The next take on the battle royale genre is Rumbleverse, a 40-player “brawler royale” from Extinction maker Iron Galaxy. Revealed Thursday night during the Game Awards, Rumbleverse is a city full of zany-costumed pro rasslers, elbow-dropping and pile-driving one another until the last is standing.
And yes, the characters are rasslers, not wrestlers. “The day that we were first jamming on the concept, Chelsea [Blasko] our co-CEO, she just goes, ‘We should do rasslin’!’,” said Adam Boyes, Iron Galaxy’s other co-CEO since 2016. “Just like that, right? And then we just started, like, ‘What would happen in a world where a wrestling match could break out anywhere on planet Earth?’”
Rumbleverse, to be published by Epic Games for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, borrows the battle royale conventions of parachuting into a map, scarfing up loot and power-ups, and moving to stay within a steadily closing area. But because there are no guns — “except the ones attached to your arms,” says lead designer Adam Hart — Iron Galaxy’s developers hope the fighting will more engaging and more entertaining than the fast-twitch, shoot-or-be-shot immediacy of Fortnite or PUBG Battlegrounds.
“When you see somebody in this game, they’re not a threat to you just because you’ve seen them,” Hart said. “You can kind of watch them fight or have a, you know, emote conversation with them across rooftops.” Of course, at some point they’ll start throwing down. While sneak attacks are possible, normally this is mutually initiated combat.
Iron Galaxy figures most events will take between 12 and 15 minutes to crown a winner. The ring shrinks tighter and more quickly to compensate for inactivity, Hart said, to force combat on anyone who is avoiding a fight. The game’s map, “Grapital City,” is quite large — but more importantly, it has a lot of verticality. It packs a lot of visual appeal into the fights, and of course, supplies a lot more force to moves landed from way higher than the top rope.
I saw Hart, whose fighter was kitted out in a tuxedo under a karate gi, with a full-head cat mask (customization, of course, is very important here) pull out an old-school belly-to-back suplex on a clown (another dev’s costume), landing it from what looked like the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
“How often do you guys imitate Jim Ross, by the way?” I asked.
“Every day!” Boyes laughed. “For the past couple of years!” Hart added.
Eliminations are a simple case of draining another player’s health bar, which can be replenished or buffed by the power-ups strewn about Grapital City. Hart guzzled down protein powder, for example, and picked up weightlifting magazines to get himself in shape. There’s also plenty of roasted poultry, the international sign of video game health since Castlevania and Gauntlet. It’s available from a drive-thru window for “Squatch Chicken: The Home of Slow-Squatted Chicken.”
“[The cook] has all the chicken on a squat rack, and he just dips it into the fire,” Hart explained.
Other pick-ups supply perks or modify one of three core attributes — arms (power), core (health), and legs (stamina). Players can work up a match-to-match character build that emphasizes certain areas of their wrestling prowess. Hart’s character, in the playthrough, went 3-5-2, for example, with his core being the top attribute. But a max-stamina fighter could do comparable damage per second with a flurry of lesser attacks — and I saw plenty of chained, juggling strikes that fighting game fans will recognize.
“One thing we found out is that a lot of people that are crazy-good platform players, like Mario, Crash, Spyro fans, became the best players, very quickly,” Boyes said. “So it’s as much, I think, about how you move around the world as it is your offensive integrity.”
Melee weapons are also available, like baseball bats and the de-rigueur folding chairs. But as Hart pointed out, anything a player can hold can also be knocked from their hands (and used) — weapon or power-up. That means you can also improvise throwing attacks with the can of whey.
Grapital City’s environment also presents tactical possibilities for players, too. No one can swim, so if the circle is closing around an area with water, players can get rung out quickly even if they’re at maximum health. Being outside the circle doesn’t inflict damage, as it does in Fortnite, but it does start a 10-second countdown, akin to disqualification matches in real pro rasslin’. (Not that pro rasslin’ is real. Just, you know, real-life.)
Other wrestling tropes include a perk that revives a player after they’ve been counted out (that is, when their health has been fully drained), much like the scripted reversals and comebacks in epic-length wrestling matches.
“What I love about this is, I see someone, and I see a series of choices for me,” Boyes summarized. “Do I have enough stuff that I’ve picked up? Do I feel like my stats are good enough? Do I have that one move I need? Can I sneak up behind him? Can I sort of stalk them? Or can I just run away, get health, and come back.
“I don’t want to say it’s casual, but because there’s so much depth to the combat, it makes it less pressure,” Boyes said, “but more, you know, just more fun to experiment and try new things.”
Rumbleverse kicks off a “First Look” gameplay event on Friday, Dec. 10, available to a limited number of players (the game’s official website has registration information and more details). Iron Galaxy expects to launch Rumbleverse in early access on the Epic Games Store on Feb. 8, 2022, as well as on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X through those consoles’ marketplaces. Rumbleverse will support cross-platform play and progression, Iron Galaxy said.