PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds took the world by storm earlier this year when it was released as an ‘Early Access’ title on Steam. Utilizing the Unreal 4 engine, Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene took the earlier mod and game and bumped it up a notch with the help of Korean based publisher Bluehole.
100 players fall from a plane to a battle zone littered with weapons, armour and medical supplies. Forced to confront each other by a continually closing wall of pain, the battle ensues until only one person (or team) remains. This is ‘Battle Royale’.
It’s been a bumpy road, however, to the 1.0 release, something that our very own Salty Gamer discussed back in August. Being that the game was Early Access, there was no point in saying anything further until PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds left Early Access and went to version 1.0.
That time has come.
I’ve logged just over 410 hours with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. About 395 of them would be from the Early Access version of the game, 15 from the ‘full game’. There are people out there with thousands of hours logged, but I feel I’ve logged enough time that my opinions in this review should carry at least a little weight.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is (currently) the best Battle Royale game on the market. The game has an enormous amount of potential and often when playing the game you can see that potential. It’s that potential that will lure you back again and again despite the games many flaws. Teaming up with friends, dropping at your favourite locations and looking for your favourite weapons is a thrill, especially when you’re in a hostile area with the sounds of combat around you and the possibility of a swift death looming.
The exhilaration that comes with defeating your opponents and claiming the now infamous ‘Chicken Dinner’ is euphoric. Sharing stories of ‘that one time’ with friends is gratifying and often humorous.
When the game is performing well you’ll have a blast of a time, no doubt about it. There is a reason I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into this game. It’s enjoyable to play with friends online and even better if you can come together for some squads at a LAN party. While there are a few Chinese knock-offs on the market and the Fortnite alternative (addressed below), nothing really competes with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds at the moment.
Anyone looking for an intense Battle Royale experience should be playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
That being said…
Where to begin? PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was not ready to leave Early Access. While improvements have been made over the months and a number of issues were addressed with the 1.0 patch, plenty of problems do persist.
This is arguably the biggest problem with the game. Latency is rife, rubber banding common and the low tick rate is responsible for deaths that should never have occurred. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds rides a net code roller coaster and I have no idea how or why. Typically after a server reset things will be silky smooth and everything feels in sync, then over time it degrades (in my experiences at least). On the 1.0 launch night the game played exceptionally well and I was excited, here was the experience I had hoped for. Then the servers crashed. All of them. Hard. An hour later they came back online and everything was horrible. It’s almost as if Blue Hole had implemented a new network code for 1.0 but it broke so they rolled it back to an earlier version. It really was day to night in how jarringly different the game performed. Since then it hasn’t improved, in fact it’s gotten worse.
Playing the game last night, things got to a point I just had to stop playing. The rubber banding was constant for me, my squad and the entire server. You couldn’t actually land a shot as people were simply ‘jittering’ around the map. In early versions of the game I had incidents where I literally stood point blank next to an enemy and put five shot gun shells into their head to no avail. Over the months things improved and shots slowly registered more and more, making the game further playable. I started to average two to four kills per game. After the 1.0 crash my friends have watched me empty an entire clip of 7.62 from an AKM into an opponent point blank and have nothing happen. At this point the game is simply unplayable.
A quick Google will also show you that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is using an alarmingly low tick rate. Blizzard’s title Overwatch copped a bashing from PC gamers when it released for the same thing, that game initially running at 30 tick. For those unaware, the ‘tick rate’ is the number of packets of information sent (and received) to the server per second. Ideally these should match the common refresh rate or frame rate for optimal performance, that way what the player sees is what the player gets. This is why most Counter-Strike: Global Offensive servers run at a tick rate of 120 or 144.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds runs at something closer to 17 with dips as low as four and boy does it show. I’ve run at the corner of a house only to fall down dead (for no apparent reason) and then half a second later an enemy has popped around the corner and started firing. Neat.
During Early Access the game suffered from an incredible amount of cheaters using ESP, aim assists and various other hacks. This continued to get worse and worse over time. With 1.0 though I have to say I didn’t see any cheating. So that’s a win. I didn’t put this in ‘Good’ though as it’s something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Despite having left Early Access PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds still has a number of bugs, although I suspect a great many of them are due to the aforementioned net code. We’ve had players enter the game with no clothes, or even no name (instead appearing as #unknown). For those of you with more than one monitor the game gets very upset if you swap out to something else or even bring up the steam overlay while it’s loading into a match; it really demands priority during this time.
There is a myriad of little things you’ll encounter while playing as well, such as trees, rocks, concrete barriers and the like floating in mid-air. Weapons and ammunition inside walls or furniture. The player getting stuck inside said furniture. Some are humorous, some are quaint, but none of them are really acceptable in a ‘full version’ title.
I purchased Fortnite when there was no Battle Royale mode included. The idea of building bases, going on missions with friends and killing zombies in a PvE environment was hugely appealing and I sunk many, many hours into the game. The Battle Royale mode Epic released for free was designed to cut the legs off PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and it’s definitely had an impact, particularly on consoles. While it is a Battle Royale game, it doesn’t play quite like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds; the map is smaller, the visuals more ‘cartoony’, the weapons are fictitious and the game has an overall ‘arcade’ feel to it. None of these are bad things inherently, but it does mean that some players are going to prefer the more ‘realistic’ look and feel of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The $0 price tag, far more stable engine, fewer cheaters and overall more polished product are definitely going to lure people away however. Even if you are an ardent PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds fan, with the free entry you’d be mad to not at least take a look at the competition.
Personally I suspect the Battle Royale mode in Fortnite is a litmus test for a bigger and better product which hasn’t been announced yet. Epic have mentioned previously that “Fortnite would make a great foundation for our own version” and that “Epic’s Unreal Tournament team began experimenting with the mode while the original Fortnite team kept updating the core game”. In short, don’t be surprised at all if we see a more advanced Battle Royale game in the near future from the Unreal Tournament team.
Fix your net code. Fix your net code. Fix your bloody net code.
The console release was a farce; between the terrible net code and horrible frame rate players chuckled to themselves and went back to playing Fortnite. Typically the PC version of the game has three million players at any one time online, the truth though is that about 2.5 million of them are from China. Once Tencent adapt the game for Chinese audiences and host their own servers you’re going to see a dramatic drop in players. Couple this with looming competition and the only way PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has a chance of survival is to fix their net code.
When the net code is having a ‘good day’ PlayerUknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had on PC. Most of the time though it’s a frustrating mess. As such it’s a pretty bi-polar experience and makes it very hard to accurately score.
Ultimately though, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a unique experience that I feel that all PC gamers should try at least once. If you don’t want to take the plunge and purchase the game then perhaps have a go on a friends setup or head down to an internet cafe and check it out.
If Bluehole can fix the net code this score will go up sharply. As it stands though…
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is available now on Steam – http://store.steampowered.com/app/578080/PLAYERUNKNOWNS_BATTLEGROUNDS/