Starring a host of anime characters and dumped on a remote island as research subjects, Black Survival is basically a free-to-play Battle Royale that works uncannily well.
Released on mobiles globally last year and on Steam in late December, Black Survival hooks into the Battlegrounds hype by going back to its roots.
Rather than filling out a server with a hundred players at once and a massive field to play in, Black Survival pits just ten players against each other on a hostile island.
The end principle is the same: kill or be killed. But apart from the more JRPG-esque combat system, the big difference is that the focus is on crafting and levelling up throughout the course of the match.
Each character has a range of stats, abilities and masteries, the latter of which determines what weapons you'll want to focus on throughout the course of the game. The higher your mastery, the more damage you'll do with that weapon.
And that's a good portion of the Black Survival experience: moving from location to location, looking for the one or two items you need to craft the weapon best suited to your character.
Armour and accessories are something that any character can benefit from, although from time to time you'll go hunting only to run into an enemy player or hostile wildlife, and you'll have to decide on the fly whether the location is worth fighting over.
As you'd expect with any Battle Royale game, the available locations will start to dwindle over time. Each round lasts for three minutes, with a certain number of zones marked as restricted. Find yourself in that restricted zone when the timer runs out, and you're immediately dead. The whole match can take anywhere between 20 and 25 minutes, if you make the final three.
The zones with warning signs are the current "restricted" zones, with players dead if they're caught in them when the timer runs out. Greyed zones are ones that have been locked off entirely.
By the end, most regions have been permanently sealed off, making it nearly impossible to hide.
You'll be able to re-enter restricted areas in the first couple of rounds, but once night time falls restricted areas are locked off permanently. And that's the kicker. Not all items spawn in all areas, so sometimes you'll find yourself hurriedly searching an area just before the timer runs out, because that's the only area left with the crafting item you need.
Combat is pretty straightforward. Every time you search an area (pressing the centre of the screen on phone or PC), you have a chance to encounter enemies or hostile wildlife. There's three stances you can toggle that affect this chance, and some characters and items can affect that chance further.
When you do encounter someone, you'll get a pretty simple choice: attack, run away, or use a special ability. If you do attack, the game calculates a chance to hit and then does damage according to your attack rating. That's based off your mastery level and the rating of the weapon you have equipped, measured against the armour level of your opponent.
You only get one move every combat, so whether you run, use your ability or attack, that's it. You can search again immediately once combat has finished, provided you have enough stamina.
Stamina is just basically a resource that lets you attack, move locations and search for items. It can be recharged through items (like water and energy drinks) or through resting. You can rest to restore your HP as well, but it's an awfully slow process and only really used as a last resort.
Add the dimension of other players, some of whom will be chasing you and pushing you out of areas whenever possible, and you've got yourself a pretty satisfactory PUBG or Fortnite alternative.
Black Survival has been out for a while on mobiles, of course, although it only launched on Steam last month. You can share your account across platforms; there's an automated code generator in the options which lets you transfer your account to your phone, and vice versa.
Having shortcuts means you'll probably be a little faster on PC, although the experience isn't compromised on the phone at all. It's certainly easier to hit an attack button and let the game do the math, rather than trying to aim a 8x scope with your thumbs.
The real kicker is how well Black Survival straddles that line between free-to-play and pay-to-win.
I can't speak for the upper leagues, but when you start out you'll be given one character with the ability to trial a bunch of others for free. Characters are grouped into their attack type - guns, blunt weapons, hand to hand combat, swords or anything with a sharp edge, and so on - and you'll be able to pick between two or three from each group.
Like League of Legends and countless other games, the free characters will rotate after a certain period of time. You'll find most games are filled with the same two or three characters early on, but once you rise the leagues you'll get a much broader mix of enemies (which means you don't have a server full of people all looking for the exact same weapons and crafting items).
There's also plenty of options to spend real money, courtesy of three different in-game currencies. Gold is the base resource used for upgrading characters and unlocking new ones. Characters can also be bought more easily with gems, which you can buy using real world money. There's also BP points, which are just used for a roulette of sorts.
There is a snowballing element to the game, mind you. If you're the recipient of some bad luck in an early fight, and you keep running into other players whenever you try to escape that fight, it can be difficult to assemble the items you need to get back into the game.
Some characters are specifically built for this though. The game offers a quick tutorial on what phases of the game each character is better suited towards, and even has a short recommendation of what starting items to target (and what areas you can find them). Every player can also access a quick menu with a list of every item in the game, which brings up a handy guide of what crafting items you need, where they are, and whether those areas are still accessible or not.
A couple of examples of the game's inbuilt guide system.
For a free-to-play game, Black Survival is pretty reasonable as far as the monetisation goes. The real frustration will stem from the randomness of whether you get the items you need - and whether your enemies happen to be in the same area at the time you need them.
Still, part of the fun is also knowing what areas characters need to forage in. I haven't gotten all of that information baked into my brain yet, but after several hours I've gotten hooked on Black Survival's unusual ways, and I haven't paid a cent to win either.
The game has plenty of good basic advice, but you'll want to spend some time on YouTube to get to know the characters better.
Black Survival is available to download now on iOS, Android and Steam. Cross-play is enabled between all platforms.