Video gaming’s greatest year ends with an appropriately loud bang, as PUBG moves out of early access and into a new era of multiplayer action.
It is a very strange thing to review the same game twice in as many weeks, but in two completely different forms. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (aka PUBG) was released on Xbox One last week and although the gameplay still shines through, on a technical level it’s a complete dog’s dinner. There’s no scandal in that, as the game is being openly sold as an unfinished product and will remain in ‘early access’ for many months to come. But not now on the PC.
PUBG was first released on Steam in March, in a similar state to how it exists now on Xbox One. It’s been steadily improving and expanding since then and this week it is officially out of early access, with version number 1.0. Except perhaps for the new map, there’s no game-changing new feature that has precipitated this and it’s more just that the developer promised it’d happen before the end of the year.
Considering PUBG has already sold close to 26 million copies it’s not as if anyone’s been holding back from buying the game so far. But if you do have a gaming PC and somehow have not tried it, then the move to version 1.0 has one other benefit: it allows us to crown it as one of the best games of the year. And one of the most important multiplayer games of all time.
At heart PUBG is a very simple concept. It’s a primarily third person shooter (there are first person servers, but they tend to be less popular) where you’re dropped onto a huge map with 99 other people, and strive to become the last person standing. In order to keep the pace up the useable area of the map shrinks over time… but that’s really all there is to it in terms of rules. The movement system and gunplay is best described as functional, but the mechanical aspects of PUBG were never the draw and probably never will be.
The concept is neither complex nor particularly new; a game mode very similar to PUBG has existed for years, and is usually referred to as Battle Royale – after the cult Japanese movie. Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene himself originally created a mod for ArmA II called Battle Royale, which was itself an offshoot of fellow grassroots hit DayZ.
PUBG has elements of a survival game, with a stamina and health bar to maintain through collectables, but a typical match lasts no longer than 30 minutes or so. You start each one with no equipment and have to parachute off a randomly moving plane, so that it’s almost impossible to start any two matches in the same place. The location of loot is also randomised, although obvious hot spots do tend to have better equipment.
Controversially, there is no levelling system or character customisation, beyond cosmetic clothing and facial changes, so although there are loot boxes there’s no meta game going on in terms of progression. Instead, the evolution is purely in your own personal skill at the game, your knowledge of the maps, and the expanding range of tactics you learn through trial and error.
The most interesting thing about PUBG is that it’s a true sandbox game. None of the gameplay mechanics are very complex or unusual, and while the maps are well designed it’s really their size that is the greatest benefit. Everything which makes the game fun comes from the simple but inflexible rules, and the knowledge that if you die that’s it – you’ll just have to restart another match if you want to play some more.
PUBG is a game of infinite stories, none of which are scripted. It is freeform game design at its very best, where the developer’s hand is almost never felt and everything that happens is down to the action of the players themselves. From the second you hit the ground the tension is incredible. Everything you do in the game is a potential choice between life and death, as you desperately weigh up your need to find weapons and equipment against the need to keep ahead of the shrinking map and the other 99 players that could reveal themselves at any moment.
The game world is deathly quiet most of the time, so opening fire or starting up a vehicle is a big risk. But then so too is going anywhere on foot, where an open road with no obvious cover becomes as scary as any survival horror monster. There is by design a strong random element to the game – it couldn’t have survived nine months on a single map if there wasn’t – but playing as a team with others helps to mitigate this, once you learn the basic skills on your own.
In terms of what coming out of early access means for the game the biggest change is the new desert map, which so far seems to be just as well designed as the the original. Unlike the Xbox One version the graphics are a lot more stable, although even with the new, slightly prettier map, PUBG is never really a looker – even though it requires a surprisingly powerful PC to run properly.
But while this is a significantly more polished product compared to the Xbox One version, compared to the average triple-A retail game it’s still pretty shonky. A lot of the interface is still a mess, and the game is still filled with a wide range of bugs and glitches – some of which can completely ruin your go. Stability and lag has always been an issue, and although the 1.0 update does promise significant improvements it’s still not something you can entirely rely upon.
Arguably the most serious problem though is one common to all popular PC multiplayer titles: cheating. This is one issue that’sa got worse recently, not better, and while the developer claims that dealing with it is a top priority it’s yet another issue that’s always at the back of your mind while playing.
But whether on PC or Xbox One, the raw appeal of PUBG is enough to win through all the problems. This is the definitive multiplayer experience of the generation, and Battle Royale in general looks set to become as ubiquitous as Deathmatch in the years to come. But it’s PUBG which popularised the concept and this 1.0 version on PC is currently the best way to experience it. And the best part of it is that things can only get better.
In Short: PUBG is one of the best multiplayer experiences of the generation, and this is the best version of it so far – even if it’s still a work in progress.
Pros: Perfectly streamlined concept ensures an infinite range of possibilities. Two huge maps, plenty of different weapons, and great pacing.
Cons: The game still lacks polish, with lots of bugs, stability issues, and cheating. Interface needs work and the gunplay is still unremarkable.
Publisher: PUBG Corporation
Developer: PUBG Corporation
Release Date: 21st December 2017
Age Rating: 3