Housemarque is an acclaimed video game developer that has been around for over two decades and largely contributed to the industry with some of the best arcade games ever devised. Nex Machina is one of the best examples, but you’re probably familiar with arcade coin-op inspired games such as Resogun and Dead Nation.
Circa 2017, a studio disappointed by underwhelming sales shouted ‘Arcade is Dead’ to everyone who was willing to hear. At the same time, Housemarque announced a change in direction and a focus on what’s hot right now: “multiplayer experiences with strong, robust communities.” In other words, Battle Royale.
The reveal of the studio’s next project, Stormdivers, landed like a punch in the gut to long-time fans. After the initial shock and a little more at peace with the idea, I began wondering what these talented developers could bring to the genre.
The Hunger Arcade Games
Stormdivers is a third-person sci-fi Battle Royale game with a final player count that should sit around 50 or 60 players. For now, the best I could find was 17 simultaneous scavengers, enough to make a measured judgement of the game in its early state. The recent beta test focused on Duos as the only available game mode, but you can expect Solo and Squad options as well. Housemarque even promises co-op Player versus Environment missions in the future, which is something that could steer Stormdivers into a different direction and open it up to a whole new crowd.
Housemarque’s newfound focus doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to identify parts of its heritage in Stormdivers. You can expect a fair share of garish colors and particles flying everywhere, especially considering that there will be chaos, utter chaos in this island. Tornadoes, eclipses, energy storms, thunderstorms, and the mandatory shrinking wall of death, in this case a notably purple nano-storm. Everything and everyone is trying to kill you on this island, so stop gasping at the beautiful Unreal Engine 4 powered vegetation and get moving as fast as you can.
Three different classes are available, with the cliched monikers of Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, each one coming with two abilities. Alpha is a combat operative and feels at home with a shotgun. His abilities are a deployable shield and translocation, which allows him to teleport a small distance. Bravo is the medic and goes for the submachine gun as his weapon of choice. His abilities include a jetpack and the option to recover HP over time. Finally, Charlie is the only woman in the group and she is an infiltration specialist. Obviously, one of her abilities is stealth, as the optical camo provides her with partial invisibility and enhanced speed, with her second ability being a wall that blocks her sounds.
Each class has a glider that allows you to fly for short distances to avoid fall damage, as well as a ‘Salvager’s Coin.’ This is the small circle on the back of your character that is charged by picking up the Storm Anomalies on the island (the blue spheres). There are three levels to this device and the more you charge it, the faster health will regen; so don’t ignore this aspect.
The adventure begins as the scavengers drop onto the island via drop pods, choosing their approximate landing spot the best that they can. Armed with a futuristic sword and wearing a special suit, players will search for different weapons and armor as much as they must keep an eye out for useful augmentations. One module will allow you to see the footprints of other players, while Prayer will prevent you from dying and restores a portion of your health. Weapons can also be customized with some augmentations, increasing clip size, fire rate or reloading speed. A skill-based game this may be, but finding the best gear for the fight surely won’t hurt.
Welcome to the Jungle
The most striking thing among the respectable selection of nature hazards in this dynamically changing environment is probably the tornado, as it lifts you up in the air and slowly drains your health – luckily, it’s easy to escape its grasp and gently glide to the ground.
Along with the steady cadence of natural disasters, you will often get a lucky break as supply drops fall from the sky. Other occasional drops include mines and jump pads, to add a bit more verticality to a game that already offers plenty of it.
Playing Stormdivers is often a fast and furious experience, not unlike Housemarque’s previous outings. There is a clear resemblance in the unrelenting way that the characters move, and the firefights are frantic and visually compelling. Duos are a great way to test tactics and realize the full potential of each class.
The progression system wasn’t perfectly functional during this playtest, with no XP awarded most of the time and no gear to choose for your character at the beginning of the match. There are cosmetics to unlock and quests are planned as well, pretty much standard fare for a Battle Royale game.
Stormdivers is gorgeous at times. The Unreal Engine 4 works wonders when it comes to the lush island, with reasonably diverse locations and a colorful style that is extremely easy on the eyes. The particle effects are mind-blowing and makes it worthwhile to get close to the nano-storm just to see those sparks flying around you, in a remarkable effect.
The downside is that I’m not so convinced by the character models themselves. Apart from looking almost indistinguishable, making it hard to tell the differences when you spot one in the distance, they’re a touch below the standard set by the island itself, with their wax doll looks and similar styles. When you are in the middle of the action this becomes a minor detail, but better character models would take the visual quality to another level. Look no further than Ring of Elysium’s characters both in terms of graphics, animations and identity. Here’s hoping that there’s an in-depth character customization system in the works to make it easier to tell them apart.
Housemarque started work on Stormdivers in 2016, some time before PUBG and Fortnite busted into the scene and a worldwide Battle Royale craze began. Now, in 2019, the game is shaping up to be a worthwhile entry in the genre, so long as it manages to offer a deep experience, something that isn’t entirely perceptible right now. The big question is if the Finnish studio isn’t already too late for this crowded Battle Royale party.Related: Battle Royale, Beta, housemarque, Preview, Stormdivers