PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Review

If you haven’t heard of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, chances are you’ve been living under a rock. The astronomical success of this game almost came out of nowhere, with Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene working with Bluehole to create a new game around the Battle Royale game mode that he helped popularise via mods and spin offs. This success came despite being in Early Access right until the final days of 2017, when version 1.0 added numerous gameplay features, introduced a new map and let the team say that the game now included everything they envisioned.

Note: This is a review of the PC version of the game. You can also find our thoughts on the Game Preview release for Xbox One.

Battle Royale is a simplistic game mode: 100 players leap out from an aircraft flying over a remote and abandoned location with nothing but clothes, they then proceed to scavenge for randomly distributed weapons and equipment, are herded toward a particular part of the map by the gradually shrinking safe zone, bringing you closer to other survivors and forcing you to fight to try and be the last person standing. It’s complicated by the allure of the periodic supply drops from a plane, the red zones that are bombarded by artillery fire, and the use of vehicles.

It’s a game that effortlessly blends tedium with heightened moments of stress and tension. You can easily spend a good 20 minutes in a match just sprinting from one side of the 8km2 map to the other, not seeing another soul as you try to stay ahead of the safe zone barrier, or you can find yourself embroiled in gunfights throughout. In fact, seeing other people is rare, unless you decide to drop into a town to gamble for some of the better guns and equipment, and most deaths come from someone getting the drop on you as opposed to clear head to head fights.

Personally, I’m a coward. I drop from the plane and get as far away from its path across the map as possible, I scavenge and keep ahead of the safe zone border. When there’s gunfire, I tend to ignore it, or simply keep on running if the bullets are dropping near me, running until they give up so I can slink into the top 30, the top 20, the top 10. Knowing when to pick your fights is key, because every crack of a gun, every muzzle flash gives away your position – having positional audio and learning what sounds to listen for quickly help you determine where bullets are coming from.

The atmosphere changes when you play in the duo or squad playlist, as you’re now coordinating with others, sharing resources and going up against multiple enemies at once. Similarly, it’s even more intense when playing in first person as opposed to third person, as your ability to look around you when running or see over the grass you’re hiding in are reduced, cutting down on your spatial awareness.

Learning the two maps in the game also helps, with the original Erangel map based of Eastern European landscapes and the new Miramar map evocative of the US-Mexican border. The latter certainly feels more considered and polished visually, and it offers different challenges to players with more densely built up areas dotted across bumpy and rocky terrain, comparing starkly to the long, thick grass of Erangel.

Sticking to their promise, Bluehole released PUBG version 1.0 for PC at the end of last year, bringing the game out of Steam Early Access and marketing it as a full game. What’s abundantly clear is that while 1.0 is a milestone release, this is not a finished game in the traditional sense. When Overwatch released, it exuded polish and refinement; when Destiny 2 landed, server load hiccups plagued it for some time, but the actual game was solid; when PUBG hit version 1.0, it was still subject to the same lack of optimisation and polish that have plagued it all the way through its public development.

I still encounter a number of minor bugs on a fairly regular basis, but the game’s performance is a particular sore spot. In the regular run of play, i can easily get a V-synced 60fps at 1080p with Ultra settings thanks to having a competent but ageing overclocked Core i5-3570K and a high-end Vega 56 in my PC, letting me brute force my way to good performance. However, there’s an advantage to using comparable Nvidia cards, and many people prefer to drop to low or very low settings both for competitive reasons and to get 60fps performance with GPUs that can get better performance in prettier games. Battlefield 1 is a particularly interesting point of comparison, as it too has to deal with high player counts and has more of them in closer proximity, but offers higher fidelity as it does so. Even with Ultra settings, PUBG is no looker with muddy textures and crude identikit buildings used across the maps.

While not really the subject of this review, its this lack of core optimisation that is currently hampering the game on Xbox One. Fortnite Battle Royale might have certain advantages with its more cartoony art style and a more compact map, but the simple fact that Epic know how to get the best out of Unreal Engine 4, which PUBG also relies on, means they can get a pretty solid 30fps across the board on console.

So what does 1.0 actually mean for PUBG? Well, it’s now feature complete. Compared to when it first entered Early Access, you now have dynamic vaulting over scenery, there’s improved vehicle physics, third and first person play modes for solo and team play, there’s the second map in Miramar, and a legitimately excellent replay feature that records entire matches for you to rewatch. It’s a more complete and well rounded game, but when viewed through the lens of more traditional development milestones, that would mean it’s just entered beta testing.

What’s Good:

  • Genre defining multiplayer
  • Brilliantly compelling, even when you lose
  • Duo, Squad and first person play change the atmosphere a great deal
  • Chasing someone with a frying pan for two minutes

What’s Bad:

  • Still lacking in polish and optimisation
  • Not a particularly good looking game
  • Long lulls in the action mid-game

Having now passed the 1.0 mark and left Steam Early Access, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds remains a diamond in the rough. The Battle Royale game mode is so compelling, with each loss only making you want to do better next time, and each victory giving you stories of tense games of cat and mouse and frantic gunfights. It’s still lacking in terms of polish and optimisation, but after years of experimentation, this feels like the real start of a new paradigm in multiplayer gaming.

Score: 8/10

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  1. It’s great to see a new sub-genre emerge, after so many years of the same types of games. I don’t think I’ll ever play this, and have only had a couple of games of Fortnite Battle Royale, but I’m looking forward to the day someone releases one that grabs me.

    • I’d like one without any crafting of faffing about. Run, shoot, loot, that’s all I need.

      • Well I can’t speak for PUBG, but there isn’t any crafting in Fortnite Battle Royale. You can build structures, walls, ceilings, floors etc, but you don’t need to at all.

        Download it and we can give it a go together if you like? I’d probably play it more if I had someone to play with.

      • You’ve literally described PUBG, Tuffcub. There’s even less faff inventory faff in Fortnite BR, as weapons can’t have sights and grips put on them, but you do then have the ability to build structures… which you can completely ignore most of the time.

  2. Will PUBG come to PS4?

    • Yeh, it’s just timed exclusive on XB1 but the plan is for it to be out on all consoles

      • The developers said “other platforms” after they’ve completed the XBone version. And that Sony are “very strict” about quality.

        Which given that Sony are quite happy to let completely broken games release, sounds more like “we made a bad platform choice, everyone’s saying bad things about our game’s performance, and can we just ignore that and blame Sony, please?”

        I’m guessing it’ll happen late this year, and sell lots despite being broken.

      • I don’t think it’s that Sony is strict or that such a statement is an excuse, but rather Sony don’t have an early access program so there’s really nothing that can be done.

        With Microsoft contributing resources as a publisher to help assist develop the game on consoles, and with an early access program, it means the game has a decent chance of succeeding as a preview game rather than flopping as a fully fledged release.

        Bluehole and PlayerUnkown really just don’t have the full blown resources to exploit UE like say, Epic Games. Hopefully they can develop it to a point where it’s pleasing to everyone, but really this game is very ArmA-esque, what it’ll lack in visual flare it makes up for in scale, detail, and gameplay physics.

      • My guess is that under the Early Access programme, the costs of patches etc are cheaper. Wasn’t it something like £40k for each patch? If you know your game is going to need a lot of development and patches, it’s certainly a major consideration.

  3. I think the lack of other exclusives means this is getting a bit of an easy ride on Xbox. It plays horribly on my One S.

    Hopefully the timed exclusivity means it will be better by the time it comes out on Playstation.

    • It’s an early access game…

    • To be clear, this is a review of the PC version of the game which has hit 1.0.

      We’ve written separately about the game’s shonky performance on Xbox One, but that version is still in the Game Preview stage as opposed to being marketed as a finished product. It’s still playable, but has a lot of work still to be done.

      • I’m not sure I agree 100% about it not being marketed as a finish product, fair enough it’s got ‘Preview Edition’ printed on the box but that’s not crystal clear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unfinished (deliberately!) game on the shelves before and to many the concept is a head scratcher, the whole idea of selling a physical copy of an unfinished game is new and they certainly didn’t spell it out at the point of sale when I got a copy for my nephew. Maybe I’m getting on my high horse again but to me this game being on shelves before v1.0 stinks, leave it as digital only. Having said all that, it’s great fun :)

      • Yes, having it on store shelves is definitely a step too far in my opinion, but even then it is labelled as a Game Preview on the cover and that includes the disclaimer along the bottom that it’s a work in progress.

  4. I’m sure Fortnite is early access, perhaps as a response to PUBG.

    Would love a go on this but don’t game on PC or Xbox :-)

    • Fortnite was supposed to be free later this year, but you could pay for early access. Sony seem to allow that, for some reason.

      But now it seems to have changed on the store to be free, but you can only play the Battle Royale mode, unless you pay for early access to the rest of it. The base game listed on the store is the BR mode, with the early access packs being listed as add-ons for that.

      So Sony seem to allow paid early access, if the game will be free eventually. Or free betas for things that will be free when they officially launch (which usually just means “a massive update to remove the word beta wherever it appears”).

      I guess Fortnite counts as “free beta with the option to pay to do their job for them by testing the rest”.

    • Sony make exceptions for games that will eventually become free to play, though they’re typically held behind a pay wall of cosmetics and in game currency purchase. It’s twisted logic, but PUBG is a paid game while Fortnite is going to be fully free to play some time this year.

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