My general stance on early access games is that they’re toxic to both players and developers. The players receive a low quality product that is rarely worth what they paid for while devs can’t capitalise on their game. The original market hype for the game is gone by release, and word of mouth has spread about why you shouldn’t buy it. Down To One is a prime example of this. It’s a game that sounds awesome on paper, but it’s so early in development that it’s borderline insulting to ask $15 for it.
As of writing these impressions, Down To One is at version 0.17. It’s extremely early in it’s development, and everything I criticise here could very well change an hour after this article is posted. While it’s fair to say that a lot is going to change as the game progresses, it’s also fair to say that this game should not have been released this early. Right now, it’s a buggy, jankey mess, which is a shame because it’s grounded on such a fundamentally cool concept: the battle royale.
The idea behind Down To One is simple: Be the last guy standing. You start in a house in the middle of a large expanse of land with 19 other people. This expanse gradually gets smaller and smaller as the match progresses. The aim of the game is to be the last person alive, whether it’s through outlasting your opponents as they die of thirst or shooting them in the face with an AK. As resources get scarce, you’ll become more desperate for weapons, which can lead to throwing rocks at your enemies. It’s a nice idea, but very little of it lives up to even modest expectations.
To put it bluntly, playing this game made me cringe. Everything from the animations to the gunplay looks and feels unfinished. While you can chalk this up to being an early access release, the asking price of the game is $15, which just seems ludicrous to me. If I run through a door, it’s likely I’ll get stuck along the way and cling to it. Climbing up ladders is a battle in of itself, and getting down is nigh impossible. Then there’s the actual gameplay.
It’s hard to convey just how broken the game feels without experiencing it yourself. The game involves running around, picking up objects and killing enemies with various items. All three of these actions feel dull or broken. While sprinting, it feels like you’re stuck in a perpetual knee-high pool of honey, and walking doesn’t even feel like you’re moving. Picking up objects is straightforward enough as pointing your crosshair and hitting E, but what you can and can’t pick up isn’t remotely obvious at a glance. And as for the weapons? They’ve got some issues too.
This may be one of the few games I’ve played where using a knife feels like you’re having an aneurysm. For some reason, you don’t just stab your knife forward like a sane person when you attack, you hurl your arm around hoping to graze their neck. Thanks to the tendency for the walls to get in the way, this means you can’t hit anyone close to a wall. You’ll swing your arm around, smash your knife or crowbar into the wall and get infuriated. So, why not use a gun instead? Because aiming one of them involves a touch so delicate, a surgeon couldn’t do it.
For the most part, looking around feels fine. There’s no mouse acceleration or smoothing happening, but it’s when you try to be precise that issues arise. I didn’t really notice until I used the sniper rifle, but aiming skips over a bunch of pixels at a time. Once I went back to just using an AK, I suddenly realised why it was so difficult to aim down the sights. Because it jumped pixels, it felt… Wrong. It was horrifying compared to Counter-Strike’s near pixel-perfect aiming, and it made the jankeyness of the game even more apparent. Of course, actually having a weapon (let alone a gun) is quite a luxury.
Just like any good battle royale, you start in close proximity to your opponents with no equipment. While it’s fine to not give everyone RPG’s at the start of the game, not giving them anything also presents a problem. With no equipment, you can’t attack. At all. You are entirely defenceless. You can’t do anything like, oh, say, punch people, but you can sure as hell run like a sloth and pray you find a weapon somewhere. Starting with an unloaded gun would be better than nothing, but finding ammo is blind luck too. This isn’t a terrible mechanic in of itself, but it’s coupled with the map size and the player count.
One of the things Down To One gets right is the size of the playable area. It’s large enough to run away from people and decreases slow enough to keep the tension high. The thing is, equipment and resources are sparse, and all the games I’ve played boil down to who can get to point X and grab a gun the fastest. This leaves about half the players stuck without a gun, which plain ol’ sucks because then the winners are obvious. You can’t punch, you can’t shoot, and don’t even think about knifing them because you won’t. You’re stuck waiting for someone to inevitably come kill you off, which can take a while because of the large map size. Then you have to wait for another game, and that’s a problem.
The number of players required to start a game is 20. Waiting for 20 people to join a server is not a rapid process, nor is 20 a good number of players to have as a minimum requisite. You could just as easily start with only 4, have the area shrink faster and at least have a shot of getting a gun each. The time I spent waiting to play a game was far greater than the time I spent playing, feeding back on the waiting problem even more. I understand that it’s meant to be a battle between a lot of people, but when it’s a struggle to even start a game, I have to question if it’s worth the wait. The biggest problem, I think, is not that the game is broken (at this stage of development, at least), nor that getting into a game takes an epoch and a half, but that the game lacks personality.
The biggest issue with Down To One is that it stands out in absolutely no way whatsoever. It doesn’t have the immersion of DayZ or the sleek aesthetic of The Hunger Games because… It doesn’t have anything. You play as a generic, faceless soldier in a bland landscape. The weapons and resources you find have no character or flair to them. Everything looks and feels like it’s been taken straight from an asset bank without modifying it to fit the game’s atmosphere. There’s nothing beyond the concept that makes it unique, and the concept isn’t executed well enough for me to get excited for it. It’s the epitome of an early access game that has been released far too early.
It’ll take a lot of work to fix the glaring issues in Down To One, but there’s still something so appealing about the idea behind it. The melee and ranged combat is jankey as hell, and the movement is as tedious as dragging a reluctant dog, but the potential is there. As it stands, there is no way I can justify spending $15 on it. Sure, the bugs can get fixed, and the gameplay will become more polished over time, but asking for $15 before it’s in an acceptably playable state is borderline insulting. I’m rooting for it, I really am, but I’m not suggesting you pick it up right now.
EDITOR NOTE: As this is a Perth-developed game, we are dedicated to providing updates on its progress. Please check back for press releases from the developer as well as updated impressions from us as the game evolves.