.
The Darwin Project has some cool stream interactions that let audiences mould the chaos, which is much more in line with something like The Hunger Games. I’m picturing that scene with Woody Harrelson drumming up support for Katniss to get her medicine, but instead, it’s a Twitch streamer’s audience raiding a channel. Having a director who can choose when and how to use the boons (or calamities) puts a neat twist on it.
There’s also The Hunt: Showdown, where actual monsters litter the map and you have to compete against other hunters to cash in your bounty. Having both human danger and ambient hazards means you’re dealing with multiple dangers at once.
All of these lack one great element, though: surprise. It’s not like Katniss knows what she’s dropping into when she enters any given Hunger Games. More than anything, I’d love to see developers add random maps or modifications to the rotation, without warning. Something close to even what Ghost Recon: Wildlands did, quietly adding the freaking Predator to its game. What if the Predator could randomly join Fortnite matches?
Instead of Erangel, I’m dropping onto a strange island, or a mountain ridge, or a mix of biomes. I don’t know what’s out there, how many are out there, and what I can find. For me, Battlegrounds was at its best when I didn’t know what to expect dropping into the map. It’s still fun to parachute in and fight for the top spot, but I crave the unknown.
Can you imagine playing a normal PUBG map and suddenly you hear a roar in the distance, one you’ve never heard before? The frisson of a new mystery, after you’ve gone through the same routine drop so many times? You’d have to go find out what it was. Maybe this time, humans aren’t the only enemy. The arena might fight back.