PUBG on Xbox One preview: Feels more like Earliest Access

PUBG Corp.
PUBG Corp. /

While the immersive, innovative gameplay is deep within the core, there are several layers of jank and unintuitiveness surrounding PUBG play on Xbox One.

To pull back the curtain a bit concerning our little operation here at App Trigger, our Game of the Year list will not include PUBG this year due to our ballotting restrictions of games released before November 30. It would be unfair to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (an RPG dozens of hours long) and PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds to have fair representation when our list drops on December 22, considering how close their release dates are for our ballot.

Were it not the case, I would squarely place PUBG at the very top of my personal Game of the Year list, as nothing else this year has come close to the genre-defining, clone-inspiring, visceral greatness of this Battle Royale title. A week out from the game’s 1.0 release on PC, it is a critical, popular and economic powerhouse, with no other titles released this year connecting dozens of millions of people around the world together in such a way that has been seen in gaming before.

However, it did not become a success overnight, as Bluehole has been working tirelessly since its Early Access release in March this year to optimize the game, release new content, make refinements to the game’s balance and introduce brand new mechanics. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

PUBG on Xbox One, while implementing features relatively new to the game, mechanically feels like a pre-alpha test.

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For those unfamiliar with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (better known as PUBG), the game involves bringing together 100 different players together on an island, dumping them across an 8 km x 8 km area from an airplane. Upon landing, you must pick up weapons, ammunition, health items, armor and accessories such as backpacks, weapon attachments and scopes to prepare yourself for killing the other enemies.

In order to push players together and narrow the player count toward a sole survivor (with a hearty chicken dinner to boot), an energy field closes in on the island at random locations. After it closes in, a new safe zone is noted on the minimap, giving the players a few minutes to get to the next area. As players arrive at the corresponding circles, they will encounter each other, leave bodies in their path or meet an untimely demise with no chance at resurrection.

In solo modes, only one player wins the game. You can also play PUBG in duos or in squads of up to four players, although you will need to engage in party chat and make groups to accomplish this. You earn battle points for making it passed certain rank thresholds in a match, as well as killing others in battle, which can unlock crates that add certain clothing items to your wardrobe at random.

PUBG on Xbox One screenshot
PUBG Corp. /

The number one concern I had entering PUBG on Xbox One was the controller mechanics. With a full keyboard and dozens of action bindings across it and the mousepad, one can open their inventory, drag items from the ground into their backpack, use items and drop items in a matter of seconds. With an Xbox One gamepad, all these actions are tied to different menu segments.

Pressing the menu button near items on the ground lets you view items on the far-left side of the menu to pick up, dragging them to your inventory. You must then click the RB button to scroll through your inventory, allowing you to slowly crawl through your items list, pick which attachment to use, then which gun to put it on, confirm it, then press the menu button to get back to regular gameplay.

Inventory management on a controller compared to the dragging and dropping of items on PC feels unintuitive, slow and will completely change the flow of looting for PUBG on Xbox One, as even the most prepared player will be spending an extra third or half of their looting time just navigating the control scheme.

PUBG on Xbox One screenshot
PUBG Corp. /

Combat is easily the most heart-pounding aspect of PUBG, as passive players can experience it rarely and seasoned, aggressive players can often find themselves wiping out a third of the server by dropping in high-loot areas. A big reason why people love this game is due to the realistic bullet drop for different weapons, as one must be a jack of all trades in order to lead targets accurately from great distances.

… Early game firefights with pistols and shotguns look like Looney Tunes frolics …

It plays fairly with a mouse, but at the PUBG Xbox Game Preview launch, the lack of aim assist and increased aim acceleration makes shooting other players frustrating (despite it being the most important aspect of this game). An analog stick does not replicate the pinpoint accuracy of a mouse, making it feel like shots jump way up and hard to drag down and centralize the way you can drag down a mouse slightly when full-auto firing on PC to take down enemies.

As such, early game firefights with pistols and shotguns look like Looney Tunes frolics, with players frantically nudging analog sticks backward and forward to little avail and accuracy. You get the same intensity as you would playing PUBG on PC, but it feels like you’re fighting more against the game’s controls. Either a reduced aim punch on rifles or a very slight auto-aim for targets within 50m would do wonders to improve combat on consoles.

PUBG on Xbox One screenshot
PUBG Corp. /

PUBG on the intro Erangel map hasn’t had the same stunning visuals of a game such as Horizon Zero Dawn, but at the very least, the game runs beyond 60 frames per second on computers with high-end graphics cards and moderately-aged CPUs. However, on the basic Xbox One used to play hours of matches, rarely did the frame rate reach a solid 30.

…PUBG on Xbox One is janky and downright unresponsive at worst and upsettingly frustrating at best.

The game remains a CPU-intensive title, and even the Xbox One X has shown to struggle mightily to sit at even 20 frames per second during asset-heavy areas such as cities and apartment buildings. During my play sessions, dropping in places like School meant horrendous frame-pacing and single-digit FPS, while dropping even in the most remote areas kept the frame rate looking like something in the teens.

Even the base Xbox One should be able to function at least at a locked 30 FPS for a game similar to this if it wasn’t in an in-development state, and we’ve seen optimizations come on the PC version to the point where players have received an FPS increase in the dozens just on the most recent test server patch over the previous patch. Still, at this point in development, PUBG on Xbox One is janky and downright unresponsive at worst and upsettingly frustrating at best.

PUBG on Xbox One screenshot
PUBG Corp. /

My criticisms of PUBG on Xbox One come from a place of frustrated disappointment. Despite features like vaulting in the game, updates to the game’s presentation and a clear push from Xbox to consider this almost like a first-party game, the limitations of the unoptimized play feel worse than at the game’s March 23 Early Access launch. In many ways, due to just how little the development team has console play figured out, PUBG feels like earliest access on Xbox One.

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Star Trek star Jonathan Frakes stars in new PUBG advertisement
Star Trek star Jonathan Frakes stars in new PUBG advertisement /

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  • Despite everything about the presentation and mechanical inputs, the core innovative gameplay still shines brightly. The party system on Xbox One makes partying up simpler than I had thought, making it easy to jump into a game as a duo with my game partner. We were able to successfully navigate our way to safe circles, use the minimap to mark locations of interest and locate enemies using the compass and call our cardinal directions.

    I even managed to get a few 5+ kill games on my own, and voice chat worked well within team dynamics. You can’t call out to the lobby at large yet, but the tactical aspects of maneuverability and working as a team to take out targets still builds up those genuine moments of euphoria.

    The thrill of the kill transcends all shooter games, but even considering its most frustrating aspects, PUBG manages to build adrenaline through its high-intensity gameplay and do-or-die moments as you approach single-digit players remaining.

    I find it hard to recommend PUBG on Xbox One at this moment in time, but considering Microsoft Studios are pouring resources into optimizing gameplay, PUBG Corp. is listening to player feedback and having seen the progress on the PC version since more than half a year ago, I have no doubts that this Battle Royale experience can work on consoles.

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    We will just have to test the limits of our patience until that moment arises.