PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is proof that you don’t even need technical excellence to be an otherwise extremely powerful, important video game.
Developer: PUBG Corp.
Publisher: PUBG Corp.
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), Xbox One (Game Preview)
Release Date: December 20, 2017
There’s a very legitimate reason why three million people are playing PUBG at the same time in its peak popularity. There are countless reasons, actually, with each one starting off as you take your seat and drop out of a plane with a one in a hundred shot of being the last man standing. Each game of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tells its own story through immersive, heart-pounding, adrenaline-boosting gameplay, and every time yields something different.
The world of PUBG is what you make of it.
If you heard the elevator pitch for this game, it wouldn’t sound all too impressive. Up to 100 players enter a lobby, waiting to be dropped into an 8km x 8km map of foresty rural/urban or desert locale. Once they land, they must pick up guns, armor, ammo, health items and weapon attachments in order to strengthen their chances of survival, all while killing other members they see.
As time goes by, a blue circle of slow-drip death chips away at your health, forcing you to move from safe zone to safe zone over a ~33-minute adventure. The last person out of 100 standing is the winner. If you didn’t play video games, you would kind of think it sounds like the personification of all shooters, emphasizing the “kill or be killed” aspects of play.
No, what makes PUBG special is how many times you can play the game with each time feeling fresh. With randomized item drops and variable loot tables determining where certain places offer better items (causing more people to land there), there’s an inherent risk/reward system that dictates all aspects of play.
You could drop near School on Erangel and engage in one versus ~20 combat, where quick looting and pistol precision is the only way to survive. You could also make your way to the edges of the map, looting in safe buildings and hope you find enough scrap loot to scrounge a decent survival kit as you safely make your way to the top 20 without seeing a soul in close to 30 minutes. You can even opt to go for an all-pistols round, win by running over people in cars, or never even fire a single bullet.
PUBG is a microcosm of humanity; the thrill-seeking fight while the rational disengage in flight. There’s no right way to play this game, but there are strategies and basic travel maneuvers necessary to gain an advantage over any expected combat scenario. Even if you made it to the final circle of every round, it would take dozens of matches to chart or see every aspect of each map, and even then, the enemies you encounter and the method for the carnage they seek to bring to you will never be the same twice.
Furthermore, you can also enjoy the game in a variety of team-based modes, expanding the tactical measures and decisions made by duos or squads of players teaming up to take down others. Sharing loot is as crucial as covering your flank and acquiring vehicles to transport your team across the map, as well as factoring in the risk of your entire team engulfing in flames upon encountering another team shooting your vehicle down in a fiery explosion.
I repeatedly mention random variables in PUBG, but the ballistic nature of the game’s many weapons remain the same (until the system is updated). Each weapon adheres to a sense of damage, sound, distance, bullet speed and bullet drop variables, making it more difficult to engage with enemies from any further out than a couple hundred meters. Knowing the combat effectiveness of each weapon is the key to making the right decisions should you see another enemy lying in wait.
More than anything, the game expects you to figure these things out for yourself. While some request a gun range or tutorial zone, I personally find the “try things out in a live setting” aspect an honest means to better yourself at the game’s mechanics. Bullet drop changes for different guns and certain scopes offer different range-finders and sight denotations, but nothing short of a couple of hours will help things feel natural.
What makes PUBG special over its predecessors is its humble tribute to Battle Royale sensibilities. The whole “survival of the fittest” aspect doesn’t mean who is the best player on the field, as the game’s core feedback loop combines preparedness, expectation and luck. A player kitted out with an M24, a ghillie suit, an attached silencer and all the healing items in the world can just as easily have to move to a tougher position in the next circle and get caught in the crossfire by a player waiting around a corner with a shotgun.
Randomness is at the heart of PUBG, making each match inherently different from case to case. It’s never “fair” in an overlying sense, but as any player will come to learn, the randomness is why you want to keep playing. The final circle can be almost anywhere in the map, and the rare cases of a Miramar island end is just as sought out as the Zharki end in Erangel. You can play for hundreds of hours and see something new in hour 326.
Visually, PUBG has come a long way since its Early Access launch. With a bevy of new features, weapons, vehicles and even a new map to go with the PUBG 1.0 launch, its gradual optimization allows for more and more users to knock its graphics settings up to Ultra. Furthermore, the visual dissonance between the greens of Erangel and the bright tans of the Miramar desert is as pleasant as the differences between the maps’ gameplay styles.
Erangel is tightly contained within its island landscape, separating small and big townships with sparse forests, marshlands and mountainous regions. Meanwhile, Miramar is vast deserts and mountain ranges with huge cities and tall buildings bolstering up its major points of interests. One plays very aggressively in early to late-game, while Miramar has a very intensive late game jumping from circle to circle.
This game has been a work in progress at its worst moments, but its gradual triumphs from a studio that upscaled dramatically in such a short time should be commended. Even as I wrapped up my PUBG 1.0 experience in preparation for this review, one of the biggest problems surrounding early play was rubberbanding, which has been relatively fixed in its latest patch.
That said, its problems with de-synch and players with high ping killing others from around corners remains the game’s biggest problem, with client optimization coming close behind. This game isn’t a looker, so it shouldn’t require a high-end computer rig to hit 60 frames per second. The game also has a huge hacker problem that will only be solved when proper server features, including ping limits and proper region hosting (including the sizable China player base moving over to Tencent) is implemented.
Still, despite its constant optimization quibbles, what brings me back to PUBG time and time again is its unrelenting, adrenaline-packed gameplay loop. Only the best will guarantee chicken dinner wins with relative familiarity, but for the rest of us, the hunt for victory is its greatest thrill.
Jumping out of a plane, gathering your guns, hightailing it out of a tight spot, shooting a player advancing into the next circle, the dwindling player count, the pumping adrenaline of you versus five others in a 100-meter circle, waiting things out until it’s just you and one other player, the frantic darting across the ever-tightening circle as you make your final shot; only for another player to take you out first, robbing you of victory: the world of PUBG is what you make of it. It’s why I return to it night after night for hundreds of hours in 2017; its allure is inescapable.
PlayerUnknown's BattlegroundsPUBG Corp.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.