PUBG – Early Impressions

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG as it’s become more affectionately known as really needs no introduction at this point. With sales soaring past the 25 million mark on PC alone at the time of this article being written, as well as rapidly breaking the 1 million player number on Xbox One after just 48hrs of it launching on the Xbox preview programme. It’s safe to say that PUBG has been a whirlwind success with no sign of the incredible momentum that’s been carrying it forward ever slowing down.

However, for the benefit of the few who don’t know much about what PUBG is about, the premise is a relatively simple one. The idea behind PUBG is to be the last one standing out of 100 players in a battle royale type experience to win the highly sought after ‘Chicken Dinner’ prize. After being air dropped over an 8km2 island, you land with nothing but the trousers and shirt on your back. You have to loot and scavenge for all the equipment and weapons you’re going to need to survive against the other 99 players all vying for the same goal as you. Unfortunately, the threat of 99 other players isn’t the only obstacle between you and your culinary prize. You have a deadly blue circle of energy slowly encroaching on the island and, ultimately funnelling everyone towards each other to a random point each time you play. And, if that isn’t enough, you have the inconvenience of the ‘Red Zones’, a random area of the map that has been targeted for a random artillery strike. You can even play the game solo, as a pair or as a squad of 4 against other pairs or squads.  Now, as simple a concept it is, in reality, it barely scratches the surface of what you will experience once you start to play.

While PUBG is, in essence, a hybrid of a third person and first person shooter that you can easily switch between at any point (in the current build at least), it is anything but a twitch shooter. This is a slow-paced game where patience is everything. Being acutely aware of your surroundings at all time, controlling how much sound you make and where winning the entire round can be accomplished with only a single bullet and a single kill accredited to your name. This is a race where slow and steady is a perfectly valid tactic. There is not many games out there where you have to seriously consider whether it’s worth giving your position away by unloading on an easy target or you let them slip away to ensure your own survival. You can certainly try charging gun-ho around the map and sure, you will probably score a few kills as you catch people off guard. But all you are really doing is letting anyone nearby you know exactly where you are and it won’t be long before you’re put down from an assailant you had no idea was hiding, waiting on you 500m away. We even have Realistic ballistic physics meaning you have to take care and consideration into each shot on how you lead or adjust for bullet drop over distances.

Death is permanent. There are no second chances or even the option to respawn back into the game here. In PUBG, when you die, you’re sent back to the main menu to start a new round and be matchmade against a new set of 99 players and It’s this hazardous environment which gives PUBG its special flavour. Permadeath adds an element of tension and anxiety that you just don’t get from many other multiplayer games out there. And it’s this tension and anxiety which guides your every move from the second you land from the airdrop. Do you risk dashing across an open field to get beyond the ever-encroaching circle and risk being sniped from some hidden player, or do you gamble your chances against going into a known busy location to try and find a vehicle to get you there quickly? You quickly become hyper-aware of every audio cue surrounding you. Is that footsteps above me in my building? That shot, it came from the west! Is that a car coming towards us?

That tension gets much more palpable as the numbers start to dwindle into the low teens and the encroaching circle has reduced the available area to such a small zone that engagements become much more close quarter and deadlier. One simple bad move on your part can alert another player of your presence and your game is over. Equally, someone could slowly crawl past your prone body, completely unaware of where you are giving you that free kill. You’ll find yourself involuntarily breathing heavily through gritted teeth as you experience many different close shaves the longer you play the game. Sometimes you’ll yelp out in surprise as that player with a shotgun comes out of nowhere and kills you unexpectedly.  Some say playing this game can take years off your life expectancy; I tend to agree with them, just as long as I can get at least one Chicken Dinner before the stress kills me.

Now, One thing to remember is that PUBG has been released as part of the Xbox Preview programme, so bugs, performance issues and what not should be expected as it’s not a complete game yet. And PUBG certainly does suffer from a lot of problems in its current state. First off is the frame rate, which is wildly erratic at moment. Starting your game and loading into the lobby ‘island’ you will experience terribly low frame rates which will continue to plague you while you fly into the island. Thankfully, once you land, the frame rate does stabilise and, depending on whether you are playing on a standard Xbox one or an X, frame rates seem to stay in the low 20’s up to 30. It’s far from perfect at the moment and the frame drops can be jarring. There is nothing worse when the frame rate drastically drops during a one on one and you come off the loser.

Controls is another issue at the moment, between an unbalanced movement acceleration and general lag in the controls in general which can make you feel like you are moving in treacle at times. Adjusting the in-game sensitivities can offset some of the issues you’ll experience, but it doesn’t eliminate them completely. It almost feels as if the controls haven’t been fully transitioned from mouse and keyboard over to the control pad yet. The game also doesn’t have any auto-aim, like a lot of other console shooters do. So, from the start aiming will demand more skill from you than what other games expect from you. But despite that, right now it feels as if one on one engagements comes down to luck and who can wrestle their reticule onto their target before their opponent. I know Microsoft has had some team members from the Coalition assist Bluehole with their control scheme and I certainly hope they haven’t finished yet as it certainly feels that they still need some work.

Sometimes in game assets won’t load right away and will suddenly pop in at the most inopportune moments. In minor cases your path will be become suddenly blocked by the pop in, in other more extreme cases, you’ll be trapped in an area you can’t move from. Random crashes will kick you back to the dashboard, but that issue is only slightly alleviated by the fact that PUBG has the excellent ability to reconnect you to your last game – something I would like to see other games take inspiration from.

So yes, plenty of issues at the moment, but as mentioned, it is in the preview programme. While we are warned that we could experience issues such as these, I would like to think we can also expect frequent updates to try and resolve and fix them in due course as well. Given the popularity of the game and the financial and technical weight Microsoft has invested in this port, I would like to say that it is a safe bet that these issues will be ironed out over time. The question is how long will it take Bluehole to fix them.

However, despite the bugs, despite the framerate issues, despite the control problems and all the other issues that plague the game, one thing that is just undeniable is how much fun the game is. Whether you die within the first few minutes of a game or survive long enough to be in the top 5 after a gruelling 30 minutes of staying alive, the experience is exhilarating. And, when you do finally score your first chicken dinner, it can feel like a genuine achievement, hard-earned and worth boasting about to friends. Admittedly it won’t be for everyone as the slow pace and permadeath will probably put a lot of people off, even before they encounter the issues in the current build. We also can’t fail to mention that as a Battle Royale experience, Fortnite is also available and for free too on the Xbox, which arguably offers a much more stable and immediate experience to PUBG. But if you are happy to live through the relatively early development stages of PUBG, fully aware of the bugs and issues, then I guarantee you there is much fun waiting for you on that island.