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Preview – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Early Release games are often fraught with peril. They offer a glimpse into the maddening design processes that games require in order to take off the rough edges. Sometimes they have considerably more rough than smooth. Sometimes they get stuck in a never-ending alpha / beta cycle that fails to materialise into a finished product. Sometimes they quietly slip into their v1.0 public release and they still feel like they could’ve done with a lot more polishing.

Sometimes though, they capture an idea that overcomes a significant amount of rough because the experience is visceral enough for you to overlook the early release shortcomings. For me, a very real example of this would be Project CARS. The PC was crying out for a really good, really pretty racing game at the time and a very early release from Slightly Mad Studios was enough to captivate me, and there was a bonus in that they delivered a finished game to boot.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds holds a lot of that promise for me as well. It’s got a very solid foundation, its DNA can be traced back to a Japanese Novel released in 1999 titled Battle Royale. The idea is simple. 100 Players are dropped onto an island with nothing, have to scavenge for weapons and supplies, and all the while the play area is shrinking, and certain parts of the island are fire bombed to oblivion. Your only job is to survive and be the last player standing at the end of the round, having out-lasted 99 other players with the same idea in mind. Sounds straightforward, eh?

Games last from about 2 minutes (if you’re the unlucky one) to about 30 for the final few, and it’s an intense experience, especially if you’re playing in a duo or squad type round and you’ve made it into the last 25 survivors for a round.

This is how it all begins…
You get a sense of Scale as you plummet towards a building with (hopefully) good loot…

It’s early access, so I’m not going to properly review this game at the moment, and here’s why:

  • It’s poorly optimised at the current release. I’ve got a i7-6700k @ 4.5GHz and a 980Ti with a mild overclock and I get some serious jitter on my rig. It’s annoying as hell, but this is part of the early-release experience. You grin, bear it and wait for the next release.
  • They’re not accepting micro-transaction money at the moment. Once they start doing that, I’m going to treat it as a proper game, like I did with War Thunder back in the day. At the moment, there’s going to be a mechanism for micro-transactions, but it’s not activated.

So, as a preview summary:

Every dash could be your last if you’ve not got your wits about you…

Good bits:

  • It’s intense, from the moment you leave the plane to the moment you win or die.
  • Every encounter has weight, it’s visceral. And you never really know which way it’s going to go.
  • 100 Player maps! That’s mental!
  • Friendly fire is most definitely on. That means you’ve got to be careful in the duo or group games. Yes, I’ve killed Nic once or twice, but he was asking for it to be fair.
  • Working with your team when you’re in a duo or group game is just the best.
  • The ever decreasing play area on your map forces you to think fast, move carefully and keep your wits about you.
And the map shrinks pretty quickly too. The white circle is the reduced play area…

Bad bits:

  • If you’re out in the open, it’s pretty easy to fall prey to the more savvy players with long range weapons. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been sniped whilst crossing a field.
  • It’s difficult to spot where incoming fire is coming from. This also leads to many quick deaths whilst conducting routine things.
  • The cost of unlocking supply crates which give you permanent clothing for your character is punishingly high. There’s no way casual players will be able to unlock new items regularly without resorting to micro-transactions on top of a $35 game cost.
  • If the current build is jittery on a good rig, I dread to think how it’ll be handled on a mid-range or budget gaming rig, unless it’s my network card mullering the experience for me.

Phew. So, there you go. This is one to keep an eye on, for sure. Whilst it’s poorly optimised on PC at the moment, it’s definitely a full on experience which doesn’t have a lot of company out there at the moment. H1Z1 King of the Kill is the major competition, which PlayerUnknown also worked on before branching out into this. Nic has reliably informed me that it’s a bit more polished, but also arcadey in its approach. Battlegrounds has a nice feel to the gunplay, a bit closer to ARMA without being overly sim-like in the approach.

If you know what you’re signing up for in pre-release (unfinished) gaming purchases, I’d say give this one a hoon. After all, it’s only going to get better as it heads towards v1.0, right?!

– Dave

FYI – You’ll see this screen. A lot…
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Gaming & Technology Editor at The Empire Digital Media Ltd.
Gadget fiend, maker of beer, technology enthusiast, and Dad of three, Dave enjoys trying to protect expensive gadgets from the destructive power of tiny people, and frequently fails.

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