There’s a lot to love about Fall Guys, the new battle royale game out on PS4 and PC this week, but I’m here today to talk about all the friends I’ve made playing the game who are now no longer my friends.
The whole “battle royale as a genre” thing has been so defined by shooters up to this point that when we think about Fortnite, or PUBG, or Apex Legends, or Warzone, we think about open worlds and guns, and as players are eliminated, the only change to most situations is the open world gets a little smaller. You start the game shooting people, you shoot people, you end the game either shooting people or being shot.
But that shouldn’t be the only point! If it’s really taking inspiration from the movie of the same name, a battle royale game shouldn’t simply be about killing people until there’s only one person left. It should be about making everybody feel good about each other first, and then getting them to kill each other.
How very video games, to have spent the last five years looking at a movie like Battle Royale and seeing only the murders, and not the fact the killings and the premise are only so brutal because everybody used to be friends.
Fall Guys gets it though.
If you haven’t played it (or seen it), it’s a new game where 60 random players from across the internet are thrown together in what’s basically a game show, set in a procession of obstacle-infested courses or events, like we’d see in programs like Takeshi’s Castle.
When you start a game, with 60 teeth-achingly cute little blobs all lined up at the starting blocks, it’s just pure joy. Everyone is so wriggly and happy and optimistic about their chances, because this is a quick, fun and easy game, so we’ve all got a chance of winning! Isn’t this great!
We’re all buds, in this together, just having a rare moment of fun on the internet in these otherwise dark and trying times!
And so when the first course kicks off, and slapstick mayhem ensues, it’s one of the purest expressions of fun I have ever experienced in a video game. Within the first 90 seconds of playing this game I’d found myself screaming, “YES!” “OH YOU BASTARD,” “YYYEESSS,” and “OH NO OH NOOOO!” at everyone as we jostled for position, caught helpless as we were in a feeling somewhere between the opening seconds of a fun run and a drunk session of Mario Party.
At the end of that first race, a few people get eliminated. A shame, we tell each other, but it’s not many out of 60, and it’s never us, so whatever, let’s get onto the next round, which is normally more of the same. We run, we nudge, hilarious shit happens, it’s perfect. We don’t know each others names, and will likely never meet again after this, but for now, in these moments, we are a Band of Brothers.
But then there’s a third event. And suddenly, things have changed. Wait a minute, you might be thinking, there aren’t that many of us left. We started with 60, and now there are a lot less of us, and I’m still here? I... might actually win this.
Make it through that third event and there’s a fourth and final round. And in this one there are as few as 5-7 players remaining, and for those last blobs standing, victory is in sight. Things aren’t so cute anymore.
Ten minutes ago everyone present in the final round were best friends, wobbly little beans revelling in Fall Guys’ sweet, gun-free, game show premise. Thin the herd, however, and put a prize at the end, and everything changes.
We’re no longer friends. In the first round, if you nudge me off a ledge it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, because who cares! If you touch me in the fourth round, though, I will fuck you up. If you ever come near me again I swear to God I will....
Ah, sorry. Got a little lost in the moment there again. I just get so worked up in a fourth round of Fall Guys, and from talking with colleagues and folks on Twitter since the game launched, I’m far from alone. Put me alongside 59 other beans at the start and we’re all having a good time. Put me alongside five of them at the end and I will step over each and every one of them to claim my rightful victory, no matter the cost.
This rollercoaster of emotions is what’s making Fall Guys so much fun for me at the moment, more than even the quality of the minigames and courses themselves. There isn’t some narrative twist going on here that, once it happens a few times, you see coming and the effect wears off. It’s evergreen, because the feelings are based on context, and in every game the context is the same.
Without fail, the game’s bright colours and cute art style lure everybody in with some breezy fun, only a few minutes later for human psychology to work its way into proceedings and set us all against each other. Love becomes hate, hate becomes anger and frustration, we all take a deep breath, and then go right back to it, loving 59 brand new strangers once more.
It’s how battle royale games should be, and it’s been great to see such a pure example of it from a game that doesn’t, for once, involve grenades or assault rifles.