Guest written by Jonathan Brown (Yogdog)
Since its release into Steam Early Access at the end of March, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has rocketed to over a million sales and the forefront of Twitch, regularly camping out in the top three most-watched games. This might be mystifying for those unaware of what the game is or where it comes from, but when Playerunknown, AKA Brendan Greene, is mentioned in the title, it links back to the Battle Royale game mode found in ARMA and H1Z1’s King of the Hill spin off.
The premise is simple, with up to 100 people dropped onto an island full of weaponry and supplies, fighting to be the last one standing. That in and of itself sounds reminiscent of The Hunger Games and the Japanese film that lends its name to the genre, Battle Royale. The parallels continue, as players are prevented from simply camping in one area by an ever shrinking safe zone that appears after five minutes, drawing players closer and closer to ensure that the game ends in a timely fashion.
It’s a set up that can lead to some incredible adrenaline-filled moments. Making it down to the final three players, the rest of my squad having died – the game can be played solo, duo or in squads of up to four – and the safe zone having contracted to a very small arena, I was lying prone on the floor, trying to see where the other two people were without being seen myself. It felt more tense than most horror games do, gradually moving up into cover so that I could get the best view. Even when I managed to see one, I didn’t shoot as I didn’t want to give myself away until I knew where the last person was. The other player didn’t have the same thought, revealing himself to me by shooting the player I was watching, giving me the opportunity to finish off this final player and win the game.
The game starting as all 100 people embark onto a plane and parachute down onto the island. Choosing where to land before you jump is incredibly important, as although the loot is randomly generated so that each game isn’t the same, some areas are more likely to drop better equipment than others. These areas, such as the military base, are generally more likely to have other players dropping in, so this has to be taken into account as well. Happening onto one of the care packages that drop randomly can get your hands on some high end weaponry but again, they’ll be hotspots of activity.
Finding a weapon is the highest priority, as you start off with nothing but your fists, and once you do, looting the surrounding area as quickly as possible and moving into the safe zone is important. Finding a working vehicle can help with this, but the noise when using it can also give your position away and leave you vulnerable to an ambush. On the other hand, if you parachuted in and due to bad luck the safe zone spawns far away from you, going on foot could leave you stuck outside of the zone which would mean your eventual death.
The weapons in the game are split into six classes: pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns and melee weapons. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, such as the shotguns being incredibly good at close range and in buildings, but next to useless in open areas, or most sniper rifles causing heavy damage but having a slow firing rate. Being able to carry two weapons, a pistol and a melee weapon lets you have a nice balance, especially if you take each weapon’s unique quirks into account, such as the AKM causing more damage than a M416 per bullet, but not being as accurate as the latter weapon. As well as this, weapons can be modified with additions you can find around the map such as extended magazines or scopes, amongst other things.
Most of the weapons other than pistols feel good to shoot, and have a certain weight behind them, but they’re also quite realistic. Trying to fire full auto makes anything over a couple of metres away impossible to hit, and ends up with the weapon being more of an anti-aircraft gun. The game is currently pretty much dominated by long range combat in the open countryside, which means that some weapons such as the SMG can be left behind. Grenades are also incredibly awkward to use a lot of the time due to having to move out of cover to use them, and it being difficult to pinpoint where they will land.
That said, the SMG does have a role to play. One of the most memorable moments I had in the game saw my squad of four pinned down in a house by another squad of four. With no easy way of dealing with them, we had the rest of my team fire randomly to draw their attention while I snuck out of the back door, flanked round a hill and took them out with some burst fire from my suppressed SMG. The sound design in the game is such that unsuppressed shots give away the direction you are shooting from, but a suppressor can muffle it, making it very important.
Looting the world, there’s many other items that could be useful, such as backpacks that allow you to carry more stuff, or body armour and helmets that allow you to take more damage before being downed. Cosmetic items such as coats or hats can be picked up for the duration of the game, and finally medical supplies can be carried to heal up when you inevitably get hit.
The 8x8km map has a good mixture of urban areas and countryside, with smaller hamlets and petrol stations strewn around liberally, as well as various special locations including a military base and shooting range. At this point, with the game still very much in active development, some parts of the map can be glitchy, especially when traversing off road in a vehicle. As well as this, servers can be very laggy, which can be extremely frustrating in the middle of a game when you’re about to get the drop on someone and the game starts rubber-banding.
Hopefully the developers can iron these problems out sooner rather than later, as well as pushing on to add new features. Other than trying to climb the leaderboards, there’s also currently no real progression, with no kind of ranks to show your efforts. You can obtain permanent cosmetic clothing from crates bought using points earned in game, but this is again completely random on what you receive. I’d also like to see a few more maps, because playing the same map repeatedly can get a little boring, especially when playing solo.
All in all, Playerunknown’s Battleground is a very well made Battle Royale game, and one I will continue to put my time into. Being in Early Access, there are naturally a number of problems as well, such as the laggy servers, but if these are addressed soon, then a good game can be made even better. Until then, I’ll see you in the arena.