GAME REVIEW: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Early Access)

Firstly a question. Have you ever seen the film Battle Royale? If yes, Bluehole’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBs) is basically that. If the answer is no, basically you and 99 other people get airdropped onto an island chock full of guns, ammo and other equipment, and the last person standing wins. You can play it alone, or as part of a duo, or a larger squad. Each brings its own nuance to the game, depending on how you want to jump in.

Getting the lie of the land. Bet there are snipers doing the same on the other side of the valley.

Once you’ve made and named your character and are ready to play, the game will find a server and treat you to spending a minute or so in a tiny island waiting area. There are various guns and munitions laying on some picnic tables nearby if you want to get a feel for a particular weapon while you wait for the game to fill. Once enough people have joined or the timer runs out, you will find yourself on a large plane as it flies over the larger island that is to be the battleground. This is where tactics start to play their part, as PUBs is a game that you can sometimes win without firing a single shot. Deciding where to parachute from the plane is the first thing you’ll need to ponder, and the plane takes different routes in each game. Do you zip straight down and try to land as quickly as possible, or do you open your chute and try to nurse it to some quieter area of the map? Even once you’ve jumped and are gliding through the sky, you need to keep your awareness notched to 11. Remembering the route of the plane will help you to guess where enemies might come from once you’ve hit the ground. Also, keeping an eye open for other players chuting around you and using this information to change your landing spot just might save your life. My very first round of PUBs saw me land in a dockyard amidst about seven other players. I hadn’t gone down nearly quick enough and the instant my chute was cut free some toe-rag head-shotted me with a pistol. Game over. 96 players left.

Parachuting down into what looks like a pretty nice oasis of tranquility.

But what’s to stop people camping out in a house and avoiding everyone I hear you ask. The circle. A short time after landing, an area of the map will be marked by a circle. Any player left outside the circle as the playing boundary slowly closes on the new zone will slowly lose health in a hazy blue wall of death. This shrinking happens regularly until the circle is so small, you can pretty much sprint across it in a few seconds, if someone doesn’t kill you first. This is where the beauty lies in PUBs. The circle mechanic pushes the players together, and often the final circle will be somewhere in the open with little cover, forcing the few remaining players to stop hiding and to come out and play. Sometimes the new smaller circle will be close to the edge of the one you just entered (the next circle is always within the bounds of the larger one that is about to shrink), sometimes it might be on the far side of the old circle, forcing you to get going rather quickly. This is where another tactic comes into play.

Circles on the map. The red blotch is a random bombing zone, just to add even more peril.

When the next circle appears, you have a choice to make. Do you get to the new zone early, find somewhere sweet to defend, and hole up? Do you delay, find a vehicle, and race the blue wall to reduce the chance of people coming up behind you? Or do you do something between the two? Sometimes, this choice will depend on if there are buildings ahead, or what sounds of combat are cracking from over the next hill. In my second game, the house I looted happened to be in the next two or three circle shrinks. Being new to the game and still unsure of certain things, I decided to stay put and make myself comfy. Sadly, I was too slow to get to the next circle from my safe place and died, but I did gain a top 20 finish, which was an improvement on 97/100.

Can’t remember if I heard something or if I was just admiring the view.

Speaking of movement, when you have to move in PUBs, you have a number of options, from sprinting, to belly-crawling, with other speeds in between. Belly-crawling unnoticed through long grass and shadow has won me a number of games, so I veer towards that if I have the time to get to where I need to go. Seeing enemies run by only ten feet away, completely oblivious to my presence just seems so satisfying. Slithering forward and ending their game with a shotgun blast to the back of the head even more so. If you fancy a faster form of conveyance however, there are a range of vehicles littering the landscape, from motorbikes to jeeps, and even boats on the water.

When you do find yourself in a firefight, the various equipment laying around really comes into play. There’s the protective variety, such as helmets and police vests, and even clothes that might offer camouflage options. That yellow jacket might look out of place in a wooded area, but crawling through a corn field, it gets the job done. You will also need to pick up backpacks to hold all of that weaponry and ammo. The weapons themselves can be modified with scopes, silencers and extended magazines, letting the player adjust things to adapt to the way they want to play. There are also other pick-ups, like a variety of grenades (such as smoke), and healing equipment that includes energy drinks, bandages and first aid kits. If you are playing as part of a duo or squad, your teammates can revive you if you get knocked out by damage. It’s a “hold button for valuable seconds” affair but can lead to some tense moments. At intervals an airdrop lands on the map too, often containing even more tasty loot. Be careful though, as it also draws a lot of eager loot hunters, so can become a killing ground before you know it. Playing the game also earns you points with which you can purchase and open a Pioneer crate. This will contain a cosmetic item of clothing for your character, but as mentioned above, certain colours and camo varieties will likely help you in game.

PUBs is currently in Steam’s Early Access section, which means that it is still in an early stage of development. At the moment, PUBs receives weekly and monthly updates. These fix things like people becoming stuck in doorways, or add new things such as 1st Person Servers (where players are stuck in 1st person mode rather than being able to change view). PUBs will also soon be getting a couple of new loot crates, one of which, the Gamescom Invitational Crate, will cost money to open. This is being explained as a test for the key and crate system that the devs want to introduce on full release, which is estimated to come by the end of Q4 2017.

The pre-game waiting zone.

On to the bad stuff. PUBs has been relatively stable for me, but I’ve experienced enough crashes and hangs to never be fully confident that it will work at any given time. A couple of crashes hard-locked my PC, which was a real pain. More recently, crashes have been more elegant, just dropping me back to Windows with an error message from PUBs. When you do get into a game, you will likely find the odd strange thing happening in the world: doors that don’t seem to open until a few seconds after you try, as just one example. These issues are being fixed, but be prepared for the occasional screwy thing to happen. Another issue is with the pre-game “gun playground lobby” and plane ride with regards to the community itself. When someone talks via microphone, you have little idea as to who is speaking. You do need to be near people to hear them, but when surrounded by twenty other people, it’s anyone’s guess as to who said what. Sadly, as you might guess, anonymity brings out the racist little keyboard warrior in some people, and you will likely hear a good deal of this before the game starts. The anonymity stops you from being able to report people. I’d like to see this changed somehow. Control + T mutes voice, so at least you can turn the morons off if they are particularly bad.

Look, I actually won a game!

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is an addictive adrenaline producing game that forces you to be tactical or you’ll die very quickly. Unless luck is on your side. Sometimes, things just go wrong, or the circle didn’t fall as kindly for you as the other player that ultimately killed you. You will have games where you spend fifteen minutes equipping yourself with equipment and then die the first time you get into a firefight. Game over. Start again. It can be frustrating, but the “losing it all and starting again” doesn’t hurt too much. If you do go the distance and get to the final circle, you will have spent around thirty minutes surviving and scootling around the map. Winning is very very satisfying, knowing that you just outlasted 99 other people. It is also funny how, in my experience, wins came after the most unlikely starts to the game, such as playing most of the game without a decent assault rife, or mistakenly landing too close to someone else and getting into an early firefight that almost killed you. Persisting in these situations is when you learn the most, and also, provide the best personal stories of triumph. Any game that gives the player their own epic tales of victory that are wholly personal to them is a fine game in my book. Once PUBs has been polished a little more, the 4/5 below could be boosted to a 5. Right now though, if it intrigues you and you find the central mechanic interesting, you’ll get hours of fun out of it.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is £26.99 on Steam and is available for Windows PC.

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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