It’s still early days for PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG), but it’s still doing well for itself. Well enough that it’s able to hold an official ESL tournaments before even leaving Early Access. The wisdom of that is yours to ponder, but it’s worth noting that they hype isn’t all for nothing. Openly citing Battle Royale as a concept, the game has a similar appeal in the way it forces players against one another by restricting where and how they interact. It’s rough around the edges but things are still being worked out by the developers, Bluehole studios, who have been quite dedicated to supporting the game so far, if perhaps moderating it a bit harshly. I’m having a lot of fun at least, which is what counts, really.
“No time for pants, just grab a chute and follow me!”
Alright, so, first and foremost, this is probably the closest you’ll get to a video game version of the actual Battle Royale. If that film were ever to be licensed, I would hope that these guys were making that game. Except instead of a few dozen school kids, it’s a hundred of what I can only assume are the most insane, battle-hardened whatevers. PUBG doesn’t care, man, it just throws weapons, armour and junk randomly around the map like a demented treasure hunt setup by your drunken uncle, and provides about the same amount of supervision. It still embraces the spirit of that movie with gusto, however, including some poor bastard touching down to only find a frying pan then face a dude with automatic weaponry.
There’s no narrative behind the game at all. It doesn’t even take the time to give the player characters titles like mercenaries or soldiers. This isn’t a game show, it’s not a secret tournament of the world’s best assassins, you’re just one of a hundred people trying to be the last man standing. PUBG basically stops short of calling itself a game and openly acknowledging that you’re just going through the motions of a massive arena shooter. If you’re looking for anything other than hunting around and shooting at anything that moves in what could be generously described as a tactical shooter, you should look somewhere else. I’m not saying any of this is a bad thing, it’s just best if you know what you’re getting into.
That said, there are some odd details about the game that are ripe for a “Dark Side Of.”
Regarding design, Bluehole has done a fantastic job of avoiding a lot of tedious waiting with their matchmaking process. When you die, you’re out, and the battle continues on without you, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit and wait for everyone else in the match to finish. Loading and matchmaking times are quite decent, usually less than a minute for me. If you’re playing in a duo or a squad, you can spectate via your teammates’ perspectives until the next game. If you die near the beginning and they manage to last through to the end, well then that kind of sucks for you but leaving for another game is still an option. (If you’re the kind of terrible person who abandons their friends, that is.)
If you are playing with friends, be aware that PUBG comes down heavily on team killing, which I think is actually a bit of a shame. If you’re caught team killing by someone who reports you, and they have evidence, well… Things haven’t gone so great for some players. Some have even received permanent bans. This is if it’s reported, mind you, but I wouldn’t be mucking about with rules that can result in permanent bannings from online-only games. However, if considered within the context of its spiritual predecessor, Battle Royale, then killing your teammates makes total sense. Whether because you’ve all reached the end and there can only be one victor, or the opportunity to kill someone and get away with it presents itself, the option should be there. To win as a team, to rely on others, and celebrate as a group almost feels as though it runs counter to the atmosphere and mindset inspired by the rest of the game.
I mean, high-fiving over the corpses of nearly a hundred people also feels awkward as hell.
This isn’t to say that playing with others isn’t fun because, really, playing in a squad is arguably the best way to play the game. You tend to last a lot longer, getting into team vs. team firefights is a lot of fun, you cover more ground and find more gear, and when you die there’s someone there to handily blame. However, the biggest reason that playing with friends is better is just that it’s more entertaining. Regardless of whether you’re solo or grouped, you’re going to spend a good portion of each match just running and scavenging and not actually fighting. Playing alone can be tense at times, especially when there are enemies in the same building or area as you, but it can also be really boring outside of these moments.
There’s a novel feeling of urgency while scavenging for better gear that wears off after only a few plays, replaced with rote searching strategy that’s performed as though by second nature. Encounters with other players are always exciting and intense (assuming they don’t get the drop on you from behind and just off you quickly), but they aren’t as common as you’d think. It’s possible to get through to the very end of a match without seeing other players, facing anyone left solely because of the shrinking circle of livable space. Unless you’re the kind of person that gets a kick out of quietly waiting alone because you think you heard footsteps in the next room, having some friends around certainly breaks up that boredom.
“Gun it! I heard crumbling plaster in the next house over!”
Despite its early successes, PUBG is still an Early Access title and, of course, that comes with the usual caveats of an Early Access game. In just the relatively short period that I’ve been playing, I’ve already seen a lot of improvement with how the game works, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely bug-free right now. Issues mainly appear to revolve around connection issues and how matchmaking is handled. I’ve had bouts of being unable to access even the match lobby, with the only error information being “connection lost.” I’ve also been in squads where one member could be seen by everyone in the team, but he couldn’t see anyone else.
There’ve also been problems with environment responsiveness, such as doors opening but still somehow barring your way at the threshold or your character bending to pick up items and nothing being taken. These problems are infrequent, only just often enough for them to be mentioned, as opposed to being an absolute plague on the game. With the way updates have been dealt with so far, I fully expect issues like these to be gone by the time the game fully releases.
There’s no fixing my choice of landing zones.
The bigger problems I foresee in the future are those that usually plague online games. The admins have handed out a lot of bans and stirred the pot while doing so, and the game has attracted a lot of attention for stream sniping. There’s no MMR or ranking system in place, at least nothing obvious, so there’s every chance you’ll be playing alongside someone who makes playing this game their actual job. Bluehole have also confirmed that they’ll be adding in microtransactions down the line, the exact nature of which still hasn’t been finalised. And, of course, there’s just the fact that it’s open mic for you and everyone around you.
If you hear the sound of a motor coming toward you, that’s when it’s time to hide. If whooping, shouting, and music so loud it’ll blow out your speakers can also be heard then it’s already too late to run – they’ve spotted you, and are making a B-line for your position. It’s not necessarily a bad thing since the entire objective of the game is to kill or outlive them all, so I can’t tell if this was a design oversight or a stroke of genius. Nothing puts me in the mood to kill like a huge group of loud narcissists screeching in my ears, each one trying to scream the most offensive thing they can over the din. This is just typical of online behaviour though, it’s not a reflection of the game. The studio, Bluehole, could hardly be expected to anticipate and prevent someone from singing Katie Perry’s “Fireworks” in a slurred, grumbling biker voice over the in-game chat.
Flying in a plane that’s going down will never be the same without you.
Some kinks need to be worked out, regarding both bugs and how the player community is handled, but PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is a solid play. Unburdened by excessive flair or attempts to make the game seem grander than it is, it feels like Bluehole has largely only focused on what the game needs to be more enjoyable. The fact it’s somewhat bare bones in its presentation and still a lot of fun to play says a lot about its design. It’s still a game I would only prefer to play in a group but that’s not exactly a high barrier to entry. Assuming that Bluehole brings it to full release and provides reliable, post-release support, PUBG will likely end up a GOTY contender and a big pull for the competitive online gaming scene.