PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has taken the world by storm, and it’s quite a coup for Microsoft to have landed the exclusive rights – timed or otherwise – to the game on their console. However playing on Xbox One Is a bit of a mess right now, and it’s messy in a manner which shouldn’t really be acceptable for a product which has had such a big marketing push and an extensive retail presence. Yes it’s labelled as a “Game Preview”, but it’s still being sold in shops.
Let’s start at the top: the core concept is fantastic, with tension, a constant drain on your situational awareness and brief, cacophonous moments of life or death combat. Up to 100 players can start a match with nothing but their clothes and wits to survive on, parachuting from a cargo plane onto an island, but only one can be victorious and survive to the end.
Picking the point that you jump from the plane and where you want to parachute to is the first vital decision you make. Too popular a spot and you’ll barely have time to scavenge before you’re in the middle of a fight, but too remote and you’ll struggle to get to a building and find anything of use.
You’ll be dashing from building to building, quickly scanning the rooms for gear, which includes various guns and bullets, helmets, police vests, backpacks, and attachments. Grabbing stuff is easy, but you need to manage this on the fly.
That’s easier said than done, because you’ll have to beware of other players – you can play in a squad, which does help – and the game periodically forces you to move to ever smaller and smaller parts of the island. You need to stay ahead of the blue electric barrier, which moves faster than you can sprint.
Xbox One X screenshot – On base Xbox One, foliage and level of detail is greatly reduced
Getting down to the last ten players doesn’t require you to be an amazing killer and can be achieved with caution and the occasional bit of cowardice. Firing your gun echoes around the surrounding area alerting others to your presence and potentially drawing them to you. If you’re in a fight, kill quickly and move on.
It’s a compelling style of game, but as it comes to Xbox One Game Preview, it’s fairly shaky, with an odd control layout, poor performance and low end graphics. Considering the notoriously unoptimised PC version that’s absolutely no surprise, but it is disappointing.
There’s a few quirks to the controls that are necessarily different from other shooters. Tapping the left trigger aims down sights while holding pulls you in closer over the shoulder, replicating the right mouse button on PC, and there’s an emphasis on inventory management in the dual purpose X button, with a tap to interact while you’ll have to hold it to reload your gun. It’s strange when the left shoulder button is unused while in general play. Inventory management could be smoothed out by simply letting you quickly move around the screen with the D-pad, instead of having columns that you shift between with the shoulder buttons.
More problematic at launch is the low graphical fidelity and the poor performance. The Xbox One is at 1080p while the Xbox One X is at 2160p UHD, but both consoles suffer with a frame rate that is often below the 30fps target. It can actually run at or close to 30fps for long periods of time, only to stutter like mad elsewhere. This can reportedly be improved by disabling Xbox One’s game DVR, though not something we’ve tested.
Not only that, but players have found a way to a PC-like options screen which while it cannot be altered states that the One is at “Very Low” settings and the One X at “Medium”. It’s not quite that simple, with Digital Foundry’s investigation noting improved textures and other settings over those PC presets, but you’d expect better and the base Xbox One more noticeable pop-in. This is in addition to little glitches, such as shadows suddenly blinking out and back into existence.
Most of this can be excused by the Game Preview label, and by being in Early Access on PC for the next week, but that still leaves the game in a sorry state on Xbox One. It’s clear that as they race toward a 1.0 release on PC, they’ve been stretched too thin to try and deliver the game to Xbox One as well.
Of course, this doesn’t make the game completely unplayable on console, and it’s easy to forget these flaws as you reach the game’s compelling game ending showdowns and the surviving players are drawn closer and closer together. It’s an addictive scenario and it’s really no wonder that everyone and their dog seems to be trying to latch onto this craze. Despite the performance, you still come out of a battle with little stories of one on one showdowns, catching someone napping, sneaking up on someone with a shotgun and blasting them in the back.
Xbox One screenshot – Driving a car is a surefire way to get the frame rate to drop
However, if there’s one thing that I personally find unacceptable, it’s that this is being sold in retail stores in such a brazenly unfinished state. It’s understandable for PUBG Corp. and Microsoft to want to cash in on the game while its at its most popular and before players have been snapped up by rivals, but even with Game Preview emblazoned on the box and a note to say it’s still work in progress, people would likely still expect a minimum bar of performance in excess of what they’re buying. The waters of game release quality have already been watered down by day one patches, but putting Game Previews on store shelves slings a fistful of mud into the mix.
As overwhelmingly popular as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is right now, it’s hard to recommend the game on Xbox One with, even if its flaws are endemic to the game as a whole and you accept that it will get better over time. Performance is too variable and the graphical quality is too low; you’ll be better off waiting for a few major patches in early 2018 before venturing into this arena.