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PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PC) Review

By Kevin Tsai 19.01.2018 2

Review for PlayerUnknown

The hulking, unavoidable zeitgeist of all of 2017's gaming releases, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a juggernaut of a title. With sales nearing 30 million copies, a record smashing simultaneous playerbase on PC, it is impossible to discuss the actual game itself without mentioning the cultural significance, as well. Behind all of the news headlines and numerous controversies is a simple title with a simple premise: be the last one standing in a large play space by scavenging for randomly generated items, and fight for survival, while being forced into conflict by a persistently shrinking blue electric field. This is PUBG.

In order to understand where this Battle Royale formula comes from, it's important to explore PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds' ancestral DNA and its evolution, so to speak. The term 'Battle Royale' has its roots in the bloody and violent manga and film of the same name, which had high schoolers fight to the death on an island as a punishment for poor school behaviour, equipped with random weapons and exploding collars. Many early elements of PUBG are already present in this initial iteration; the exploding collars forcing the students into specific zones is analogous to the shrinking blue electric field, and the randomised weapons are similar to how loot is distributed across the map, and so on.

Then, there was ARMA: Armed Assault, a military simulation that attempted to model realistic modern combat. ARMA's (and its subsequent releases') dedication to realism meant that the overwhelming majority of engagements took place over hundreds of metres apart, a far cry from the CQB of Call of Duty or Insurgency. In order to support this, the game's absolutely gargantuan map was created to facilitate a realistic depiction of what combined arms war really looks like. Real-life engagements do not usually occur in the cramped corridors of most first-person shooters, but instead are at a much greater distance. PUBG's current two maps are orders of magnitude larger than the majority of games, and share a similar control scheme with the ARMA series, albeit slimmed down and far less confusing.

Screenshot for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on PC

Next, there was DayZ - an extremely popular ARMA mod that added in survival elements, a gigantic map, and janky, AI-controlled zombies. Instead of working as a team of elite military dudes with air support and tanks, the player is just a guy thrown weapon-less into this giant map, full of zombies and other, most likely hostile, players. It's up to you to survive the zombies by scavenging for weapons, ammo, clothing, and supplies. The most exhilarating part is that there are no set rules regarding PvP, that the best way to move around is to move cautiously and suspiciously, as if an enemy sniper is always watching, and waiting. This is the kind of experience that has cemented this DayZ "feeling" that few others have captured. There is a reason why people were willing to overlook the clumsy ARMA controls, or the general bugs and glitchiness, or the terrible zombie AI - nothing quite beats the feeling of encountering other unknown players in the world. This is a feeling AAA developers have been attempting to capture, such as seen in Ubisoft's The Division's Dark Zone game mode.

PUBG has its roots in this form of intense, varied, and loot-based PvP. The creator, Brendan Green, is known for developing a well-received ARMA mod that is, essentially, an earlier prototype for this. Every match of PUBG starts the same; jump out of a large cargo plane, and parachute into a large island with up to 99 other hapless souls and explore, loot, and survive. Due to the randomised loot, and random cargo plane flight path, fire-fights can happen at nearly any time, and matches are relatively quick, due to the timed electric field encirclement, and red zones that bomb a randomised location. This ensures that not everyone can just camp and wait to win; there is an active need to move from location to location, raising the chances that players will encounter each other and get into fights. Loot is randomly generated, but always plentiful; just searching a couple of houses will consistently yield at least a pistol and some ammunition, which means every encounter with another player has the potential to be deadly.

Screenshot for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on PC

Vehicles are available and useful, but loud and easily noticeable, especially considering that this is one of the few multiplayer games that encourages cover and concealment. This is not a game like Call of Duty where action is around every corner, unless the player actively seeks out the higher quality loot areas. Camouflage is an aspect of combat that is seldom covered in games, and basics such as avoiding silhouetting against a ridge will become second nature after a few hours. One of the most coveted items is a ghillie suit, which is damn near overpowered for making a player invisible, but is balanced due to its rarity, being only available in the random airdrops that fly overhead.

PUBG's roots as a military simulation are evident throughout its gameplay rhythms, as most of the game is spent moving from cover to cover, and slowly clearing houses, while looting at the same time, interspersed with just moments of pulse pounding, terrifying action. The sound design, realistic weapon ballistics, and controls all work well, even including the recently introduced vaulting mechanic that works more often than it does not. PUBG manages to condense the intense PvP of Dayz into a digestible, intuitive package that has taken the gaming world by storm, and has changed the industry forever. Every major studio has taken note of its runaway success, and it is easy to see a 2018/2019 filled with Battle Royale-style titles saturating the market, but why has this become such a popular phenomenon?

On paper, the description doesn't seem like it should appeal to as big of an audience as it has, but it has smashed records and exceeded all expectations, perhaps most of all the eponymous Player Unknown himself. The majority of gamers expect instant, or near instant gratification when it comes to videogames, but PUBG, above all else, is a game of patience, with long sections of not much happening but sprinting towards the circle's centre, punctuated by intense combat sequences. This sudden, contrasting shift of gameplay, plus its randomised nature, is the reason why the core gameplay loop is so addictive, frustrating, satisfying, terrifying, and every emotion in-between. The huge, varied maps and dense urban environments lead to sequences of gameplay that are not scripted, not carefully crafted by an omniscient developer, but a result of the dynamic, emergent gameplay events that this so often delivers. Live streaming and replay functionality have done wonders to advertise this to the community, and is a big part of its success. In addition to surviving solo, there are also duo, and four-player squad modes that are indescribably enjoyable with a competent group. The game can feel random and unfair during solo play, but with other teammates, tactical considerations and teamwork opportunities start to take shape in the gameplay. Whether it's something as silly as driving around Mad Max-style with teammates shooting out the windows, or a sniper providing watch over in the hills surrounding a town while the rest of the squad explores it, the team-based modes are a ton of fun, as is the case with most games.

Screenshot for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on PC

There are two modes of play, one that allows the player to switch between third- and first-person, and just first-person only. Third-person seems sacrilegious, almost an unfair method of play, since it allows the player to peek around corners that the avatar can't possibly see. Comparatively, first-person feels claustrophobic and suffocating, especially after hours of play in third-person. In a perfect world, both of these game modes should be available and fun to play, depending on player preference, but unfortunately there is a severe cheating problem plaguing the third-person servers, and less so in the first-person only servers. Online hacking is persistent in all popular multiplayer games, and PUBG's popularity, despite having an active BattlEye anti-cheat system banning thousands of players daily, will always attract those who are insecure in their own skill and resort to installing cheats. It's not as big of a problem as seen vocally shouted about on some of the game's forums, but it's something to be aware of.

Unfortunately, despite the exciting gameplay core, there are a host of netcode and technical issues that persist. Vehicles are wonky; touch two of them together and anything ranging from a light, uneventful tap to a rocket-propelled ascent into orbit can happen. Glitches, such as being trapped in the environmental objects, buildings failing to render, and bullets that fail to hit the target when they should, are abound, especially when the game's under heavy load during the initial stages. PUBG's popularity has grown some buzz around it being "eSport ready," but it is still far from that state. A decent computer is required, as there are still some optimisation related performance issues. Comparing the 1.0 December 2017 release to its initial, Early Access release is a noticeable difference, however, the developer has stated it is focusing on fixing these issues throughout 2018.

Despite all of these issues, PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds is undeniably an enjoyable release, and easily accessible to a wide gaming audience, whether fans of ARMA, or casual players of other FPS titles. It is interesting to speculate whether or not this would have levelled the same amount of controversy if it wasn't such a towering golden goose for Bluehole, with literal millions of players at any given time of day. Like how The Lord of the Rings films ushered in a new era of fantasy filmmaking, PUBG is a permanent, important landmark of a videogame that will influence the next few years of gaming as a whole, in spite of its problems.

Screenshot for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is not a perfect game, but there is a good reason why it has become one of the most popular, and discussed titles of 2017. A great synthesis of mechanics, map design, and emergent gameplay, as well as a successful reiteration of the groundwork built by previous games, mean that PUBG is a fantastic experience, when it's working as intended.

Developer

PUBG Corporation

Publisher

PUBG Corporation

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Great first review, Kevin! Very in-depth to the point where I feel like I've actually played it Smilie I vaguely remember some company complaining its game didn't as well as expected purely because of PUBG.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Thank  you for the positive feedback! 

I think a lot of companies might feel that way, but the most notable was Cliff Bleszinski's Lawbreakers.

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-01-03-publisher-blames-pubg-for-lawbreakers-flopping

Frankly in my honest opinion this is a ridiculous claim... Lawbreakers is a fast paced hero/ arena shooter in small team and objectives based maps, versus PUBG has almost nothing at all in common other than the fact you can shoot a gun in it. I guess they just want something to blame...?

-KT_Extinction

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