“PUBG” was developed by Bluehole Studios with Brendan Greene, otherwise known as PlayerUnknown, as the lead director. (Courtesy of Bluehole Studios)
First, some context: “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” is a multiplayer third-person shooter that takes inspiration from “battle-royale”-style fiction such as “The Hunger Games.” At the beginning of each match, 100 players are parachuted down onto a gigantic island map with no equipment other than the clothes on their backs. From there, players are left to scavenge the island’s various towns, military complexes and landmarks for weaponry and armor with the ultimate goal of killing every other player until only one remains.
Granted, this is not the first time the “battle-royale” genre has been adapted to video games, but what “PUBG” brings to the table that helps it rise above its contemporaries is that it keeps the emphasis on player-to-player competition over pure survival.
The primary way that it accomplishes this is with The Circle, a massive electrical field that begins encircling the entire island. Over the course of the match, the Circle slowly constricts around a random point on the map, damaging any players that fail to stay within its borders.
Not only does this force players to stay on the move, since staying in one place for too long risks getting caught out of bounds and taking avoidable damage, it also means that players will be naturally pressured to fight each other as their room to maneuver slowly decreases. Its inclusion also goes a long way towards keeping the game’s only map from getting boring in the long term, since its randomized position on the island forces players to fight in different areas in each match.
That said, the game’s focus on combat would be wasted if that combat was not fun, but thankfully it is.
Gunplay is tight and responsive across the board, with every gun available being strong enough to down opponents in only a few shots. However, because each player is only given one life, they are kicked from the match upon death and items for recovering lost health are fairly rare. this quick time to kill forces players to take on a more stealth-focused playstyle than they may be used to.
This leads to gunfights that are won not through twitch reflexes, but through careful planning and being able to not just parse out where the opponent is hiding, but how to defeat them whilst preventing them from turning the tables.
While this approach to combat on its own is exhilarating, the genius of this system is that it leads to matches feeling less like immediate competitions and more like self-contained survival stories. Because enemies could be watching from anywhere on the map, there is not a point at any time during a match where it feels okay to slack off. Every movement, every building entered and every shot taken is a tactical choice that if not properly considered could be the difference between survival or defeat. And the variety of different strategies the game’s systems allow for, from running foes down in vehicles to finding a sniper rifle and camping in the woods, makes every match feels distinct and memorable whether the player ends up winning or losing. And being able to remember every close call and struggle along the way makes the eventual wins all the sweeter.
“PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” may get plenty right on its first attempt, but there are still a number of drawbacks. As is standard with Early Access games, the title is plagued by performance issues ranging from textures failing to load, semi-regular frame drops and the occasional hard crash. While such issues are somewhat excusable due to the game being unfinished, what is not as forgivable is the game’s embrace of loot box culture, with a promise of placing all cosmetic options available behind an overpriced paywall upon official release. This is not a deal-breaker by any means, as the items gained from these boxes do not grant any advantage in game and can actually be found in-game, but it is unfortunate.
It should also be noted that the community surrounding the game can be surprisingly toxic, with the public chat before most matches left ripe with profanity, though this is easily solved by muting the public chat entirely.
Despite these issues, “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” is still easy to recommend to anyone looking for a more intense multiplayer experience than they may be used to.
It may have some blemishes and will not be for everyone, but for those who are open to it, there is nothing else in its genre that can match it. The game is available on PC for $30, and will be arriving on Xbox One later this year for the same price.
Final Grade: A-