I think we can all agree at this point that battle royale has had a massive impact on the gaming industry. Fortnite and PUBG still see many hundred thousand online at any one time, with numbers only slowly dwindling. Not being a huge fan of the cartoony style of Fortnite, and wanting a bit more variety from PUBG, I got quite excited when I heard about Fear The Wolves. A S.T.A.L.K.E.R inspired setting from Vostok Games, with actual wolves hunting you down? Alright then, let’s have a pop.
Unfortunately, my eagerness and excitement has been left unfulfilled by my time with the game so far. For those unaware, I must add at this point that Fear The Wolves is still very much in Early Access: It only released at the end of August, after being delayed by a couple of weeks following their initial alpha testing. In many ways, it still feels like a game in alpha.
It follows the usual battle royale tropes: 100 players drop into a 25km2 map from a helicopter. In reality, the most I’ve actually played with is 48, and I’ve since learned from Steam Charts that at its peak, it had 388 concurrent players. This is a slightly worrying statistic, and if numbers don’t start to pick up it may soon take even longer than the current ~15 minute waiting time just to get into a single game.
What Vostok have captured well is the bleak atmosphere of the ruins surrounding Chernobyl. I found myself quite tense as I darted between buildings in small villages, hunting for more supplies. However, the more you play and the more time you spend in a game, it begins to wear a little thin as every settlement you come across is pretty much exactly the same. The buildings are occupied by the same CRT TVs; the same rusted bed frames; and the same un-openable fridges. The weapons and items of clothing, such as armour or a backpack, are varied enough, but when there aren’t enough players on the map to actually use them against, you end up with a small stockpile and just switching between the different items that you find.
I really like the dynamic weather system, but it’s quite jarring when it suddenly announces on screen what it is changing to, and what effects it has. It removes you from the atmosphere it’s created back to reality. The weather effects are voted on by spectators (those who have been killed and choose to watch rather than rage quit), and they have a choice between windy, fog or rain. The best of these from a gameplay point of view is definitely the fog, as it adds another layer of tension.
Spectators can vote for heat too, which gives you less sprinting time as its main limitation. But it looks like you’ve smoked too much weed in GTA V. Your view shakes slightly as you figure out where you need to go next. Aside from that point, the rest of the gameplay is more than passable. Weapons feel good, when you get to use them, anyway.
There’s a lot of nice ideas thrown in, but it just doesn’t gel in the way that I was hoping. As is usual in the genre, the map will get smaller the further into the game you get, with anomaly areas where you need a hazmat suit, oxygen tank and gas mask to venture into. But these items are very difficult to find because of time constraints. Areas are locked down too quickly, and it results in a mad sprint to get out of these areas as they turn red. Stay in them too long, and you’ll develop an “Adrenaline sickness”, which is what killed me in my first game. I did try and escape, but some bloody wolves surrounded me with not a lot of ammo. They’re supposed to “stalk” you, but I saw them coming every time and they’re not frightening, or menacing at all. They just seem to strafe awkwardly around you before you shoot them in the face.
This mad rush to get out of these sickness-inducing zones ruins the game for me. The atmosphere is just right for a methodical approach, but in its current form Fear The Wolves does not support that. Because of this, it just becomes another PUBG, but with a fancy way of saying death (“Adrenaline sickness” if you didn’t catch that link) and some crap wolves to kill every once in a while. The UI is a cumbersome mess, too. £16.99 for a game of this quality is quite honestly daylight robbery, and slapping the Early Access tag on it isn’t making up for it.
I’m very disappointed.