USS Pennsylvania accompanied by an additional battleship and three cruisers steam into Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, 1945
PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is a third-person battle-royale shooter that pits 100 players against each other in a fight to the death. After parachuting onto an 8x8km island, players must scavenge guns and equipment to survive in an ever-shrinking play area. PLAYERUNKNOWN is the moniker of Brendan Greene, creator of the DayZ: Battle Royale mod, and more recently a consultant for Sony Online Entertainment’s H1Z1: King of the Kill. For BATTLEGROUNDS, Greene is leading Korean Bluehole, Inc. as Creative Director, and vowing to bring about the “final version” of the Battle Royale concept.
At time of writing PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is in Early Access, so take the following comments and criticisms with a grain of salt. That being said, this fucker cost me $29.99 USD on Steam with no guarantee it’ll ever hit version 1.0, so I feel pretty entitled to critique it, despite the typical early access warnings about game quality. The game has crashed about a half dozen times for me over about 50 hours, and there are assorted visual and audio bugs that leave the game feeling pretty rough around the edges. Sounds frequently glitch and distort, releasing the free look button while prone will cause your character to breakdance 90 degrees giving your position away, and sometimes the game will tell you you’re taking damage for no reason with a loud BLAP noise and a splattering of blood over the screen that scares the shit out of me every time. Unless you have a godlike rig you might have to turn some of the graphics options down for smooth frames too.
Despite all of this, BATTLEGROUNDS is still one of the most compelling gaming experiences of 2017. The game takes expansive war simulator experiences like Arma and distils them into accessible half-hour portions. A round starts with all 100 players travelling across the map in the back of a plane. Players can choose when to jump out and parachute down to earth to a location of their choice. Will you head to a juicy town or military base that’s packed with loot but full of other players? Or will you try to avoid an early death, and subsist on the slim pickings of random shacks and homesteads. The choice is up to you, and it’s that type of tactical freedom that will keep you coming back. When you get fragged in BATTLEGROUNDS, it often feels like it was for a reason; Maybe you got cheeky and ran across an open field instead of skirting the treeline, or you lingered too long scavenging the inventory of a fallen opponent. There’s always something to improve, and it’s satisfying to feel like you’re progressing towards that #1 spot.
The map is large enough to feel properly expansive, but full enough of players to feel constantly dangerous. The kill-or-be-killed nature of BATTLEGROUNDS creates some real adrenaline rushes and entire games are won or lost in a split second out of the blue. The tension is palpable as you navigate the game’s landscapes and buildings, hoping to get into cover before hearing the zip of incoming bullets. Gearing up feels great as you find bulletproof vests, helmets, sidearms, weapon attachments, and ammunition randomly strewn across the island. You’ll have to adapt your playstyle to complement the weapons and supplies you find, as well as deciding how much you’ll risk to get better gear. If you don’t want to face the challenges of the battleground alone, you can also play with 1 to 3 other friends against other groups of players. The cooperative modes are a heap of fun and it’s always a hoot when you pull off a well coordinated plan with your mates.
Gushing aside, some parts of BATTLEGROUNDS are fucking heinous. The choice to put this game in third person, for example, was a serious misstep. The third person camera allows players to see their environment without risking exposure. Laying prone behind below a window, behind a tree, or beside a rock gives players total invulnerability while allowing them to survey their surroundings. On the receiving end, this means getting shot from a position you had no chance of anticipating time and time again. Third person mode discourages movement and action, both of which can alert hidden enemies to your location and end your chance of a win instantly. With third person camera enabled, a winning tactic seems to be to sticking close to the edge of the circle, constantly remaining in cover, and refraining from engaging enemies. This can make for some late game battles that seem pretty arbitrary. Since each new safe zone is randomly determined, most BATTLEGROUNDS endgames will see you forced to charge over an open field to be gunned down by some prick hiding behind rocks. You didn’t have any chance of seeing them, and they weren’t force to move at all. It’s also unlikely the game will be restricted to first person any time soon, because part of BATTLEGROUNDS’ mass appeal is that a lot of players seem to really prefer third person.
But despite all that shit, BATTLEGROUNDS is still pretty fucking fun. The moments when a play comes together makes all those indignities, bugs, and instant deaths worth it. There’s really quite a lot to love with BATTLEGROUNDS, and enough to keep you coming back even in its current state to justify the purchase price. With over two million copies sold on Steam, it seems likely that the game will continue to be developed for some time. At the moment the game is overflowing with players which means that even after the most heartbreaking loss, you’re only a few minutes away from parachuting in again. If you’re into shooters or battle royale type games, consider picking BATTLEGROUNDS up. If you’ve got a group of friends on PC who are looking for an intense new challenge, consider it too. BATTLEGROUNDS is definitely not the most polished game I’ve ever played, but it’s definitely one of the most fun.