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Early Thoughts on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Early Thoughts on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

There’s simply no getting around it. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is on the lips of just about everyone who’s following the latest who’s who in games. For the past few months, not a day went by where I didn’t hear something about this game, as practically all my friends and acquaintances were already dabbling in the rough-and-tumble experience that is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Being only a light PC gamer, I pretty much avoided this game for a long time, due to its reputation of being rather taxing on even the higher-end PCs. I had played games that looked like it before, and frankly, I wasn’t sold on the concept (Not to mention that it’s still in early-access). Over time, as I saw more and more footage for the thing, I finally gave in and hocked up the $30 for a download. Buckle up, ’cause here are my early thoughts on the runaway hit that is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.


To start things off, let’s shake off this clumsy title. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (colloquially referred to as PUBG) is developed by Brandon Greene, the titular figure that goes by the name PlayerUnknown. A member of developer BlueHole, Greene has previously earned a small amount of renown for his ARMA mod “Battle-Royale,” which pitted players against one another in, well, an all-out battle-royale to the death. No teams, no allies, just pure unadulterated chaos. After that, Greene went on to license his battle-royale game mode for Sony’s game H1Z1. Now this is all well and good, but there was a slight problem; both of these mods piggy-backed off of other people’s code, meaning that Greene’s work wasn’t entirely his own. With PUBG, Greene builds that battle-royale experience from the ground up, resulting in a game that functions not too differently from the ARMA series.

It works like this: Controlling your character in third-person mode, you skydive to any one point on an island that measures up to a few square miles. Alongside you, 90 to 99 other players will be dropping down onto that very same island. Your goal? Kill everyone.

As soon as your boots touch the ground, the battle begins. Those who plan well will have a nice comfy village or neighborhood to explore, free of harassment from other players. Those who don’t will have to race those around them to find the nearest weapons, or take a chance and try to beat their opponents to death with their bare hands. The first few minutes of each game will see the deaths of about 20 or so hapless players that simply weren’t ready for crunch time. And when you’re dead, you’re dead, because PUBG has no extra lives or respawns.

But if you play it safe and take your time, or if you’re fairly skilled and manage to dispatch your immediate opponents, the world is yours for a time. Loot houses, barns, sheds, schools, and even prisons for useful equipment. Almost every building is stocked with different weapons and tactical equipment on a randomly-generated system. Helmets, police vests, grenades, and all types of fire arms and weapon attachments await the lucky explorer, as each player approximates the quintessential image of a ragtag warrior. The game’s cover art basically sums it up: A man wearing a shirt and tie, sleeves rolled up, wearing a riot helmet and harness with weapons slung over his shoulder and a pistol in his hand. Such is the badassery that is PUBG. 

The honeymoon period of each new match wears off rather quickly. If you were lucky enough to survive the first five minutes, things will start to change up with speed. Demarcating a little over a fourth of the map, a large circular area appears, letting players know where the next battle zone will take place. And you better get in that circle, or else face certain death; if you wait too long, a large blue force field will descend upon you and kill you in no time. This rather creative king-of-the-hill mechanic keeps players from getting too comfortable, forcing them out of hiding to get up on their feet and into the action.

But wait, that’s not all! Not only do you have to get to that zone, but within a couple more minutes, it shrinks! If you’re late to the party, too bad! You get to keep running to the next zone, making a target of yourself all the while! If you’re early to the party, congratulations! Now you get to loot at your leisure and wait to pop a cap in those stragglers that are just coming in!

Time after time, the white zone shrinks until all players are wiped out, save the sole winner of the contest. With so may players in a server, true victory is extremely rare, but not impossible. That said, most players still derive a great amount of pleasure from those small moments of success when they are able to kill a couple or even several of their opponents with just a single life.

So PUBG becomes a delicate balance between minimizing your visibility while moving as quickly as possible. Take your time to loot some settlements if you can, but if you take too long you’ll get caught in the blue. A vehicle will do in a pinch if you’re able to find one, but be aware that it makes you a very visible, very noisy target.

Which brings us to the pacing of PUBG. Simply put, it is nothing short of fantastic. It is entirely possible to go through the majority of a match without encountering a single person, only to die getting shot by someone you can’t even see. Such is the nature of PUBG, but I think this unflinching brutality is what makes it so special. Instead of sprinting through open fields, players are more likely to choose a copse of trees or the cover of a wall, or even crawl their way through the grass if they can spare the time. When enemies are around, we are slow and patient, more likely to wait out a situation than seek direct conflict.

And camping becomes a pretty useful strategy. If you’re in an area and have reason to believe there are enemies nearby, it is often useful to hide in a house and survey the territory, rather than running around outside and getting yourself killed. On top of that, expertly manipulating the distance between yourself and the blue force field is often the difference between life and death.

Inevitably, after all this waiting, the action kicks in. From my experience, most encounters don’t last longer than a handful of seconds, as you open a door and oh shit there’s someone there and you blast at each other with your weapons until one of you lies dead. Other encounters, where players are more equipped and well-informed, can last several minutes, as players play a game of chicken to see who will reveal their position first.

When playing PUBG, it feels to me that PlayerUnknown was trying to create a variation on the shooter genre that relies heavily on tactics and realism. The array of distinct movement mechanics rival those of Metal Gear Solid V, and the number of unique weapons and weapon attachments are equally impressive, each playing a huge part in the moment-to-moment decisions that you have to make in order to keep yourself alive.

There’s a cooperative mode too. Matchmaking with random players or getting in a lobby with your friends in teams from two to four, you drop down into a squad-based variant on the traditional game mode. I really like this game mode a lot, since it’s a lot less stressful than the single-player mode. The feeling of laying siege to another group with your posse is simply awesome, making the battles feel a lot more tactical and dynamic. It’s also a lot easier to win on this mode, striking a good balance with the difficulty level.

On top of that, there is also a first-person mode. This mode is pretty good, and is almost identical to the regular third-person mode, though I tend to find it a lot more difficult. For me, the best part about this game is how you use information and tactics to outwit your opponents, but in first-person mode your intel will always be severely lacking. This makes moment-to-moment encounters a lot more confusing. That said, a lot of my friends really like this mode, so there’s definitely a market for it.

These game modes are great and all, but part of me wonders if there are even more applications to these mechanics. One game mode that I would really like to see would be a team-based battle, where half of a server fights the other half using the existing format. That would be really cool and probably extremely hectic, and I suspect it wouldn’t be too different from the experience a lot of people have with Napoleonic Wars.

While I’m here, let’s talk about the user interface. Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that the interface is super buggy. Sometimes, it’s hard to see if your friends are online, or hitting buttons won’t do what you want them to do. The most frequent aggravation is that the user interface likes to refresh itself and take you back to the game’s opening screen, which is more than a little annoying. For such an impressive game, this isn’t that big of an issue, but I do hope that it gets a little bit more polish by the time the game hits its official release.

Okay, finally…*deep breath.* Let’s talk about the in-game purchases. So, using in-game currency, you can purchase loot boxes that give you clothing to deck out your avatar. Shirts, pants, glasses, etc. etc. Here’s the catch: Each box only has one item! And if that weren’t good enough, there are seasonal crates, such as the Battle Royale special that gives you clothing from the cult Japanese hit. Here’s the catch: In order to open these crates (which cost more in in-game currency) you have to buy a key to open it, with real money. Despite the fact that they only give one item, these crates sell for about $1.50 on the Steam market place as I write this, and one of the rarer items is currently selling for $115! While these changes are entirely cosmetic, they still remind me of Team Fortress 2 and CS:GO rather strongly. I’m not a huge fan of microtransactions in games, but I guess PUBG’s gotta make its money somehow.


At its most exhilarating, PUBG is a heart-thumping adrenaline boost of a video game. At its most quiet, this game still manages to be well-paced with a good amount of natural tension that is built in no small part by the way the game’s mechanics work. PUBG is tactical and brutally difficult, giving players only one life with an already unforgiving mechanics system.

Some things about PUBG make me raise an eyebrow, such as the microtransactions and marketplace, as well as the general optimization that causes it to run poorly on a modest gaming laptop. These are pretty huge detractors in my opinion, and the optimization is probably the biggest obstacle preventing most players from wanting to try this game out.

But, PUBG has plenty more to offer. It features a unique and promising game mode with a good amount of randomization that keeps things interesting for each new match. The mechanics, while a little clunky from time to time, feel really fleshed out and specialized for tactical scenarios, making enemy encounters truly heart-pounding and intense. At the end of the day, PUBG is a joy to play, and it has captured my imagination as well as those of many others. I’m excited to keep playing this game as it continues to develop, and can’t wait to see what it’s like in its full form.

Written by Nips

 
 

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  1. 1. Excellently written sir!
    2. This game sounds really great!

    I think it sounds worth $30. And although the concept is a new one, it does have a slight retro feel. It reminds me of games like Mario Bros. (No no Super Mario Bros) and many other early early 80s arcade games where you simply kill and survive in a battle for endurance!

     

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