TBB Alpha Spotlight: The Cycle

     Hello Templars, today I will be doing something a bit different for you all. The Alpha Spotlight will be for reviewing games in an Alpha state and will not have ratings or final thoughts.
Instead, we will be shedding a light on the Alpha game as it stands and what we feel of the game in its current design.
We will also be doing a bit of foreshadowing and dreaming on the ideas we thought the game could use to bolster it’s gameplay, story or the overall game as a whole.
We will be coming at this from the perspective of gamers for the most part, however due to the few years of game design classes, I can also speak on a designer level.

Last weekend I was invited to the Alpha release of “The Cycle” from Yager studios. This game had a pretty strong reveal, which can be seen here:

     So, what is “The Cycle” exactly? Well, it’s simple. The Cycle is a battle royale game in an era when the battle royale genre is being flooded by what seems like every company and it’s publisher wanting to carve out a slice of the pie for themselves.
First it was PUBG officially ending H1Z1. Then Epic Games with Fortnite, taking the world by storm with it’s clever use of animation and gameplay mechanics to dethrone PUBG as the leader of the genre.
Then the triple A market set its sights on the genre, looking to make a quick buck while offering very little in the way of innovation in the genre. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Dying Light: Bad Blood, CSGO: Danger Zone, just to name a few.
All more or less dead on arrival depending on the title.
Outside of the Triple A space there are even more titles, some I doubt anyone has even heard of or will ever hear of, flooding this space.
Apex Legends took the spotlight this season, quickly seeming to lose relevance in these quickly changing times of gaming, Rings of Elysium, Spellbreak, Valhall, Mavericks, Escape from Tarkov (A game that really does deserve more coverage than it gets in my opinion), The Hunt: Showdown, the list goes on and on.

If I don’t seem enthusiastic about this genre of games, it’s because well… I’m not.

      This space of gaming doesn’t exactly excite me, It never has really. Maybe it’s just not my thing, maybe I have a reason not to like games that have little to no substance in their designs.
I wasn’t exactly sure what it was for a while, although I did finally pin it down. It didn’t matter the design or aspects these games threw at me really in the end.
The idea of being dropped into an empty world to pick up guns and kill some other dudes to achieve a meaningless end screen that congratulates you for being the last man standing before promptly kicking you to the main screen to do it all over again doesn’t exactly appeal to me. Not nearly in the same way winning an hour and forty minute knock down, drag out game of Dota 2 feels that’s for sure.
I was never interested in these games and I’ve only spent maybe a combined thirty hours in the genre as a whole, well not truly.
That would be true if not for the “battle royale” games that DID catch my attention and actually managed to hold it for a while.

These games include Escape from Tarkov, The Hunt: Showdown and most recently, The Cycle. Why do these games hold my attention where others do not?
Well that is simple and rather self explanatory. The actual PVP combat is secondary to the purpose of the game, not the only point to the game as a whole.
Escape from Tarkov is essentially gun porn with a battle royale schematic attached to it. It could have worked as a normal combat game, but the permanent death system adds to the tension of real world CQC combat by making you painfully aware of your losses and the losses of your squad. It is brutally realistic, reminding me of the good old days of SWAT 4 and ARMA 3 ACE mods, but pulls off close quarters combat where those titles stumbled, even pulling it off better than Rainbow six Siege if you can believe it.
They take massive care in designing real world weapons and their mechanics in game and you can spend hours and hours simply buying, modding and taking apart weapons before ever going into combat. And with each update these mechanics become evermore deep in design. Then when you do go into combat you will find there full throttle military combat zone survival, just the way I like it. They focus on atmosphere, tension of combat, stealth and finally, brutally fast firefights.

The Hunt: Showdown boasts an entirely different design for which I am extremely fond of. Adding to the lore of the world and the characters and the atmosphere, tension and immersion in much different setting than your average Battle Royale.
You go in as mud covered, bandana faced, western stylized bounty hunters, looking to make a living killing grotesque monsters of the deep and dark depths. Creatures lurk all around the swamplands, but only one has a price on it’s head.
And only one of the hunters who goes in is gonna get that bounty.
It’s a beautifully designed system of play that means that eventually you will fight someone in the swamps, it’s only a matter of time. But it’s your choice when and where to take those fights, not circle enclosing around you.

     And this brings us finally to The Cycle. “The Cycle” itself is in reference to the planet for which you are landing on, which has about 20 minutes of clear skies before the storms take it over once again.
You are a prospector looking to make your fortune extracting minerals, cleaning gas mains, repairing drone rigs, fighting alien species and plenty more. This it has in common with the Battle Royale games I have come to enjoy, offering the player plenty to do outside of just attacking players. In fact, you can play this game and get first place in the leaderboard without ever attacking another player, which sets itself apart from other Battle Royale games. It’s difficult, but it is possible.
But what about it all is so engrossing? Many things. The Cycles offers plenty of resources and quotes from the devs, and after spending time with the game I can say that one quote ring very true.

“There are elements of The Cycle that may seem familiar, but at the concept’s core is players. The ones that want to team up, the ones that want to focus on objectives, the ones out to take down some trophy monster and of course the ones who – despite everything – will go around trying to blow away other players.”
– Rich Stanton, The Cycle Aims to Break One

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30GMw7-wEpE[/embedyt]

     Gameplay-
We will start with the combat. It seems that the cycle has taken notes from the very successful Apex Legends in quality of life mechanics, opting to take it one step further with short term teaming mechanics. One button to mark locations or targets, one button to call out and make alliances and one button to break those alliances.
This can often lead to very interesting team ups in singles mode, which I have found I enjoy very much. In my first game, I got locked into a sniper fight with an enemy player.
We knocked each other upside the head in a long fight until I finally got downed. I figured it was over when he walked up to me. But it seemed that my fight with him had impressed him.
Instead of finishing me off, he offered me a hand of peace. Once I had accepted, he then revived me and we went on to kill four people and end the mission at the top of the list.
That alone impressed me.
I’ve never seen anything like that in such a game, and this may just be the Alpha community, doomed to die with the beta or full release, but it’s still a moment I will remember in this game that no other Battle Royale has yet to offer. It seems like the community is geared less towards kill on sight and more towards kill to survive, which is in my opinion a change for the better of the genre. It allows for more interesting circumstances to unfold between players.
If this continues to be the case even into beta and full release, the game will surely be worth playing, if only for the community alone. Aside from that, this game reminds me fiercely of games like Quake, Doom and of course Borderlands.
The strafing and ability to jetpack around the map feels awesome and in combat, is probably your greatest asset. The enemies are not difficult to kill but can make you sweat from time to time if you find yourself in a bad situation.
Time and time again, I found myself killing alien natives only for an intense moment to break out when a player comes along looking for blood.
These things happen a lot in the game, as the game forces you into PVE combat segments to complete the objectives at hand. So in order to gain ore and gas, the things you need to move up in the leaderboard at the current moment, you must expose your location to those who may be around you. Nothing is gained from killing other players, well not truly.
You can pick up their weapons, but at the end of the day it will only get you one slot closer to the top as the player you killed drops to the bottom of the list with the other dead.
Simply put, your top priority is not killing players so you will often find yourself skipping out on fights you don’t necessarily need to take. This world is… just simply astonishing to look at.
Even in Alpha, everything is vibrant and pretty from the very moment you land. Where ever you do land, the world can feel entirely different than other places you land because of the biomes within it. And while it is a small map for now, it is jam packed with interesting places, events, bosses… Basically the world is smaller than others but has more content than all of them combined within it. And that’s just in the alpha. I can only imagine how much will be packed into the world at launch, setting itself wide and away from the other titles in it’s genre.
Content is what matters and
YAGER Development understands that. Keep up the good work. The only thing I would consider adding that would be very and an interesting design flop from other Battle Royale games, is if players left behind COULD actually survive the storm until a new match began and new players dropped in.
This would make the world feel so much less like a battle royale and more like it’s own world. I imagine tornados and monsters, lightning strikes, an environment that only the hardest groups of prospectors can survive.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ru30QgpAr8[/embedyt]

 

Looking down the barrel

     Visual-
The visual aspects of The Cycle are stunning to say the least. From the moment your pod lands on the surface to the very moment you leave the fray, everything looks amazing.
A nice touch was added by the storm cycle as well. You never feel like you don’t know how close the storm is over your head. Instead, as each second roll by, the clear skies become darker and darker, lightning striking in the air and winds picking up in the trees.
It all feels natural and fluid. It’s honestly a shame that the mechanics of the game tell you the time limit, as it basically negates the impact of the world changing around you.
This is really awesome as a game design and timers are used way to frequently over actual world mechanics and I believe that should change personally.
Don’t give us the exact time of the session. Rather, force us to calculate ourselves through the intensity of the storm above as it grows until the ship arrives.
Only when the ship is evac one minute should we ever know the exact time of it. This would make people want to leave early and make waiting until the last minute much, much more risky.
Becoming trapped on the planet and being forced to survive would be cooler than simply dying as well and give much more depth to the game from a co-op perspective.

 

     Audio-
The planet sounds, the weapon sounds, the character voices, everything is just about perfect. The world feels alive, sounds alive. The guns pack punches, even the small ones.
It’s just… It’s good. There’s not much more that can really be said about this. Keep up the good work as you add in more characters, creatures and weapons!

 

     Story-
The story of The Cycle is a fairly simple one, much like the vast majority of the games that flood this market. It’s usually something like a death race vibe.

“The Cycle is a competitive quest shooter. On Fortuna III you compete against other Prospectors, or collaborate with them, to claim as many resources as possible.
The only problem is, the planet is hostile in more ways than one. Alien wildlife tends to want to rip your face off. Rival Prospectors are at best untrustworthy and at worst highly murderous.
And if that’s not bad enough, there’s The Cycle itself… a planetary metamorphosis which, if you don’t make it to the evac in time, will absolutely ensure the end of you.

But hey, you could get rich!”

So there isn’t much to it beyond that. However there could be, absolutely. As the corporations are updated and become their own, there could be plenty of lore to offer down the road.
I hope there is, in fact. It would be awesome if instead of a standard moba style start screen, we could see the orbiting starbase, go to our corporation headquarters and meet other players to group up with.
Queue up for a game and grab our starting gear to jump in our pods. The loading screen could be the view of the cockpit as we come into the planet’s atmosphere.
No more screens, no more loading. The full on immersive battle royale experience, like nothing else made to date.
Build the world and many will come to experience it together as friends and enemies.
Make us feel like the characters we are in the world that we are in and transcend the bounds of your genre as a whole.

But most importantly, make something that people won’t forget.

     In conclusion-
In a genre with so many forgettable titles, so many games played and left for newer games, You have to make a mark by pushing the bounds of your genre and becoming something new. If you do not, you might be big for six months or a year or two but… In the end the next big one will come out and replace you as the big dog on the block.
It’s just how this genre works. In this way, The Cycle needs a lot of work, along with a lot of the games out there. As much as I enjoy this game, I will not be disillusioned by its place in the gaming world.
It’s on the Epic Launcher for starters, meaning that it’s already cut out a big slice of PC gamers that refuse to play on Epic Launcher.
This wouldn’t normally be an issue as there are plenty and more people on Epic Launcher that will play the game.
However, being on the Epic Launcher also means that it is in direct competition with Fortnite for players, something that I don’t feel is a good place to be.
It could work, but is the risk worth it?
If your game did grow to be actual competition with Fortnite, would there be repercussions to this?
I have to ask myself these questions because this is a highly competitive genre and we have already seen companies that used to be mutually coexisting bring out the knives in court over game mode discrepancies.
I don’t think Epic would do anything like that, But I have been wrong before. Just Don’t feel the need to adhere to the trends of this genre.
Instead, strike out your own path and you will create something grand. Something you can be proud of.

Until next time Templars, Strike True!

– Godfrey, Baron of gaming