Macworld (USA)

First look: Fortnite

Fortnite: Battle Royale for the iphone and ipad is a virtuosic port, but desktop and console players definitely have the advantage in crossplay matches.

- BY LEIF JOHNSON

It hadn’t even been a fortnight between the time we learned that Fortnite: Battle Royale ( go.macworld.com/fnbr), Epic Games’ wildly popular multiplaye­r survival shooter, would be coming to IOS, and when it was on my iphone and ipad, running far more smoothly than I’d expect from a freshly-minted beta. Only a comparativ­ely small group of players currently have access, but what I’ve seen so far suggests that Epic wouldn’t have to do much to fling open the gates to the wider public. (You can sign up for the beta at go.macworld.com/fnbt.)

It’s hard to overemphas­ize how bold this release is. It’s exciting enough that we can play a game on our phones at the height of its popularity on the Mac, PC, Xbox One, and PS4, but also because Fortnite allows us to play against players on those systems from our handheld devices. And yes, that means all at the same time. (Thanks to a spat between Sony and Microsoft, you currently have to deal with separate queues for PS4 or Xbox.)

Playing it feels a little like looking into the future: a future where resourceho­gging, action-heavy games on desktops and consoles share living space on smartphone­s with barely a change in experience. We’ve seen this kind of thing with Minecraft and Hearthston­e, of course, but Fortnite is a different beast entirely. This is a game where the slightest hesitation or dawdling equates to death.

Fortnite: Battle Royale, if you haven’t heard, is a free-to-play survival game that builds off ideas in both the 2000 film

Battle Royale and The Hunger Games book series and films. In essence, you drop out of a bus floating in the sky and fight 99 other players to the death until only one is left standing. The main Fortnite game for the Mac and PC is a paid game that’s based on building forts and fighting off zombies, but if we’re being honest, almost no one plays it in comparison. This—the battle royale—is the

Fortnite: Battle Royale, if you haven’t heard, is a free-to-play survival game that builds off ideas in both the 2000 film Battle Royale and

The Hunger Games book series and films.

main attraction for gaming in 2018 so far.

While you’re trying to stay alive, you also scrounge for weapons and armor boosts in ramshackle buildings littered across a sprawling island map. That’s much the same formula found in the rival Playerunkn­own’s

Battlegrou­nds ( go. macworld.com/btlg)— which is also now available on ios—but Fortnite distinguis­hes itself by letting you tear down the scattered shanties and use their materials to build your own forts where you please. For that matter, you can build ramps that can reach to the sky. Epic clearly isn’t going for realism here.

THE RIGHT TOUCH?

Sound appealing? Keep in mind that Epic allows us who play Fortnite on mobile devices to choose to play in the same matches with folks armed to the teeth with keyboards and mice and gaming controller­s—oh, my! (Controller support is apparently coming to

Fortnite for IOS eventually, but it’s not here yet.)

This sounds like a recipe for disaster. In such a setup, PC players might as well be a belligeren­t space-age civilizati­on encounteri­ng a long-hidden Amazonian tribe armed only with handcrafte­d bows and arrows.

But surprising­ly, it works! Or, at least, it works well enough. All the controls are on the screen, so you use your thumbs to navigate in the 3D spaces and press various buttons to activate the weapons you’ve picked up or to sneak or crouch. To fire off whatever weapon you’re carrying, you simply tap the right side of the screen.

I find I far prefer the experience on my 12.9-inch first-generation ipad Pro than on the iphone, even though it doesn’t handle

the framerates as well. The ipad Pro gives me plenty of room to maneuver and look for enemy players without smothering the screen with my fingers.

In either case, though, lining up the camera for the perfect shot at another player requires a ridiculous degree of dexterity for aiming a shot, when such an action is barely more involved than blinking an eyelid with a mouse or a gamepad. That’s not so much a problem when you’re playing solely against iphone players. But when you’re in crossplay, you’re basically a walking target unless you’re running with a highly protective squad of three friends on a Mac, PC, or a console.

Nor are the touch controls all that revolution­ary. In fact, it’s kind of par for the course for a lot of shooters that have tried to make the leap to IOS. Fortnite’s brilliance, though, lies in what it does with sound.

LOUD AND CLEAR

Sound lies at the heart of the experience of both Fortnite and Playerunkn­own’s Battlegrou­nds, as the slightest noise can warn you when someone’s hunting you. They’re the kind of games best played with over-ear headphones with the volume pumped to the max.

iphone and ipad users, though, will often find themselves playing on crowded buses or in crypt-quiet waiting rooms in doctor’s offices. Fortnite’s solution is to change those audio cues into visual cues, in the form of small footprints or circles that pop up on the screen from the direction where sounds of footsteps or gunshots are coming. Some players worry that, counterint­uitively, this could give mobile users an edge over their PC and console counterpar­ts.

But having played Fortnite: Battle Royale, I believe it merely helps overcome the handicap of having to play almost entirely with gestures.

Help is the key word here. I’m still of the opinion that mobile players are going to be absolutely slaughtere­d

when they’re thrown into the same matches with their PC and console players.

DÉJÀ VU

Fortnite’s visual cues are also what mainly sets Fortnite for IOS apart from Fortcraft, a— let’s admit it—shameless Fortnite knockoff that we previewed on our Apple Arcade show ( go. macworld.com/aprc) recently. Many other critics dismissed Fortcraft, but I was frankly surprised at how well it worked, and in some ways I actually prefer it to Fortnite’s movement. Playing on my ipad Pro, Fortcraft’s controls feel slightly more fluid.

But now, only a short time later, the bona fide, real-deal Fortnite is here (at least for some of us). Aside from the necessary UI changes, it’s essentiall­y the same game we play on our Macbooks and PS4S, right down to the account you use to log in with. The only real bug I saw was that the game would sign me out if I peeked at another app (which may be intentiona­l). The only real annoyance? Fortnite for IOS is so popular right now that I found myself waiting in lengthy queues before being able to get in. Provided you’re only playing against players who are on iphones or ipads, it’s pretty fantastic.

Perhaps most importantl­y, it proves that these kinds of conversion­s from Mac, PC, and mobile games need not be the impossible tasks that other developers seem to consider them. It runs beautifull­y, although it made the iphone 7 Plus I was playing on a little hot to the touch (and again, the ipad Pro had slight performanc­e issues). Had I not known that Fortnite was originally conceived as a cooperativ­e build-and-survive game that had nothing to do with battles royale, I’d almost believe that the Pixar-esque framerate-friendly style was aimed at mobile devices all along. ■

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 ??  ?? Struggling to aim, we went on like this for several seconds.
Struggling to aim, we went on like this for several seconds.
 ??  ?? In Fortnite, you can truly get the drop on somebody.
In Fortnite, you can truly get the drop on somebody.
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 ??  ?? Expect to see a lot of this.
Expect to see a lot of this.

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