If you’re wondering what confidence feels like, try releasing your free-to-play shooter with no warning during The Game Awards, two days after CoD: Warzone's biggest free update in a year.
That’s exactly what Embark Studios did at the end of last week with The Finals, and it’s fairly remarkable coming from this Warzone-addicted scribe, whose been glued to this newer entrant all weekend — just as he was for its open beta at the end of October.
Embark Studios boasts plenty of ex-Dice developers, and the ethos of older Battlefield games is clear to see: it’s a shooter with a heavy emphasis on destruction and teamwork.
You play in teams of three, individually choosing from three body types for your loadouts, each with a different set of tools and weapons to access, with movement speed and health also affected.
You might make a lightweight, fragile build with a double-barrelled shotgun and a grappling hook to let you buzz around picking stragglers off, or a heavyweight unit armed with ballistic barriers and a sledgehammer to charge through walls and ceilings at will — or anything in between.
Whatever combination of three fighters you come to, you’ll enter a large arena-style map full of verticality, ziplines, barriers, and hazardous barrels. Here, depending on the game mode, you’ll be focused on amassing cash to bank at designated points.
In the main Quick Cash mode, this means securing a lengthy capture point from other teams, with any of them able to convert your banked money if they can capture the point before it finishes ticking down (even right down to the final moments of the process).
Bank It, by contrast, makes saving your cash quicker, and lets you earn coins by eliminating opponents — it’s quicker-paced and features four teams to the three in Quick Cash.
Quick Cash feels like the real core of The Finals, though — which is why it’s the mode used by Ranked Play — which pits you against a bracket of other teams to see if you can make it through to a final round against just a single opposing team.
It has a simply fantastic loop: making it to the next cash drop, successfully nabbing it, running to whichever banking point you think is most defensible, then desperately trying to stay alive while the other teams strategise to steal it. Or, indeed, seeing that another team is moving faster than you in that process and coming up with a way to steal the bank from under their noses.
If that sounds straightforward, let’s talk destruction, which The Finals offers in a way that puts basically every other shooter of the day to shame. Almost every surface (barring the ground) can be destroyed here, and you have countless tools to do it with, from RPGs to C4 charges, grenades, and even the barrels lying around the level.
This means that most objectives can be approached in countless ways, letting you drop in from above, charge through a wall, or even drop it down through the floor to ruin all the best-laid plans of its defenders (or to surprise thieves as they attempt to steal your cash).
Just when you think you’ve found a surefire way to outfox other teams, they’ll do something that never occurred to you or lock down a room in an inventive way that you’ll be desperate to adapt in your next game — and the number of options means this doesn’t look like getting old anytime soon.
The Finals does all this while looking nice, too: it has a really clean aesthetic that leans into concrete and steel, but with splashes of colour that are almost reminiscent of Mirror’s Edge. It runs nice and smoothly at a steady 60 frames-per-second, too, and is sharp enough that you can pick out enemies at range easily.
Another incredibly smart trick up the game's sleeve is that its maps can appear in a range of conditions, including night-time versions and different weather options, which can massively change how you approach certain situations, whether because of fog obscuring sight lines or darkness offering a stealthier way to get close to the action.
The game also has some of that good old Battlefield audio, with crunching and booming explosions, along with impressively precise locational audio that makes tracking players’ footsteps and gunfire pretty easy (especially with a headset on).
On the audio front, though, it’s worth mentioning that The Finals’ use of AI for its announcers’ voice lines is a disappointment — their lines sound weird in a way that might be forgiven as deliberate, but it’d be nice to imagine that Embark is considering hiring actors to record scripted lines instead down the line.
This is 2023, so there’s a Battle Pass to buy if you want it, with the game’s first season of content now ongoing. Reassuringly, it doesn’t contain any gameplay options, instead restricting itself to cosmetics. You earn in-game currency to unlock new weapons and items by playing normally, and we were able to unlock half a dozen pretty quickly, which is great news.
It’s early days for The Finals; the test of a live-service game like this is how many players are still turning it on in six months, after all. Still, we haven’t been this entranced by a free game since Warzone first launched, and that shooters’ entanglement with premium Call of Duty offerings makes it stretch the definition slightly.
At launch, this is a hugely impressive new shooter that should appeal to anyone who’s enjoyed a Battlefield game in the last decade or more and wants a tactical and chaotic palette-cleansing option to add to their online sessions.
Have you been playing The Finals on PS5 since its launch over the weekend? Do you share our first impressions that this could be something special? Let us know in the comments below.