You could be forgiven for never having heard of Project 1v1. So early in development is Gearbox’s upcoming multiplayer shooter that even the title is just a placeholder. Yet the concept would probably have piqued a fair amount of interest first announced last year, if only for the uniqueness of its design. Project 1v1 is a synergy of two hugely popular video game sub-genres: FPS and collectible card games. It has been crafted as an arena shooter in the same vein as iconic titles like Unreal Tournament but scaled down to fast-paced, micro-sized maps specifically optimized for dueling single opponents. Every weapon, item, and special ability is represented as a card, and your deck can be customized to produce a variety of different builds.
At E3 2018, I visited the folks at Gearbox to sit down and play an alpha build of Project 1v1 that was being shown to the press. It was the very first time the game was being shown outside of the studio.
You can imagine my surprise, then, as I discovered a game that already felt incredibly well-polished. Of course, 1v1’s UI will likely go through a number of iterations before its eventual release, but a slick menu already presented several different character designs, allowed me to experiment with a range of different weapons and abilities, and play a handful of different maps. But it was in the gameplay that things felt impressively far along. Project 1v1 is sublime to play; the gunplay and traversal felt great, there were no bugs or crashes, and each match ran as smooth as silk.
The arsenal of weapons included plenty of your typical FPS selection, but there were some inventive standouts too. Beyond light machine guns, shotguns, and rocket launchers, there were neat weapons like the railgun – a super powerful rifle with a secondary fire option that allowed you to shoot across the map with the bullet by pressing the right mouse button. And it was a similar story with abilities, too. Three cards can be selected for special skills, activated at the press of a key and differing in cooldown according to strength. These ranged from passive recovery buffs to sentry guns that could be placed to cover a choke point. My absolute favorite was the Excalibur – a sword that, once planted in the ground for a few seconds, could be wielded to devastating effect. Slightly OP, perhaps, but hilariously fun to shoot across the map and instant frag an opponent.
1v1’s maps are like a condensed version of a classic arena-shooter, complete with a balance of cramped hallways, mini choke-points, a wide open space or two, and designed with plenty of verticality. It would take you less than a minute to circumnavigate any one of them, but they all had been crafted in a way that let you quickly put distance between you and your opponent by dashing around a corner or hopping onto an above ledge. Some had strategically located springboards so you could quickly ascend to a map’s highest level. Aesthetically, some were more interesting than others, but I absolutely adored one, in particular, set against the backdrop of a dystopian futuristic city.
The local network I was playing on consisted of only four players at any one time, which worked well for 1v1’s curious multiplayer setup. Given that the game is specifically designed for duels, other players spectate while waiting in a queue. With a limited number in the server, the wait was never long, but I do wonder how things are supposed to work when there are three, four, or ten times that number. Gearbox didn’t have an answer for me when I enquired as to many players are likely to be pooled in a single server moving forward.
As it turns out, each match was so intense that I genuinely enjoyed my time spectating, and it was super fun to hear people gasp and cheer at my own efforts. But not every 1v1 match is going to be so entertaining, and the novelty of the format would only last so long. It remains to be seen how this all translates to a full release. Not to mention, while I definitely appreciated the bespoke 1v1 map design and the entertainment value of duking it out with a single opponent, I can’t say that the game wouldn’t be just as fun with a few more players in a server with me. 1v1 is great, but why not 2v2 and 3v3 as well?
As of right now, the foundation is in place for Project 1v1 to make a big splash on the free-to-play scene. I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay, the performance was exemplary, and the card system is a blast. It needs fleshing out, of course, but assuming that there’s an audience out there ready to embrace it, the future looks bright for Gearbox’s unorthodox shooter.