Usually, when you see something out of the ordinary at E3, it’s categorically not a first person shooter.
A charming indie game like Ooblets or Tunic. A weird, experimental experience like Dreams. Something totally left-field, like the game in the Indiecade with giant food and boat-oar-sized chopsticks. But a first person shooter?
We went to an appointment with Gearbox, to see an as-yet-unannounced shooter. Incidentally, their whole meeting space was decked out as a We Happy Few British street which, for two British journos feeling like fish out of water, was a welcome respite. It filled us with joy, if you will. But we weren’t there to see We Happy Few, and sadly, the unannounced shooter wasn’t Borderlands 3 – it’s a game known simply as Project 1v1.
Yes, that’s right. It’s literally so early in the development phase that it doesn’t have a title yet, just an internal development codename.
As we’re getting set up in the room – which features four gaming PCs with chairs, and not a lot else – the PR folk tell us that Project 1v1 began life as a passion project for someone internally at Gearbox. They showed it to some colleagues and, when they played it and felt like they were onto something, they showed it to management. One short year later, and they’re demoing a very early build behind closed doors at E3 2018.
The premise of Project 1v1 is pretty simple: it’s a one on one competitive shooter. Yes, like the deathmatches of yore. Players vote on the arena they want to play in, which then selected randomly by matchmaking, and then try and shoot each other the most times in a short, five minute match. It sounds simple. Old-fashioned, even.
But in a nod to more modern competitive games, you can customise the loadouts for your characters. The characters themselves, incidentally, are purely cosmetic – each one plays exactly the same – but the loadouts are where you’ll get your variety. Through a system of cards, each of which confers a status effect benefit or adds an additional active skill, players can build multiple decks for different tactics. Three cards, three boosts.
And here’s where we run into issues with Project 1v1.
Firstly, you can’t change your loadout mid match. If you find you’ve brought a knife to a rocket launcher fight – and incidentally, the rocket launcher was the best conventional weapon by a mile – you’re stuck with it until the end of the round. In a short demo session with the game, choosing cards based on some really unclear descriptions, there wasn’t a lot of time for trial and error. I therefore found myself with some absolute stinkers on more than one occasion.
Luckily, we had plenty of time to read those descriptions because somehow, in a room with just four players, we spent more time waiting for a match than playing in one. For some unfathomable reason, Gearbox had set the Project 1v1 demo server up as a winner stays on affair, so at any one time, two players were just sitting there. Waiting. Superfluous appendages. We twiddled our thumbs and asked questions of the PR folk who, for the most part, didn’t have any answers (or even any video footage or screenshots representing the action for us to go with this write-up – sorry, dear readers).
Why the two spare wheels couldn’t be playing against one another is anybody’s guess, but my god, it’s not a spectator sport. If the game proper has any such delays in matchmaking people will go cold on it in an instant, and it doesn’t have the viewer appeal of a Fortnite or PUBG.
Project 1v1 looks OK – though as with most competitive shooters, the map you’re on determines whether it’s pretty or not – and, most importantly for a game of this type, it controls well. There should also be some degree of depth and variety to its cards system. It’s also very quick (matchmaking aside) which in 1996 would have made it a winner, but in this day and age, that’s likely not going to be enough.
More than anything else, however, it’s hard to say exactly who the audience for Project 1v1 will be. It’s likely to garner a small group of die hard fans who love that retro style of play, but as the likes of Paragon and LawBreakers have shown, a small cluster of fans simply isn’t enough. In a world where even Bethesda can’t seem to keep people interested in a Quake game of all things, and based on this early demo, it’s hard to see Project 1v1 being anything more than a novelty or curio.
To bastardise the great Jeff Goldblum’s famous speech from Jurassic Park, Gearbox Software’s developers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.