PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is a rare specimen. A competitive game that also provides an unforgettable experience for the player. Where winning is the objective, but where failing to do so doesn’t always end in disappointment. In fact, stories of your losses can be almost be as memorable as your wins.
PUBG has a deceptively simple premise. 100 players jump off a plane onto an island where they scramble to collect randomly spawned weapons and body armour. A force field of death forces the players into a smaller and smaller circular area of the map, until only one person or squad is left standing.
That’s it. How you go about winning is up to you.
You can take a vehicle and high drive straight to the centre of the map and wait for other players to come to you.
You can skirt the edge of the habitable zone and slowly move in on foot.
You can hide for as long as you possibly can, only opening fire if you absolutely have too.
You can go looking for fights, chasing down air dropped supply crates that contain rare weapons that attract players like a moth to a flame.
Heck, you could refuse to pick up any guns, strip down to your underwear and hide in the forest like some sort of demented hobbit, if that’s what you’re into.
Whatever you do, however you approach the game, you will hardly ever win a match. Death comes from all directions. Sometimes you won’t even see your killer until you take a look at your killcam. Surviving a single firefight is difficult. Winning multiple fights and being the last man standing is almost impossible, which of course makes actually getting that win (referred to as a chicken dinner) a rush that is unmatched in any other game I’ve ever played.
PUBG owes much to the realistic military shooters that inspired it. This influence has both a positive and negative impact on the game. On the plus side the guns in the game have a real heft to them, and every hit you land on an opponent feels satisfying. Bullets act in a realistic way. You’ll have to account for bullet drop when shooting targets at a distance, and when a target is running, you’ll need to lead your shots. On the more negative side, as is the case with most military shooters, the basics are not explained well. There’s no tutorial mode, no target range for you to practice your shooting. Many of the smaller nuances of the game are not explained at all. I’d recommend that a new player find themselves a guide or watch a youtube video in order to learn the intricacies of the game’s systems.
When the game starts you are on a plane that flies across the map. The forest map Erangel is 6 km by 6 km. The desert map Miramar is even larger, 8 km by 8 km. You can choose do jump off the plane at anytime along the flight path, and you are also able to freefall through the air a certain distance while you descend. This leads to the first, and maybe most important decision you’ll make in game. Where do you land? Do you attempt to touch down in a big city in search of better guns, but risk running into other players? Or do you land in a more remote area, with less buildings to loot, but a much greater chance of avoiding conflict? It lends each game a sense of importance right off the bat. The mad scramble for weapons as you and an opposing player land in the same area is as tense as it is chaotic.
Despite being a shooter, this is no Call of Duty. There are no kill streaks here. You can go for long stretches of time without seeing anybody, wandering through the forest or traversing through a desert. Even cities are sometimes deserted. Often the best course of action in a situation is to enter a building, close all the doors and hide until you know where the next safe area will be. There’s often time for a toilet break.
Don’t let this make you think that PUBG is boring. Death is around every corner. You could loot an entire city only to be killed by someone hiding in the bathroom of the final building you check.
I will say that PUBG is best played as team game, as a squad (of up to four players) or a duo. Being able to chat to your friends as you traverse across the landscape makes the game surprisingly social. Talking strategy, recounting past firefights, it all adds a real sense of comradery to proceedings.
The greatest benefit of playing in a team is that you are able to revive teammates. While playing with a teammate, shots that would normally kill you will knock you to the ground, leaving you unable to shoot but able to crawl around slowly. A red bar will slowly begin to deplete. As long as your teammate can reach you in time and and survive the ten seconds they will have to sit still to revive you, you’ll be back in the action.
You would be forgiven for thinking PUBG would get boring after a while, what with only two maps available. However, you’d be wrong. The two maps are more than enough to keep the action interesting thanks to the randomising factors thrown into the game.
Loot is random everytime. Certain locations have a better chance of dropping rarer loot than others, but there’s no guarantees that any location will have the gun you are looking for. On top of this, the safe zone in the map changes every game. The final zone could be on an open beach, forcing a fight in the open. It could be in the middle of a forest, forcing players to weave in between trees in order to survive. It might even be in a town or city, leading to an intense standoff between opposing teams who have taken residence in high rise buildings. No two matches are ever the same.
Anybody who has played PUBG for a significant amount of time will have their own stories, victories, near misses, times when all their teamwork came together or times when they failed so spectacularly that there was nothing to do but laugh.
I remember one game where I landed in the ‘Shelter’, a series of interconnected tunnels and bunkers where rare loot can be found. At least four other players entered the bunker from different entrances along with me. In my room I found only a double barreled shotgun. Better than nothing, but not the gun I was looking for. I knew that if I headed down the corridor I would more than likely be ambushed by better armed players, so I hid behind a wall and trained my gun on the tunnel that led deeper into the comlex. Further down the tunnel I could hear gunfire. For at least ten minutes I waited. Every now and then I would hear a burst of gunfire. The players who had entered the shelter with me were engaged in a bloody fight to the death. Eventually, a single player came running down the corridor towards me. He was carrying a sniper rifle and a assault rifle. He was equipped with the best helmet and body armour. He had clearly come out on top of the epic fight in the shelter and was carrying with him the spoils of war. As he approached I popped out of cover and killed him with one shotgun blast.
Now I was kitted out with all of his spoils. I had the best helmet I had the best body armour, I had the best guns. Triumphantly I turned and headed out of exit to the tunnel system, where I was promptly shot to death by another player who was hiding by the entrance with a shotgun.
There are some moments you will never forget. Your wedding, the birth of your child, the first time you drank an ice cold Dr.Pepper. Winning your first game of PUBG is one of those moments.
When my brother and I won our first match we literally jumped out of our seats and screamed. We hugged. We couldn’t believe that we’d done it. Even now with over 10 wins under my belt my heart is still in my mouth as the game winds down and I find myself one of the last players alive, my heart still races.
Of course the game is not without its problems.
For one it is beset by hackers. It’s too often that you will suddenly die even when inside a building. I’ve seen killcams where I was shot from all the way across the map. I’ve been in matches where it is blatantly obvious that my opponent could see where I was at all times, even through walls. In a game where matches can take up to 30 minutes, it's incredibly frustrating to be killed out of nowhere by a hacker.
Despite not looking that great, many computers will have trouble running PUBG. The game is optimised like a human being is optimised for breathing in water.
The game, despite now having left early access and being officially released, is buggier than it has any right to be.
One particular incident saw me getting on a motorbike only to have the bike suddenly fling itself into the air. Although it was very amusing to be playing Hagrid, it made me an easy target for everyone down below.
Other less amusing incidents caused by bugs have seen me killed by a door that I opened, and crushed by a car that was not moving. The game frequently crashes to desktop, leaving your character running forward in game while you struggle to reconnect. You’ll often log back in just in time to see people looting your corpse, or find that you’ve managed to drown yourself. As you can imagine this is incredibly frustrated.
Another annoying feature of the game that needs mentioning is the vehicles. During matches you will need to get into a car at some point. Although they handle fine, they don't always play nice with the terrain. Especially the motorbikes. Oftentimes you'll be driving along happily when you suddenly hit a tiny bump, almost invisible to the eye, and you'll go flying to your death. It's infuriating. Especially if it's coming towards the end of he game. Especially if your whole team gets killed in the crash, especially if it happens all the damn time. It's once again, frustration.
I’ve mentioned it three now and I’ll say it again. You will be frustrated playing this game. Hackers, glitches, crashes back to desktop, flying motorbikes, it will leave you wondering why you even bother to play, but you’ll keep coming back. You’ll complain that as soon as a another battle royale game comes out you’ll be quitting PUBG, but you’ll say that while reading up to start another game.
PUBG is a great idea executed satisfactorily. It does so many things right, but it also does so many things meh. No doubt there will be another game that comes along that executes the battle royale idea in a more polished, less buggy, protected from hackers way, and PUBG’s time may pass, but even then, PUBG will still have a special place in my heart.
It’s hard to score PUBG. Objectively it’s full of problems. The hackers, the glitches and the crashes. And yet PUBG is the most fun I’ve had with a video game in years. It’s the best shooter I’ve ever played. The game has led me to jump out of my chair with joy, it’s made me punch my desk in frustration. The thing is, it’s not just elicited these emotional responses out of me once, it’s done it multiple times. No other game has ever done that to me in my life. When you can make someone so invested in something that they’re willing to rage over it, you have created something really special. Is PUBG perfect? Hardly. Could it be improved upon? For sure. Despite all this is it the best competitive game to come out in years? Absolutely.