PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Review

By Kevin Tavore, 1 month ago
“Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” It’s an old idiom that sends an important message. If you and I were to take a hike through Yosemite, it’d be all too easy to focus on all the little details that hindered the experience. After a full day of hiking, we’d be tired, hungry and aching. We’d have passed thousands of rocks, trees and bushes, each of which as nondescript as the rest and certainly no different than those on the side of the highway fifty miles outside of the park. You might say the experience wasn’t worth it, or that it didn’t offer you anything you hadn’t seen a hundred times before. You’d be wrong; you’d have missed the forest for the trees. The beauty of Yosemite isn’t in its individual pieces. It’s in the entire experience and the way all those pieces come together to create a one-of-a-kind majestic panorama that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. You may see where I’m going with this now, but I’ll spell it out for you just in case. When you play PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees and if you do, you’ll miss the most wonderful multiplayer experience in a generation.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Let’s get the negatives out of the way. PUBG is riddled with an alarming amount of bugs and other issues. The physics engine isn’t consistent and that’ll get you killed when your motorcycle flips out after hitting gravel the wrong way. Molotov cocktails are notoriously ineffective when used as intended but are extremely useful as performance bombs that drop your opponents’ framerates down to single digits. Beware dropping items for your friends, as they can have a tendency to fall through the ground. You can shoot through some surfaces but not other similar surfaces. The game has trouble loading buildings on standard Xbox Ones so you’ll get stuck in walls or run through them and have an unfair advantage. And there are a bounty of other bugs riddled so thoroughly through the game it makes Elder Scrolls look good. These issues matter very much, but they don’t ruin the game. They don’t change what makes it so special.

PUBG’s success comes through its storytelling. Mark wrote an op-ed on this kind of “emergent storytelling” a while ago that was spot-on. PUBG is a game with no story whatsoever. The game never gives you any context to explain why you’re jumping out of a plane onto an island to kill everyone. But it still tells a story: your story. PUBG is one of a few games to successfully make each game you play feel totally unique in a way that’s memorable and captivating. It pulls you in and keeps you playing and playing, always chasing that next story.

Anyone who’s played a reasonable amount of time will have stories they can tell you about it. I’ll pass by landmarks and remember “that’s the time we ramped our motorcycle over a hill and almost pulled off a double backflip before dying in a fiery crash,” “that’s the tree I hid behind when I killed a squad of three all alone to win the game” or “that’s where I bridge-camped with an M249 and managed to get eight kills before someone took me out.” These stories may not sound like anything special, but when you’ve lived them, they are. This type of storytelling manages to create a world over time that’s filled not just with objects, but with fond memories of all the fun you’ve had. Even when you die to some utterly outrageous bug, something that would normally fill you with rage at having wasted twenty minutes in any other game, in PUBG you’ll recognize that that’s just the game you’re playing and it’ll go down as one more memory to help make the game special.

PUBG

PUBG’s storytelling is so successful in part due to the game’s intensity. When you first start playing, there is nothing like the feeling of making it late into the game to potentially get a win. You’ll be literally shaking as you get down to the final two or three and will probably die your first few times as your heart tries to beat out of your chest and you can’t hold the controller tightly. A teammate of mine wore a heart rate monitor while playing just out of curiosity and the results showed dramatic spikes corresponding to big firefights and endgame runs. In PUBG, you’ll quite literally feel the physical effects of the excitement and intensity that the gameplay brings, and the people you live with will too, when you come into the bedroom after playing your final game of the night, which ended in a win, to proudly proclaim “I’m so f***ing pumped.” I did, and I was.

The game is designed from the ground up to be intense. Each game begins with you dropping out of a plane and parachuting to a location to begin scouring buildings for random loot. You’ll probably encounter other players to kill as you do so, and if you’re skilled or lucky you’ll come out of it all stocked and ready to go to the next town. As the game progresses, you build up your arsenal with the weapons you want and hopefully the attachments you need to get the job done, all the while pushed by an ever-closing boundary that ensures everyone will eventually meet each other on the battlefield.

screens

In theory, looting constantly and occasionally killing someone doesn’t sound all that fun, and on paper it probably shouldn’t be. But it is here due to all the effort it takes and how fun these weapons can be to use. It feels great to spend twenty minutes looting the military base, rolling out with a fully-kitted weapon complete with a silencer. As you drive toward the circle, you’ll be imagining all the devastation you’re capable of causing with your weapons. When you finally get to the circle with other players nearby, you’ll be careful and precise, knowing that any misstep might end in your death and the premature demise of all the building potential generated over the past half hour. That threat of death is the fuel for the game’s intensity and it just works.

The storytelling, intensity and game design come together to create an experience where every match is completely unique. With the circle shrinking to randomized landmarks, you’ll always have a new battlefield to fight in and new strategies you can employ. Even if you hot drop Pochinki every single game because you don’t know any better, those games will always end in entirely new and exciting ways. It creates a game that’s constantly refreshing and, most importantly, fun.

As far as achievements go, they’ll all come through natural play if you play long enough. It's a standard list of milestones not unseen in multiplayer games. Have fun trying to boost them if you want, but it won’t be necessary. Just play and enjoy what’s before you and don’t forget the forest.

Check out our Best Xbox MMOs Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Approaching a review for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is difficult. It’s not that the game doesn’t have a laundry list of flaws to point out or an easy-to-describe gameplay structure. Nor is it that there is some degree of ambiguity regarding the game’s strengths and weaknesses. At its core, it is a simple game wracked with a multitude of performance issues and questionable design decisions worthy of significant criticism. But to discuss the game only through the lens of a faux-objective critique of each and every aspect of the game would entirely miss everything that makes the game so wonderful. We are, after all, talking about a game that catapulted the battle royale genre from total obscurity into a genre that’s astronomically more popular than any other. A game doesn’t succeed in that without merit, and PUBG has it by offering a level of storytelling and gameplay intensity that is absolutely unmatched. PUBG is admittedly a game that’s poorly designed in many ways and sometimes even non-functional. It’s also admittedly one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life.
5 / 5
Positives
  • A unique experience each time you play
  • Gameplay culminates in an intensity unlike other games
  • Storytelling through the player’s own experiences fills the maps with memorable landmarks
Negatives
  • Countless bugs that really should have been fixed
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately over 280 hours fighting, dying, sneaking, looting and eating chicken dinners. The game was played using both an Xbox One X and Xbox One S. A download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.