It came as little surprise when it leaked out and was eventually confirmed that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds would be coming to PlayStation 4, almost to the day that it first entered Game Preview on Xbox One. Now that it’s on the biggest home console platform, PUBG Corp. will be hoping that they can really go toe to toe with the rest of the booming Battle Royale genre that it helped to popularise. Fortnite is obviously now the dominant force in the subgenre, but H1Z1, Black Ops 4 and others are now pretenders to the more realistic looking side of things. Does PUBG still rule the roost, or has one of the pretenders planted their bum on the vacant throne?
It should be even less surprising that a notoriously rough around the edges game is still lacking in refinement on PlayStation 4. The very first thing you encounter is a character creator tool full of mannequin-like models and excessively shiny hair styles to choose from, and it only carries on from there. This game is no looker. The environments are simplistic, the indoor lighting in particular is far from the best the Unreal Engine 4 can manage, buildings are copied and pasted throughout, the textures are often muddy, models low in detail, and pop-in is still a noticeable problem.
None of this is new, of course. The game has always felt more like a hastily cobbled together mod and hodgepodge assortment of bought assets than a game with a now-huge budget behind it. The development team was built up through the game’s success, and with that comes the growing pains that are still plain to see.
But gameplay is king, and that’s what helped rocket PUBG to millions upon millions of sales through the last two years. You drop with nothing but the clothes on your own back, you have to scrounge around within buildings to find even the most rudimentary of supplies, and then battle against other survivors to see who can be the last one standing. This is a military themed survival shooter, and it aims to be more realistic than most. In other words you shouldn’t expect some of the niceties lavished upon you by the likes of COD or Battlefield.
While the intent there is fine and it works fairly well on PC in the vein of a slower-paced, more considered tactical shooter, on console you have to put up with and adapt to some atypical controls. A lot of what I still find jarring is with the inventory management and the dual-purpose Square button. Where interacting with doors and picking up items is done with a tap of Square, you have to hold to reload your gun, which is something that literally no other shooter does. You’re better off opening up the inventory anyway, but sifting through all the items on the fly is still a painstaking affair without a mouse and keyboard.
Of course, you can learn your way around the quirks, of how getting in and out of vehicles uses different buttons, of the fact that you likely want to switch fire rate away from the default single shot, of how to aim over the shoulder by holding the trigger and quickly pull it to aim down sight – switching to the Type-B controls makes LB over the shoulder, and should be the default. There’s just an initial battle with the controls that shouldn’t really be there. It’s not like you have a whole layer of construction and building mechanics to go on top of this, it’s a tactical shooter with what should be streamlined inventory management.
Thankfully for PlayStation owners many of the kinks that could have been worked out have been. The game’s asset streaming is much improved, so I found no instances of landing to find (unintentionally) empty buildings, missing stairs, or buildings that look like chunks of rock – the first few seconds within the pre-match lobby are another matter, but ultimately unimportant. The frame rate still hitches every now and then, but generally feels steady despite this. Then again, it’s only aiming for 30fps with 1080p on PS4 and 1440p on PS4 Pro.
The last year on Xbox One and PC has also fleshed this out with more content. The Miramar map is similar in scope to the original Erangel, albeit with a desert theme, while Sanhok is a quarter of the size, looking to up the pace of the game by putting you in closer quarters and maybe appeal to those coming over from other games. For those looking to get to grips with the game or work out the finer nuances, there’s the Training Mode, and the game has weekly and daily challenges to work through, spicing things up so you’re not simply battling for the top spot. The one major thing still missing? First Person Perspective play, which has been held back until PUBG Corp. are happy with the servers.
And so we come back to my opening question: has PUBG been surpassed? For my money, yes. There’s still the tense brilliance of Battle Royale’s ever shrinking battlefield, the scavenging, the sneaking, the clutch plays and the adrenaline that has your heart pounding as you reach the final few survivors. However, PUBG simply isn’t as polished and refined as other games on the market and I see little to suggest that they will catch up in that regard. H1Z1 is similarly ugly, if not more-so, but holds a performance advantage, while Black Ops 4 shows yet again what happens when an established developer can throw its full weight behind something. The feel of the games might be different, and it might not be without its own problems and compromises, but Black Ops 4 looks better, feels better and is simply more fun to play.
That will be the deciding factor for many people – outside of free being much less than £24.99 – but while I lean toward the newer games, there is a place for PUBG. It’s more tactical and considered, and the shooting feels more realistic, which will always appeal to a certain cachet of player.