Right now, battle royale games are popular. Nobody denies that, not even people who do not appreciate the genre. However, jumping on the battle royale bandwagon is by no means easy. In order to compete with the big boys, your online massacre either needs to be tied to an established IP or bring fresh ideas to the table. Fear The Wolves, developed by Vostok Games and published by Focus Home Interactive, does this by dropping you right into the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation.
If this does not sound entirely fresh to you, it is probably because you are familiar with the action-horror franchise, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. — also set in the Zone of Alienation. Anyone who has seen pictures of Pripyat, evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster, will see why creative minds are drawn to it.
Abandoned buildings. Overgrown brutalist architecture. Pripyat’s eerie amusement park. The spectre of radiation hanging over the entire region. There’s a reason why this backdrop worked so well for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and why the Pripyat level is one of the most memorable moments in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
What does Fear The Wolves, currently in Steam Early Access, do with this? Well, it is a battle royale shooter, and that is first and foremost what you get. Get dropped from a helicopter. Search for stuff. Shoot people, either as a squad or by yourself. Drive around in rusty vehicles.
Naturally, you will only experience the above if you can get into a match. Fear The Wolves’s European servers are not exactly densely packed, but if you are in North America or Asia, good luck to you. Right now, Fear The Wolves is in Early Access and technically has not been released yet, but let’s be honest: you only get one release, and the game is out.
Fear The Wolves does have a couple of interesting features. The titular wolves haunt the arena and bring an NPC element to a genre where the focus is on the elimination of other human players. Unfortunately, there is also the chance that you will meet nothing but wolves on the oversized map. There is a lot of downtime and not enough loot to make the wait worth your while.
The omnipresent radiation is a constant threat — a bit too constant, perhaps. That might explain why your player character dies from time to time with little indication of what just happened. More convincing are the changing weather pattern. They affect visibility and are quite atmospheric. As if sitting in a Hunger Games control room, spectator can vote on the next weather effect to come.
Another spin on the battle royale formula are the patterns with which various areas on the map become hostile. The speed is not the same for all areas, which adds a sense of paranoia to the whole thing. At the end of a match, the last survivors have to fight for a spot on an extraction helicopter — a nice touch.
While Fear The Wolves looks decent, it is an absolute resource hog. Even a decent graphics card will not guarantee a smooth experience. Lowering the graphical settings helps a bit, but the experience remains overall spotty. The frame rate jumps all over the place, and the overall appearance is just not good enough to justify this. Bugs and the occasional crash come on top of this.
Of course Fear The Wolves will ultimately live or die with its player base. Right now, it is rather small, and without some heavy changes, it is unlikely to grow significantly. The game has a couple of interesting ideas, but right now, none of them are good enough to draw players away from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and whatever other battle royale game they are playing.
Fear The Wolves is available on PC in early access.