It has been just under nine months since PUBG hit Steam in Early Access. Developed and published by PUBG Corp. (a subsidiary of Korea-based Bluehole), it has come a long way since the initial release on PC.
We're now at version 1.0 and things still aren't perfect, but is it all bad? And is it worth spending money on if you don't happen to be one of the millions who already own a copy? We spent some time with the test builds and have put together our thoughts ahead of the live version rollout.
The long drop
Steam was once a quiet town with CS:GO and DOTA 2 reigning supreme, topping the player count charts time after time. That is until PUBG hit the scene in Early Access in March 2017. Just nine months later, after breaking the highest concurrent player count record, we have version 1.0 — leaving Early Access — with some improvements and a new desert map.
Even if you're not a fan of the game, there's no denying it has had a massive impact on the gaming world. If you're unfamiliar with PUBG, it's all about the gameplay, known as "Battle Royale." Take a bunch of people, throw them onto an island packed full of loot, shrink the available land in timed waves and see who becomes the last man (or woman) standing. You can go in alone, be part of a duo, or even a four-man squad.
The game was not the first to utilize this highly-addictive formula, nor will it be the last, with numerous competitors launching in an attempt to tap into the lucrative sub-genre. Unfortunately for other developers, the experience of PUBG is easy to replicate but difficult to perfect. Even PUBG Corp. has yet to perfect its own creation, but that hasn't halted the company from launching the game on Xbox One X.
PUBG makes full use of two massive maps, and by massive I mean 16 kilometers. It literally requires around an hour to make it from one side to the other on foot. And because the plane dropping you into the maps spawns randomly, you only have some degree of choice as to where to start. This is where the journey begins. Each game plays out differently, which is what makes gamers keep returning for more. An no two drops are ever the same.
Even after hundreds of playthroughs, the maps never feel boring, since the use of all-human competitors keep things like loot runs and action hotspots from becoming a chore. You can run across a field one game perfectly fine and lose your head the next thanks to a camped sniper. No strategy works every time, either. Since loot is generated randomly, that perfect drop location you had last night may not pay off again.
And that brings me to the threat of termination. You're constantly tense, even with a squad of three capable mates to watch your back. It only takes a wrong turn or hesitation to switch to a weapon and return fire to send you to the lobby. And it only worsens the further you make it, with the size of the map shrinking from 16 kilometers down to just a few hundred meters. This is the high-risk, high-reward endgame where everyone wants to make every shot count.
I want me some chicken dinner and ain't nobody going to stand in my way. #PUBG pic.twitter.com/Wpb8szDC1QI want me some chicken dinner and ain't nobody going to stand in my way. #PUBG pic.twitter.com/Wpb8szDC1Q— Rich Edmonds (@RichEdmonds) December 18, 2017December 18, 2017
Different weapons come with their own unique feel, which you grow accustomed to and eventually arrange a list of favorites. Only two can be carried at any given time, alongside a sidearm and grenades. The developers are continuously rebalancing damage and other factors when it comes to firepower and wearable equipment, which you will need to bear in mind when calculating shots and what guns you should use for various situations.
But you don't have to engage in ranged combat if you don't feel like it. You could hold out in a bathroom with nothing other than a shotgun and hope for the best. However, be warned, this is frowned upon within the community and other survivors will gladly blast you back to the title screen for "not having balls." Speaking of which, you'll want to keep the in-game chat disabled.
Not ready for esports
PUBG isn't the prettiest game around, nor does it push gaming boundaries. What the development team has achieved is improve on an already established concept and help create an incredibly popular sub-genre. The newer desert map does have more variation of buildings, better terrain textures and enhanced level of detail (LOD) for distant textures, but it still has nothing on Destiny 2 or even GTA V. Weapons, however, look good and feel weighty.
The lobby for Erangel (first PUBG map) is outright ugly. This is an area PUBG Corp. will likely invest time and resources in, as well as enhancing the map itself. It's by no means a priority when compared to optimizations and balancing, but it's something I would have liked to see prior to a 1.0 gold release. What I do like about the game is how bushes and other foliage are always visible, which aids in hiding in concealed spots waiting to pick off players.
Other features like a better spectator mode are required before PUBG makes it to the big stage. The company behind the game has already dipped its toe into live tournaments, but I'm doubtful it'll capture an audience if there aren't serious improvements made. Esports support in PUBG feels a little forced for the time being, but it's something I reckon will end up taking shape eventually.
The game still has many issues, performance being one of them.
For streamers, PUBG is excellent. It allows the streamer to craft a story with each playthrough and is incredibly enjoyable to watch the ups and downs of capable players. But that's mostly down to Battle Royale gameplay elements, rather than innovations made by PUBG Corp. Lastly, there are still many bugs in the game, including match-breaking ones that cause your character to get stuck in the ground.
Don't bother running this game on a system that only just meets the required specifications. You'll likely have a poor experience, and even more powerful machines can sometimes struggle.
Best of the bad(ass) bunch
Battle Royale games are very similar by nature, but they play differently. PUBG offers the best experience to date, but it's far from perfect. Even at 1.0, there are serious issues still plaguing players, including instability, inconsistent gameplay and lack of polish. This is something that's (hopefully) likely to change with future patches and further development, but with the push for esports and console support, we could be in for a long ride.
That doesn't detract from the highly-addictive experience offered by PUBG that will ensure you keep coming back for more, even if you win a few chicken dinners or are left to fight over leftover scraps.
- Excellent replayability.
- Fun with friends.
- Addictive gameplay.
- Poor optimization.
- It's not pretty.
- Loot crates.
If you want to be the last man (or woman) standing and wish to play a game closely resembling Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, you'll be hard pressed to find a better game than PUBG, for now. Things could change in the full 1.0 final release, which launches tomorrow, so I'll revisit this review and follow-up with our experiences post-launch, but I don't expect things to hange drastically.
This review was conducted on a PC with an Intel Core i5-6600K (overclocked to 4.6GHz), GTX 1070, 16GB RAM, installed on a solid-state drive (SSD). The copy was purchased by the author.
Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.