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The first-person shooter action in Embark Studios’ The Finals moves pretty fast. And if you’re a bit slow like me to catch on to what is happening, it can pass you by.
I’ve been curious about it because I’ve followed Stockholm, Sweden-based Embark Studios’ — a division of Nexon — for some time. This title is a free-to-play team shooter that I tried out at a press event last week in preparation for the launch of the game’s two-week closed beta test, which runs from March 7 to March 21.
The Finals is a virtual combat game show that takes a lot of its humor and wit from The Hunger Games, at least the spectator culture of the film. You team up with two other players to fight against a few other teams in competition for virtual prizes as if you were competing for your life for prizes while providing an entertaining broadcast for spectators. As you fight, broadcasters gleefully narrate the proceedings.
I wished we had more of a backstory, as we saw with The Hunger Games, to go with the action. As such, your basic instruction is, “If you can see it, you can probably destroy it.”
I signed up via Steam and moved into the press beta. And, sadly, the version I played didn’t support an Xbox controller, which is what I used to play shooters. And so I had to play with a mouse and keyboard, and that wasn’t pretty. Here’s what I saw.
The game itself is in beta and has a bunch of bugs. But I didn’t see many of them in the hour or so that I played. I picked my gear and found the screens to be more confusing than I expected. I didn’t have a pre-set loadout so I had to browse through the characters and bundles quickly.
Looking in the “Backstage” menu before the match, I browsed through the store and the contestants. I settled on a character with a relatively weak loadout, including an “AKM,” an AK-47 style assault rifle without a scope and a hand-thrown grenade. I also carried a frag grenade and a “goo grenade.”
If I had figured out how to get a grenade launcher, that would have been the most fun because the game pushes environmental dynamism, destruction, and player freedom as much as it can. Other players, including a player on my squad, used it to great effect, bringing down floors and buildings in a pile of rubble and dust.
We talked with fellow members of the team via a Discord voice call, and it was reasonably easy to party up once we exchanged friend codes on Steam. I could see that you could search for players via friend requests or “recently played with” tabs in the menu. I could swap out the weapon for an R357 pistol, which was like a 357 Magnum. And I could have sugged in a flashbang, gas grenade and night vision.
Bu there was no time for that, as the match started quickly. Our preset name was “The Big Splash.” And our characters appropriately flexed as we were introduced. All told there were four teams of three players each.
As the countdown ended, we ran into a sign and were all jacked into the virtual combat zone, which was a battlefield atop a bunch of skyscrapers in the South Korean capital of Seoul. We had a choice of going after one of of two targets, dubbed vaults. The object is to get to a vault, carry it back to a location for extraction, and then repeat. The action aggregates either at the vaults or the extraction points.
The verticality was superb. You could walk off a ledge and kill yourself if you weren’t careful. You could also take fast ropes up and down the side of a building, or hop into outside elevators. It took a while for me to figure out how to close in fast on a vault, since I had to run fast to get to the point but stay on guard for ambushes along the way.
At the vault, you have to activate a big gold box that has a bunch of loot in it. When you pick it up, you can’t do anything except run. Well, the one thing you can do is launch the box at an enemy in an attempt to take them out. But for the most part, your teammates have to watch your back as you run for the extraction point.
When I saw enemies, I fired at them but found it took multiple bullets to bring them down. You could see how much more you needed to shoot them by looking at the meter above their heads. I didn’t like this so much because I sneaked up behind one player, fired a few rounds into them at point-blank range, and then they moved around and I lost my aim. Even the grenade launchers took multiple hits for a kill. Like in other shooter games, the action at the flashpoints is over within seconds.
In game show fashion, when you get a kill, the other player shatters into a bunch of coins that you pick up. Then you get some points and they contribute to your total score.
I liked how the gunfire left holes in the wall and chipped off chunks of concrete. But the gun vibrated a lot, I ran out of bullets quickly, and I had to reload. The enemy managed to escape and then shoot me. That was a kind of rude awakening for the gameplay that awaited me, where I had to pump a full magazine into a player to bring them down while someone was undoubtedly shooting at me.
When your team is wiped, you get about 30 seconds to wait for a respawn, and then you have to make your way back to the firefight and rejoin the action.
One of the matches was called The Dead Go Boom. I figured out what that meant when I brought down an enemy and then the body blew up and took me out. I learned in the short time that it pays to stay close to your teammates. And to be in close voice contact with them. I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t hear the soft voice of one of my teammates at all.
Another battleground was set in the European-style stone buildings of old-town Monaco. I’ve actually visited there and this was a pretty realistic rendition of it. Not that you would notice, as you can’t really go sightseeing while you’re chasing down a vault.
This particular setting was a good one because of the stone and wooden buildings. It was an environment where the grenades and other explosives could have a huge effect, as it was easier to trigger lots of destruction.
The game already has a lot of polish. Rob Runesson, executive producer of The Finals, said that a lot of the team has been making shooter games for a couple of decades at places such as Dice, the maker of the Battlefield series. Their aim is to breathe new life into the static shooter genre, and they’re doing it with a team of 100 people out of Embark’s total of 250 employees.
Basically, everything in the game can be wrecked with the server-side destruction and movement. As I stepped back to observe, it was easy for me to tell who the developers were, or at least the players who had good experience. They were quick to defend their areas, like extraction points, with the aforementioned goo grenades, which created puffy obstacles that could clog stairwells or doors. I spent a lot of time hopping over those obstacles or falling off as I tried. And that wasted precious time.
I managed to get a kill or so in each game, but the matches went fast. In one game, we lost the match when we were only at one kill and five deaths or three kills and six deaths. I think they should tweak that to enable longer matches, since you spend a lot of time running to get back to the action.
I can’t draw too much of a conclusion on the dev team’s years of work with just an hour or so of gameplay. But it’s a good first pass. I think they need to make the menu more intuitive, add a variety of weaponry, explain it well in a tutorial, and add controller support. The idea is fun, but I think the virtual broadcasters could a lot more to the entertainment as they auto-narrate what’s happening in the match.
I think they need to reduce the bullet sponges and extend the length of time for the matches. And they should equip you with grenade launchers, rockets, and more powerful guns. I’m sure all of that is coming, and so I’ll have to conclude that the game has potential. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for any of this, as the closed beta test will be happening soon.
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