By far the most stressful form of relaxation I’ve ever experienced

Developer: PUBG Corporation (Formerly Bluehole Inc)

Available on: PC, Xbox One, Mobile

Released: December 20th 2017

Genre(s): Battle Royale

For the best preview of the game, this fan-made cinematic trailer is your best bet. It captures the tension and action brilliantly.

Even the splash screen gets my heart rate up a little bit

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which shall henceforth be referred to as PUBG to save my keyboard some unnecessary hammering, has been a massive time sink in my life recently. It’s fair to say that PUBG is the grand-daddy of Battle Royale titles and its massive success has likely inspired the development of countless similar games.  I recently broke the 200 hour mark, but each and every match feels like the first one all over again. My heart beats faster, my hands shake, and I’ve already clicked ‘play again’.

But let me back track a few steps, and explain what it is I’m talking about here. Imagine you’re strapped into a ridiculously loud plane with a hundred strangers. After you’ve muted the obscene voice chat, you notice that passengers are dropping out of the plane and falling toward an island below. Suddenly, you see the counter in the top right of the screen. 100 alive. As you land and find yourself a gun, so do the other hundred players in the game. Shots fire, bombs go off, the counter ticks down as bodies fall. That’s really all there is to it – a hundred man conflict of which there can be only one survivor. It starts out as a maelstrom of battle and ends in a tense standoff between the last few. The last man standing receives a hell of a rush, a screen that inexplicably says ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner’, and one more victory in their stats.

Pictured: the usual survivor. Low visibilty means low death rate.

What draws me back to PUBG over and over again is that pure feeling of tension and adrenaline. Out of the hundreds of games I’ve played, me (or my squad) have only won a few. I can happily admit that this is mostly down to me being crap, and enjoying stupid tactics and brave plays over tactics, but it doesn’t really matter. Making it to the top ten players in a game is enough to set my heart racing and my eyes darting side to side like a cornered animal. When it’s 2:00am and you should really be going to bed, you just don’t. You’re buzzing too much. By the time I’ve calmed down and said ‘shall we play another’, my friends have already queued it up, and then suddenly it’s 3:00am.

In terms of the actual gameplay, you can tell that Brendan Greene (Player Unknown himself) started out modding Arma. It is a slightly stiff realistic third person shooter which has all the crouching, leaning and vaulting you would expect from such a title. Other than the whole ‘kill or be killed’ thing, the game’s other main feature is an enormous blue circle of electricity. It slowly constricts and forces all of the players together lest they die slowly, and encourages them to instead die quickly. From bullets. It also means that you spend a lot of the game running across fields or around hills. I’d rather be on foot than driving one of PUBG’s many vehicles, which handle like absolute arse and bounce around like they were designed by Wile-E-Coyote.

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Sure it looks good, but hit a pebble in this thing and you’ll be in orbit within 10 seconds

Bashing on the buggies and motorbikes in this game is a fairly easy joke that I feel slightly guilty for. They’re the bastard children of the great Player Unknown that he just can’t seem to shake. For most of its lifetime, PUBG has been released as an early access title. That means it’s had a continuous string of updates and overhauls and other words that developers like to throw around to tide over raging mobs of gamers. In credit to them, the wheels have been tuned a number of times. They now drive and bounce a little less temperamentally, handling more like vehicles and less like drunk kangaroos. Other notable additions include the revelation of vaulting, which added another layer of strategy to the game as players began climbing buildings and dropping death from above. Since its launch, there have been several weapons added as well. Unfortunately, the most powerful of these are only found in the crates that randomly drop onto the bloodstained island, crates that I’m often too cowardly to try and plunder.

The guns themselves, though, feel fantastic. As soon as you get one in your hands, you feel dangerous while you’re loading up your first magazine. It could be because you’ve spent a few minutes sneaking around as everyone else geared up, and now you have some form of defence. Or it could be because there’s another player chasing you with a crowbar, and you can finally turn around and drop him from the game. Or it could be because it’s just you and your partner in this building, and you’ve seen another duo land at the building just across the street. The first one to arm up has the advantage, and only one side can win. You load up, you let rip, and someone is dead. Usually, it’s me.

I’m not an expert in weapons by any standard. I live in Britain, after all, where most people have never even seen a real working firearm in person. As far as video game weapons go, though, PUBG does them well. The snipers snipe, the assault rifles assault, and the shotguns either completely suck or completely blow your target’s face off. Once you’ve played a couple of dozen games though you’ll quickly default to an assault rifle as your weapon of choice, which just feels a bit lame to me. It’s just the most convenient, since you can’t predict if your enemies will appear in a doorway six feet away or on a hillside six miles away. It’s the metaphorical vanilla in a world of exotic ice creams.

Loosely translates to ‘hello’ in the subtle language of PUBG

As you can see from the couple of pictures, the game looks decent. To me, that’s not a massively important factor in how much I enjoy a game. With the technology available in this day and age, I’m actually more surprised when a game manages to look bad. Looking good these days isn’t really something noteworthy, is what I’m saying. The game runs fairly well on high settings on my mid-range PC, which is something that matters to me. It does get a bit choppy at times when there’s a lot kicking off, a time when it should ideally be as smooth as possible. If I dropped the settings a bit though, it wouldn’t be as prominent, but I like my visual effects detailed and my view distance high. I’m fussy.

While I’m talking graphics, I might as well touch on audio a little. In the third line of the second paragraph of this article, I flippantly mentioned the game’s voice chat. Frustratingly, yet predictably, the game’s lobby and the first minute or so is just polluted with racial slurs, mindless yelling or pounding trance music. I’ve had the in game VOIP chat muted since I first bought the game and only ever un-mute it to shout through windows and beg for mercy. That’s inevitable when you pack a hundred people together with the sole objective of killing each other. The rest of the sound is fantastic, though. When you’re shooting at a target, you hear the gun’s meaty bang. And then you get shot in the head, because someone else also definitely heard it. Whenever I’m looting up and somebody starts taking pot shots at me, I jump out of my skin. I hear the bullets crack past my ears and land in the walls. Instantly, it’s action time. Explosions, car engines, footsteps, it’s all there and all functions as well as you can expect. I can’t comment on the  music, which I turn all the way down to hear the explosions, car engines and footsteps.

It may be a promotional image, but it’s not a far cry from PUBG’s reality

I’d 100% say that the best way to play PUBG is with a friend. The game offers solo, duo, and squads of 4 as possible game modes. When I’m on my own, I get jumped easily and panic and end up dead. I can count my solo victories on one hand (4). In a squad game, I think it’s too chaotic. If you splinter away from your teammates to loot a building a short distance away, it can all go to pot quite quickly. It only takes a second for a full squad to arrive in a jeep, surround you or rush you out; your squad just can’t react quick enough. Playing in a pair is just right. You’ve only got one person to communicate with, only one person to look out for, and you’ve always got a friend with a gun watching your back.

My main peeve with PUBG is the fucking loot boxes. For months, the only sense of progression you got from the game was purchasing boxes. Every game, you receive some credits. The better you do, the more you get. The more credits, the more boxes you can buy. In these boxes were all kinds of cosmetic items from the very dull beige cargo pants to the much coveted leather jacket. The game was released officially, and at some point there were new loot boxes introduced. These new boxes require keys to be unlocked. Keys that can only be purchased with real, actual money. I gave these the benefit of the doubt, and bought a couple of keys to unlock these first special crates I got. My reward was two pairs of the same dull shoes. Since then, I think probably 3 or 4 of the dozens of crates I’ve bought have been ones I can open for free. To me, it seems like a greedy move to just stick players for an extra few pounds.

However frustrating that is, however many gripes I have, and however many times I scream ‘Bullshit’ into my microphone when I’m instantly killed from ten miles away, PUBG is just incredibly good. The last few months it has really been the main game I’ve played on PC, which is weird. I usually like my shooters and action games on console, and save my desktop for strategy games and RPGs. Even when I’m stupidly busy with real life, I manage to find a few hours a week to jump on with my squad and bang out a few games. That speaks for itself, as most other games I’ve played recently keep my attention for a few days at most. For PUBG, it’s been months. And I’m still going. And I’m still shaking from the near-win I had three days ago.

As always, cool guys don’t look at explosions

To buy the game, discover more about it, and browse reviews better than mine – visit the official site here.