There’s little doubt about the impact that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has made on gaming in 2017. Epic Games effectively shifted focus away the “real” part of their free-to-play game Fortnite because the Battle Royale add on that’s inspired by PUBG is far, far more popular. Many other games are looking to jump in too with rumours that we might even see Call of Duty or Halo include 1v100 mode. It’s popularity and laser sharp focus on its core gameplay make it the sort of title that draws in players like few shooters have done in years and now no one wants to be left behind.
It’s only been out on Xbox One for a month and after its early success it seemed like a good time for me to check it out. It’s worth noting that unlike the PC version that hit version 1.0 at the end of last year, the Xbox One version is a part of the Game Preview Program and should be considered very much a beta. But then when you read feedback of the PC version you might be thinking the same too…
So what’s the deal with the game? The general idea of PUBG is that it throws one hundred players on a large map and forces them to find weapons and gear to survive until they are the last person standing. To force everyone to fight, the map slowly constricts in size and pushes them into a select bit of turf. A timer is constantly at work here so no game lasts longer than is necessary for a result. The developers at PUBG Corporation have not rested on their laurels and have done a lot to ensure that there is plenty of replay value in the game’s concept. And though each one might seem small in part they add to the overall package and have a big impact on the final game.
The first is the drop off. Players are deposited on the island by parachuting in via plane and the direction the plane follows each time is different so your plans for which locations to visit are constantly in flux. With one hundred other players in the same situation it makes for a chaotic beginning. Following that is random loot drops so that you can never guarantee that you will get the same fear from a location. With you starting with nothing but your first every weapon, attachment or inventory item you find counts. Apparently there’s some RNG tweaks based on the context of the location (such as military bases) but that’s it. Finally, the location that the map eventually constricts players to is also random so you can’t just drop off to the middle of the map and expect to be safe. With artillery strikes and supply drops thrown into the mix too, there are more than enough factors in the game to change things up each round and give everyone a fighting chance.
Now, a fighting chance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be fighting all the time either… At least in the beginning anyway. The size of the map initially gives a player plenty of opportunity to scout the area for loot without engaging anyone else. But that’s just one tactic to employ. If you prefer to jump in guns blazing the moment you land that’s a valid option too. The game makes all choices valid ones when you start but you’ll still need to kill someone in the end of you want to be number one and earn yourself that elusive chicken dinner. So far the best I’ve achieved is 16th and that wasn’t even a round where I shot anyone.
That pursuit of being top of the heap can be all consuming whether you are going solo, in a pair or a squad of four. The advantages of teaming up are evident too with the additional support an extra set of eyes can bring and many of the vehicles you find on the island also support carrying passengers too. Be warned though that the game quickly tests friendships as things can easily go wrong even when you think you’re in control of a tense situation.
One small thing I really like is how straight to the point the game’s menu is. Before you can spell out “PlayerUnknown” you’ll be jumping into to a quick game by yourself or with friends. That pick up and play factor is a big strength that can’t be underestimated. Think about how long it can take sometimes to get into a Battlefield 1 session at the best of times and then reduce that by a sixth or more. It’s a simple thing but it fuels that addiction much better than you might ever think.
With players not able to access gear until they land on the island, the only customisations available to players comes in the form of cosmetic items which can be applied to their character before the game starts. These are available in loot crates which can be purchased using points that can be earned through playing the game. Depending on your results, including kills, will determine how much you get, between six to ten games will get you enough to buy your first crate. Considering you only get one item per crate you’re going to need to play a lot of games before your default outfit changes much. You can spot the veteran players pretty quickly when you’re waiting on the island (prior to the parachute start) just by them not wearing the same drab outfit as everyone else.
Technically the game won’t win over a lot of people. Despite recent optimisations, the Xbox One version of the game still needs a lot of work, even when running on the Xbox One X. There’s plenty of low quality textures as well as pop in, network lag happens at the worst possible times, the controls need a lot of tweaking and the actual gunplay can be frustrating. Hopefully it’ll only get better but it’ll be a long, gradual process and not something that will just happen overnight.
I didn’t think PUBG would be the kind of game that would hold my interest being that it is one hundred percent online multiplayer and nothing else but it’s an experience that’s surprised me in how well it works. It can be tense and challenging affair with plenty of thrills and spills all within the space of seconds… and you’ll keep coming back for a chance to get to that top spot, or close enough. If you are looking for a tailored narrative you won’t find it here (there’s not even a backstory) but if the game grabs you there’s a good chance that you’ll be writing your own tales and sharing them with your friends. 🙂
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is out now for PC and Xbox One.