PUBG has brought battle royale to Stadia, but bots may be about to kill the game for everyone

It’s sometimes easy to forget, especially as a console player, just how influential PUBG has been. Sure, it’s no longer the biggest game in the genre it helped to create, but its rough and ready charms have ensured that it’s remained one of the most-played multiplayer games throughout its history. Entering into its 7th season, it’s now made the jump to Google’s much maligned Stadia streaming service, giving us the perfect opportunity to check out just how well an online streaming platform can cope with a huge online game like PUBG.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t spent much time with PUBG since it launched on Xbox One quite a few moons ago. I’ve been steered away from it by not one, but two stellar Call of Duty battle royales, not to mention a short dabble with Apex Legends. Not only did Fortnite steal PUBG’s thunder with a battle royale for the masses, everyone else has taken its more down-to-earth battle royale action and heaped it with the glamour that all that Activision or EA money can buy.

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It doesn’t, in fact, get much more down to earth than PUBG on console. It still looks… well, let’s be kind and say that it’s efficient, and it boasts a gamepad setup that is needlessly painful. This is stuff that was there at the beginning, and it’s still there now as you pick up the pad on Stadia.

It does now have five different maps to royale across, which is a generous amount of variation in a genre that can easily become stale. The readmission of the Vikendi map is a snowy affair – you can throw snowballs in the pre-game lobby – and it’s a smart map with plenty of settlements thrown in amongst the snow-covered woodland, and a train that you can jump on and off. Playing here is definitely fun.

My first game back and things went exceptionally well. Playing as a random foursome with me as the sole Stadia player – thanks to the wonders of cross-play multiplayer with other platforms – it resulted in a straightforward Chicken Dinner. There’s a reason for that. I was generally just aiming not to be shot, but I spent the whole time barely seeing who it was that was – very poorly – shooting at me from far too far away. Enemy players are tiny little marks moving across the screen, and I could have sworn they weren’t there before.

That’s because, along with season 7 and the Stadia release, every console round is now being populated by the world’s most inept bots that might feel familiar to anyone that’s tried PUBG on mobile. My first game, and its frictionless win, is indicative of the reason for these things; to help ensure new players aren’t being put off by other players being better than they are.

It sounds ridiculous, and the end result is. This is a competitive shooter, one of the most popular in the world, and the inclusion of cross-play across three platforms should be more than enough to fill games. That’s not how PUBG Corporation see it. The bots aren’t in the PC version yet, but they might be coming.

Things do improve. More games see me come up against fewer bots – you can tell as they all have underscores in their name – and apparently as you climb the rankings you will see less of them. Tuning in the last week or so has made it so the top players will never experience more than a 25% bot populations, but they really shouldn’t be experiencing them at all. If there’s an issue with bringing new players in, there should be training rounds with the bots in play, or they should be being used to gauge player skill levels. What they’re currently doing runs the risk of destroying the player base they do have, and that will in turn count against new players picking the game up.

The thing that PUBG does do on Stadia is work. There’s no messing around, it continually found me a team of players to hook up with that were playing on console, and off I went. Load times are spectacularly fast, there was no hint of stuttering, and, no inherent issues being caused by the fact that I was streaming and my teammates weren’t. For a game that’s always felt a little strung together with sticky tape on console, it’s a reassuring turn out on Stadia.

With a ping readout up in the top left of the screen, it never ventured higher than 15m/s, and I never felt at a particular disadvantage because of my platform, even if the laws of physics say I must be.

One great selling point for the game on Stadia is a unique bonus, and one that I’d never really considered. The way that the centralised system works means that there should be a complete lack of cheaters. Cheating is rife in the PC version, and they can appear in the other console editions too, but Stadia can offer a virgin land for those PUBG fans who want to get away from them. It’s a shame that it’s unlikely you’ll ever get a fully-populated Stadia-only match, but if you do, you won’t see any cheaters there.

You are cross-playing with Xbox One and PS4 players, but only if you’re using a controller. Switching to keyboard and mouse will see you moved off on your own, and with no PC cross-play you’ll almost certainly find yourself facing off against 99 bots. So it’s best to stick with the controller, unless you fancy this as your own little training mode.

Right now PUBG gives you access to something that no other game is offering on the system. Bereft of Fortnite, or any flavour of Call of Duty, PUBG is the only chicken dinner in town. If you’re a Stadia owner and you want to play a battle royale on it, that is.

You do wonder how long that will be the case, especially with EA’s newly-announced support for the system. It would make a lot of sense to see Apex Legends appear here, and in doing so, would likely push those players away from the rough and ready delights of PUBG, or at least split what you assume is a relatively small audience.

It’s a bit of a loveable underdog though and I had lots of fun returning to its shonky attractions. Stadia Pro owners get to play it for free, and if I’m being brutally honest that’s the only way I’d be willing to start playing it again. When you’ve been playing Warzone and Apex Legends for zero pounds and zero pence, paying for PUBG is the hardest of hard sells. As a freebie, it’s suddenly in nightly rotation again.

Stadia is actually furnished with some great multiplayer shooters, with The Divison 2, Destiny 2, Zombie Army 4 and… well, there’s also Ghost Recon Breakpoint I support. As the only multiplayer battle royale offering on Stadia, maybe it’s going to find a few new fans. The lack of cheaters, the ease of access, and the solid performance alongside other console players are positives.

That said, the current bot situation needs addressing across all platforms. If the game is quietly dying on console, they could be the nail in the coffin, and if it isn’t, there’s no reason for them to be anywhere except in a new training mode, or removed by the time you hit Lvl. 20.

Can PUBG survive this? I hope so. It’d be a shame to lose the breakout battle royale game. But for new players on Stadia, it’s put a black mark against what should have been a small success for the platform.

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Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

2 Comments

  1. I returned to PUBG at the start of this new season and was doing so well I could not believe it. So disappointed when I find out its because of the bots! Now I’ve played a bunch of games the bots have reduced a lot but I’ve no desire to play anymore knowing that a win will not be a true win against 99 other players. There’s a website that will show how many bots were in your game and its about 20 per game now.

    • It just doesn’t make any sense to me. A skill based game should be just that. If you’ve snuck up on someone and discover they were a bot when you take them out, it feels a damn sight more hollow than a real player.

      Think the negative reaction will hopefully see them tone the bots right down to just being in games for players starting out.

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