Posted December 31, 2017 by Andrew Cathie in Feature

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Xbox One Review-in-Progress

I’ve already spoken above my love for, and addiction to, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds while the game was still in Early Access on Steam. While I’ve never been a massive fan of online shooters, the stripping back of mechanics compared to other survival games and the tension built throughout a match hooked me. While I love playing games on PC, not everyone does, and so a large contingent of gamers were left out as the Battlegrounds craze swept the world. With the Game Preview release of the game, Xbox One owners now have the chance to drop from planes and attempt to win that elusive chicken dinner. While the wonderful tension of the game has come across to Xbox One, a new kind of tension has also surfaced, thanks to a myriad of technical issues and poor controls.

In reality, while this isn’t a full 1.0 release of the game, the fact that it’s already being sold in stores puts it into an unusual and confusing position. While others might feel that the Game Preview banner should soften some criticism towards the game, my belief is that putting it out in a form that allows someone completely unfamiliar with games to buy it under the pretence of it being complete vetos that argument. While I won’t issue a score as part of this review, I won’t hold any punches and will critique the game as I would any other game I could pick up from a shelf at JB Hi-Fi and purchase.

For those who somehow haven’t heard of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, often shortened to PUBG, the game is a third/first-person survival shooter where you fight against up to 99 other players to be the last one standing. Unlike other survival shooters there is no crafting in Battlegrounds, instead all weapons, armour and items are found within the game world. As a match progresses, and you presumably stay alive, a wall of murderous electricity periodically constricts in, cutting off large swathes of the 8x8km map and forcing players towards each other. What this means, assuming you don’t get luck and happen to be in a position that requires no movement, is that you have to constantly be on the move, never knowing when another player is going to pop up around you. Knowing you have to move, but also knowing that any movement brings you closer to that single death that will end your run, brings about an electrifying tension that is unbelievable and is unlike any other game.

This tension is both solidified and aided by shooting mechanics reminiscent of military shooters like ARMA. There’s no hitscan here – where bullets transcend the laws of physics and magically hit an opponent as soon as the trigger is pulled – instead you have to account for the time bullets takes to reach an opponent and the effects of gravity on their trajectory. In long range shootouts this means that you effectively have to gauge your opponents distance from yourself and position prior to shooting, instead of simply pulling the trigger. This brings an extra level of thought and strategy to shooting, but also means that a certain level of precision is required from the controls. While precision is relatively simple on PC thanks to using a mouse, it’s another story on Xbox One. Controllers simply don’t have the same precision as a mouse and the game suffers to a degree because of this, but they certainly don’t make the game unplayable. The lack of precision just means you need to adapt your playstyle and fiddle with the sensitivity until you find the settings that feel good to you, but the control scheme is just plain frustrating.

By nature, Battlegrounds utilises a pretty large number of buttons to map its myriad of actions to. With the limited number of buttons on a controller, most have had multiple actions mapped to them to make sure nothing is left behind. Unfortunately, this makes the control scheme confusing right out of the gate, especially because there is no way to view it in the game until you have actually gotten into a match and have no way to customise it. While some may like to jump into first person mode while in a third person game, I’d much prefer to be able to remap that button to something else. Want to change the left trigger so that holding it down looks down iron sights instead of the slightly zoomed in cursor? Too bad, you’re stuck with the controls the way they are. When the PC version sports fully customisable key mapping, I’m confused as to why the developers have decided that the console version must have locked in and inflexible controls.

Every match of Battlegrounds, at least at launch on the Xbox One, takes place on the massive 8x8km island of Erangel. The island is a relatively lush environment, with large swathes of trees, bushes, fields and farmland. There are ample places to hide within it, including the hundreds of abandoned building scattered across it. The vastness of the map is impressive by itself, but less impressive is the graphical standard of the current build. While this has already improved with updates to the game, and will continue to be improved as it works its way to a full 1.0 release, there is no doubt that some with be disappointed by its presentation. Textures lack detail compared compared to their PC counterparts and jagged edges are prominent everywhere. This is further compounded on the Xbox One S release, where everything takes a further hit. While the PC version isn’t the best-looking game out there, the current build on Xbox One is downright ugly at times.

Unfortunately, the Xbox One release of the game brings about a brand-new tension of not knowing when the game will slow down, begin lagging or crash completely. While the game has released under the Game Preview banner – the Xbox One equivalent of Steam’s Early Access – the poor performance is still shocking. Running on an Xbox One S the game regularly suffers from framerate drops, regardless of whether anything is happening on screen or not. At the same time, while the game now has Oceanic servers, there are still issues with network lag and desync, resulting in periods where you completely lose control of your character or are flung back a second or two in time. Worst of all though, are the hard crashes. They occur with relative regularity, generally once or twice within 10 games, and with no warning. While you always have the option of rejoining the game you were in prior to the crash, the 30+ second load times mean you may already be dead by the time you can jump back in. This is further compounded by infinite loads that occasionally occur when opening the game. While the very essence of the Game Preview program is that its filled with unfinished games, Battlegrounds’ performance is bad even by those standards. It feels like the game was released much earlier than it should have been, perhaps to capatilise on its current zeitgeist, instead of polishing the game to an acceptable level first.

In the end, despite the multiple flaws in the current release of the game, it’s still an utterly unique and amazing game experience. There is nothing quite like it and no other shooter has come close to matching the emotions it evokes within me as I play. The thrill of the hunt takes hold completely in game and the strategic thinking required to determine when to push forwards and pull back keeps the game from being another mindless shooter. Instead of feeling done with the game as I die over and over, instead I find myself reflecting on what I could do differently in the future and jump into another match. Every death is frustrating and deflating, but its matched by the scintillating and satisfying kills you pull off. Nothing else comes close to the tension I feel as I land in a busy area, frantically searching for any gun I can use to fight off those in my immediate vicinity. I can’t, in good faith, recommend the game to Xbox gamers in its current state, but if/when the technical issues are ironed out? I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Andrew Cathie

Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.