Mavericks: Proving Grounds – hands-on with the wildly ambitious 400-player Battle Royale shooter

By Alex Donaldson, Thursday, 22 March 2018 08:54 GMT

Mavericks isn’t just about server size – it’s thinking hard about other ways to revolutionise Battle Royale, too.

It’s difficult to believe just how ambitious Mavericks: Proving Grounds is. The big selling point that catches the eye is the player count: it’s a Battle Royale game that can support up to 1000 players, with its most basic mode built to support 400 people. But honestly, that isn’t even the most impressive thing about it.

It’s easy to come away from a show like this year’s Game Developers Conference with something of Battle Royale fatigue. It’s everywhere. I see single-player focused games adapting their mechanics to fit this latest multiplayer craze, while game-agnostic booths from the likes of Intel appear to have switched Overwatch for Fortnite as their streaming game of choice at shows. Battle Royale is everywhere, but Mavericks still stands out. Which perhaps speaks volumes of its potential.

The build I try is a stripped-back version of the full release – almost a tech demo. Representatives from developer Automaton Games tell me that the demo really aims to reproduce the frantic feeling of the last few minutes of a match. A handful of players are confined to a small area and instructed to kill. In this it’s decent, rocking the usual Battle Royale flair and pressure that’s made the genre so beloved.

“Traversing the map will leave environmental clues that your foes might use to track you down. You’ll be following carelessly left footprints in search of that next kill”

Mavericks is all about scale, though, and not just in player counts. Automaton CEO James Thompson explains to me that the game aims to go big in all aspects of its design, offering a world that’s more inherently rich and therefore full of possibilities for sandbox Battle Royale play.

Here’s the obvious example: as people travel the map, trampling through mud and pushing aside foliage, those descriptors actually happen. Simply traversing the map will leave environmental clues that your foes might use to track you down. Other players will leave similar clues, however, so you’ll likely be following along with carelessly left footprints yourself in search of that next kill.

The muddied footprints and trampled plant life are both present in the demo I play, though there are plans for other methods of tracking in the final game. Even in this tiny slice of the game the implications for wider Battle Royale strategy is obvious, extending player worries about tracking far beyond simply ensuring they close all doors behind them.

Similar sorts of ambitious ideas can be found elsewhere in Mavericks, like in some mild destructible environments and the promise of even further advanced systems later on such as unpredictable AI-driven wildlife which could help to throw a further element of the random into those environmental clues.

These ideas blend with the inflated player count to make Mavericks stand out even among a sea of upcoming Battle Royale games. The fact that the demo I play is so truncated and featuring only a handful of players feels significant.

“Automaton is focused first on ensuring the main loop of tracking, killing and looting enemies while protecting yourself is both satisfying and more nuanced than in other game”

Specifically it doesn’t feel like it says they haven’t got the large scale multiplayer working yet as much as it does that the team at Automaton is focused first on ensuring the main loop of tracking, killing and looting enemies while protecting yourself is both satisfying and more nuanced than in other games of this type.

Thompson says as much to me, too: the team is focusing on perfecting things on a smaller scale before ramping it up, though they’re confident they will safely deliver the 400-plus player counts, too. On paper Mavericks seems to hit those bullet points nicely then, though it’s also clearly very early days.

Mavericks will supposedly next surface at E3, but the short demo on offer at GDC shows enormous potential thanks to its clearly focused, systems-driven approach to design. Now we just need to see if all those systems can successfully mesh together in large-scale matches. My interest has been thoroughly piqued.

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