For the last several months, as a console gamer I’ve felt like an outsider looking in on the biggest gaming trend of the year, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. While it has finally “released” out of early access on PC, the Xbox One version only dropped a week ago, marking the first console experience for the popular battle royal shooter.
While my excitement to get stuck into PUBG was palpable, my whistle has been whet for the last few months thanks to its biggest competitor, Fortnite Battle Royale, a game so similar that there was talk of the developers getting involved in some legal follow-up regarding it. So I’m not new to the 100 player chaos, per se, but I’m new to the way PUBG presents it. So how does the most popular game of the year (and second best selling PC game of all time) fare on its Xbox One release?
To the uninitiated: PUBG is a last man standing battle royal where players leap out of a plane and parachute down onto a gigantic map with no weapons, ammo, armour or medical supplies. You must scavenge and loot as much as possible, build up your arsenal and then eliminate other players, all the while the play area is shrinking, damaging you greatly if you are unlucky enough (or are not paying attention enough) to stay in side it. Eventually it shrinks to a very small sector, causing intense stand-offs against enemies until there is only one winner.
The intensity here is unlike anything I’ve experienced before; I am not ashamed to admit that whenever it gets down to the final twenty or so players, my palms sweat, I begin to nervously shake and my mind becomes laser-focused. It’s an adrenaline rush that is unmatched, requiring you to be completely aware of all your surroundings, thinking tactically in advance but also improvising on the fly. While it can be slow in the early game, the moment-to-moment action of the combat as the map diminishes makes for some incredibly memorable moments.
To start diving into this Xbox One version, it’s worth noting a couple of things. Firstly, the PUBG version we are experiencing on Xbox One is said to be six months behind where the PC version is at. Where that PUBG has received a lot of love via stability updates, UI improvements and more, the version to be released on console is definitely rough around the edges, to say the least. It does allow you to vault over things (something PC gamers have gone without until now) which is a blessing, so much so that I can’t imagine having to play without it.
One of the main complaints is that textures take a long time to load in when you first drop onto the map, to the point where buildings don’t even load for a few moments. One time my mate actually got killed because a house loaded with the wall on top of him, which took him out instantly. This was funny the first time it happened (at least for the rest of us) but it surely is problematic for competitive types. Frame-rate also has a habit of dipping below 30 frames per second, with some savvy players realizing that you can improve this slightly by disabling game capture while playing. Still, these workarounds are not ideal.
It’s worth noting that I tested PUBG on the Xbox One X and found a noticeable difference in terms of optimization and pop-in not being as much of an issue, and the 4.7GB patch that came through two days ago has also assisted in improving things already, which is a good sign that the team is working on the relevant fixes and improvements as we speak. They’ve also added an Oceanic server earlier this week, meaning better connections for us Aussies, which has also helped.
Given the complicated inventory system on the PC version that had everybody concerned, the controller layout here is actually pretty effective. I possibly have the benefit of having never played the game before now so it’s less of a transition for me, but the menu is sorted so that you can quickly auto-equip weapon attachments to relevant guns and swap them out just by tapping the A button. The left and right bumpers cycle between each category nice and quick too. Healing items, grenades and melee weapons are assigned to the D-Pad as well, making changing things on the fly entirely doable.
I will say there is a lack of tutorial that does make all of this quite daunting; your first couple of matches will inevitably be spent just trying to figure out what the hell is going on and how you play (things like having to hold down X to reload rather than it happening automatically, for example). After only a few days of play however, I’ve found myself in a good rhythm that has me consistently placing in the top 10. Learning landmarks, where the best loot usually lies, where the vehicles spawn and the usual flow of the condensing play area, each match feels tightly split into three stages – early on collecting supplies, mid-game jostling for position and end-game fighting to the death.
“…another random player drove right towards us at full speed, flinging my attacker into the air like a crash test dummy and leaving me just enough time to escape…”
It’s the crazy moments that keep me coming back and just beg to be shared with others. Like the time when a squad mate and I got ambushed by another player on a buggy, so we responded by blowing him to smithereens. Or when I got down to an intense final two stand-off that lasted a couple of minutes as we threw grenades at each other and tried to figure out our last move.
Or when I was in a firefight with an opponent, only a sliver of health left and I swear I was done for… until another random player drove right towards us at full speed, flinging my attacker into the air like a crash test dummy and leaving me just enough time to escape and heal up with a medkit that I took from his body. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
Despite the performance issues – of which there are plenty, yes – PUBG is still captivating enough to bring me back for more adrenaline-pumping action every single day. They’ve addressed some core issues within the first week of launch and I imagine there are a lot more fixes coming, as the popularity and success of the game is undeniable with a growing player-base.
Should you buy PUBG on Xbox One in its current state? For me, the theme and atmosphere along with tight gameplay (once you figure it all out) is very engaging and completely worth the $35ish price-tag. I’ve been waiting to play this game on a console all damn year and the unfinished state of this version has only slightly dampened that enthusiasm. With more improvements on the way, get your squad together and load up your supplies; there could be a chicken dinner waiting for you just around the corner.