Where the battle royale genre began is still a contentious topic to this day. Games like The Culling introduced players to arenas where you had to scavenge for weapons and hunt others. While ARMA 2 before it had user-created mods where players were stuck in a small area together and forced to duke it out. Nowadays, it’s pretty well established that the battle royale genre has two kings. While console owners have had access to one of those games in Fortnite, it wasn’t until very recently where they could try out the title that really got the battle royale trend going: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, also known as PUBG, has finally hit the PS4 a full year after it released on PC and a few months after the launch of its Xbox One counterpart. This is already an established game, with personalities and gameplay meta that have sprung up all around the title. So even if you’ve never actually played this game, chances are you’ve played something similar that’s spun off from it or at the very least heard of the title.
The premise of PUBG is simple: you drop into a large open land mass along with ninety-nine other players, scavenge for supplies and weapons, then do your best to survive. You’ll be taking out the competition with a wide variety of weapons, hiding when needed, tending to your wounds, and hopefully making it all the way to the end where you’ll be rewarded with a chicken dinner.
"Weapon handling is done in a realistic way, with you having to accomodate for recoil and bullet drop."
The landscapes you’re thrown into are absolutely massive and diverse, with some providing vegetation and others giving you a more urban environment to hide in. You’ll be able to find vehicles around as well in order to make your way around these maps quicker. Although, with the noise vehicles make, you may just end up making yourself a target for everyone within earshot. There’s also the ever-present threat of a rapidly shrinking out-of-bounds ring that will eventually kill you if you aren’t where you’re supposed to be. And if that doesn’t do you in, there’s also random bombing runs that you can find yourself caught in if you’re not careful. All in all, the world of PUBG is an obstacle to be overcome just as much as the other players are.
The game is easy for players to just jump into. There’s a tutorial server where you can go to learn the basics. Here, you can try out all the different weapons and practice lobbing grenades, riding vehicles, or parachuting to specific spots. The mechanics and controls of this game are pretty easy to wrap your head around after enough time. You can move about, sneaking or crawling when you need to, and can play the game with either a third-person or a first-person perspective. Along with jumping and melee strikes, you’re given all the tools you would need to survive in a life-or-death situation.
Although not all the controls are ideal. In order to aim down sights, you have to press the left trigger twice quickly. It’s not much, but sometimes this additional button press for such an essential function can end up getting you killed. You also have a menu system for picking up loot you find as well as using health- and energy-boosting supplies. This menu system is initially awkward to use. You get used to it eventually but there are some design choices, like the “X” button only picking up certain objects and the “Square” button picking up others, that never feels quite streamlined enough. It’s very obvious this is a system that originated on PC and that the PS4 had to make some compromises in order to fit PUBG’s control scheme.
Weapon handling is done in a realistic way, with you having to accomodate for recoil and bullet drop. There’s even options to zero out rifles you use, which should tip you off to the kind of long-range engagements you’ll primarily be going for in this title. Compared to something like Fortnite, this title is more methodical and requires more patience and setup for consistent play. All in all, this is a good thing since it gives PUBG its own identity and can also cater to players who like Fortnite’s battle royale concept but would rather have more gun mechanics instead of building.
"The moment-to-moment gameplay is the real selling point of PUBG."
And good news for those folks because PUBG is fun. You can go through this game on your own or with groups and there’s trade-offs for each method of play. Solo play means you only have yourself to rely on. But you don’t have to share any loot you find and you have a better chance of catching players off guard. Whereas with a group, there’s strength in numbers. But you have to only take a small portion of weapons you find and there’s a definite possibility of meeting a whole stack of enemies at a time. There’s also the option to play solo against other groups if you’re feeling particularly hardcore. The moment-to-moment gameplay is the real selling point of PUBG. You’ll spend a lot of your time running across fields and going through identical-looking houses but it all feels like it’s building towards something. Then once you finally find someone and wait for your perfect moment to strike, all that preparation before feels worth it.
Technically though, this game is rough. Those who are in the know are aware how taxing this title is on a high-end PC. And you’ve probably also heard about the disastrous launch of PUBG on Xbox One. Thankfully, the Playstation version has been given a little more care even though the performance is still nothing to write home about. I did play this title on a PS4 Pro which helped with framerate and a bit of a higher resolution, but the game still struggled. Texture pop-in is a constant thing and is probably at its most noticeable as you’re loading into an area and parachuting down. Textures can often not load in properly or end up clipping through other geometry, creating a very jank look to the environments.
The game in general is not good-looking. Everything had to be scaled down to accommodate the PS4 and that ends up leaving players with a pretty bland title. Player models are fine but the environment you move around is pretty low-resolution, especially vistas that are far off in the distance. This ends up actually hurting the experience since it’s easy to spot players far off when the environment looks so washed-out and barren. Lighting is an issue with PUBG as well. While everything looks fine while you’re outside, walking into a house for the first time is like having the gamma on your screen suddenly turned all the way down. This gives players who are waiting inside a huge advantage and usually ends with them coming out on top. There are also issues trying to find objects on the ground to pick up.
"PUBG is a fun game. The feeling of skulking about, tailing a mark for a few minutes, and then finally making your move and taking their loot is a great sensation."
Objects constantly blend in with the environment, whether that be with the hundreds of discarded cans littering houses or with a log next to a campsite. When you see how taxing having a realistic-looking battle royale game is for consoles, you start to understand why Fortnite picked its art style.
I’ll mention briefly the system of progression in this title. After games, you get points for performing well and after enough time you can spend them to pick up a loot box. You can also just buy boxes with real money if you don’t want to wait for points to tally up. Inside these boxes lies a cosmetic item. When I opened up my box, I got blue jeans. For players who are hooked on this game, the grind to earn another chance at a shiny new item will be enough to keep them going. However, for more casual players, I can’t see this really incentivising them to play more. To be fair, some of the cosmetics look really nice. It’s a shame that these cosmetic items usually get covered by armor and helmets anyway though.
PUBG is a fun game. The feeling of skulking about, tailing a mark for a few minutes, and then finally making your move and taking their loot is a great sensation. The more realistic weapon handling also sets it apart from other battle royale titles and helps make kills feel impactful. But as fun as it is, it’s not a perfect game. In its current state, the game functions but sacrifices graphical fidelity and performance in order to fit on the console. There are many gameplay problems that stem as a direct result of this compromise as well. So while PUBG is a fun experience, PUBG on PS4 is going to be a mixed bag for most players.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Battle royale is a fun gameplay mode, Gunplay feels meaty and substantial, You’re given a lot of gameplay options.
Technical issues abound, Graphics are sub-par for PS4, Some puzzling gameplay design.