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PUBG (PS4) – Review
A dingy restaurant serving the best chicken dinner in town, so they say
If you happen to listen in to dia.log – The Gamer Matters Podcast, you might notice that the crew here are not a fan of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). More evident seen on the site is last year’s Best of 2017 Awards which PUBG won both Most Overrated Game and the Community’s Choice For Game Of The Year. Which may or may not be why both categories did not return for this year’s GOTY Awards.
We also made a vow, to at least try PUBG and see for ourselves if it’s as good as people say or as bad as we thought. Now that it is released on PS4, we checked it out.
Short answer is: PUBG jumps out of the aeroplane and lands dab in the middle.
Let’s get this out of the way. It looks bad, worse than the unpolished PC version. It’s targeting 30fps but the framerate stutters wildly when there’s too many people close to each other and especially seen when you transition from the waiting lobby to the aeroplane for your initial drop into the island.
The draw distance is laughably bad that you can see only roads and streets while still dropping into the many islands and the next second buildings erect out of nowhere. I can’t tell if the level of detail (LOD) streaming is bad or the textures are too murky by default that I took too long to see that a blob of black in colour was supposed to be a rock.
It undermines the whole concept of battle royale where spotting potential enemies from afar is vital.
And it doesn’t help that it has bad anti-aliasing, making the tall grass in these lush maps look like mush, making it even hard to discern whether that pixel in front of you is an enemy or another bloody rock.
Sometimes, when the matchmaking is done and drops you into a lobby, the camera will either tilt down or up continuously, or worse just rotate on its own until you touch the analog stick. Also, the game offers loot crates and cosmetics (more on that later) but the UI and UX of buying crates and opening them is not only underwhelming, it also barely works. I got an error that the servers is processing, but it lets me keep on pressing to open the same crate over and over.
Also, in the main menu, you can select to go back to the title screen. A prompt appears to confirm your decision, then a short loading screen appears, then the image of iconic PUBG man with frying pan appears for a split second and then a longer loading screen appears and then.. you are at the main menu again. Sorry, what?
It does not help at all that the game is all serious and drabby. The only fun thing people latch on to that is now a cultural zeitgeist is the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner text for winning a match and the frying pan weapon. Because that’s the only sense of personality or style PUBG has to offer.
It is astounding unpolished like it’s cobbled together with multiple layers of duct tape. Even then it’s barely working and when it works it looks absolutely shoddy, especially that there are now more polished battle royale games out there.
And, goodness, that aeroplane engine sound before you drop. It clearly isn’t looping properly.
Now that I mentioned all of that, I also like to say it’s not a total dumpster fire. Everything in service to the gameplay (aside from the draw distance), works brilliantly. Surround sound works as you should and you can identify where and how far gun noises are. That’s important for your fight-or-flight strategy in battle royales. Gun sounds, which may or may not be accurate, feel punchy and loud enough that when you get into gunfights it is an absolute change of pace.
If you stayed on long enough to reach this, let me tell you this: battle royale as a multiplayer mode is definitely brilliant. PlayerUnknown has tons of experience honing this game mode design from the various mods and games he worked on before and it all culminated to the current success of PUBG.
100 people dropped on an island, last man standing wins. It’s a simple enough concept and thanks to design choices like the ever-shrinking play zone, it keeps each game flowing as it should. There are quiet moments where you can loot for guns and equipment while tension is on as you anticipate incoming enemies. And then the thrill of seeing the enemy first from afar, it’s time to decide whether to engage or just leg it as the fight is not worth it.
Then there’s the combat, whether you shoot first, you got shot and now scrambling to find the enemy, or a fair fight where you both saw each other first before engaging, it’s always tense. Short, but tense and maybe exciting. Pepper that short highs with some long lows of eerie quietness and you get the appeal of battle royale. It’s great!
While the map is huge, each match will force survivors to keep closing in together into an ever-shrinking play area. You always know when it will shrink and where you should be headed and it keeps everyone on their toes, either to decide when’s the best time to move out or literally on your toes sprinting for your life before the blue wall of slow death touches you and deal damage over time.
As the play area closes down, there’s also random supply drops filled with better gear and weapons. It’s a risk-reward system where you can get good loot, at the cost of being in the spiciest zone of the match where the best players will converge to take the loot or take down unsuspecting players.
Of course, you could also play this with friends or random people as a duo or a squad of four. My advice is to not play with random people, as you expect it’s a mixed bag of experience. But with a friend or three or going in solo, it’s a thrill trying to survive for as long as you can.
Prior to this my only exposure to PUBG is through PUBG Mobile. And I can say for certain that the skill level of players on PS4 are pretty OK. Not only that, PUBG on PS4 right now has a healthy playerbase in Asia/Oceania. Matchmaking to get into lobbies takes a few seconds and considering this game needs at least 90 people before a match starts, it shows it’s in good health for now. Interestingly, you can also change to other servers. And there’s a separate client you can download the Public Test Server where you can try out upcoming new content.
Content & Longevity
PUBG at the time of review now has three maps, the original Erangel, the desert of Miramar, the small Southeast Asian jungles of Sanhok and the snow map Vikendi (out on PC now, and on Private Test Server on consoles).
The maps are large enough. Even the small Sanhok, that it will take multiple times of play before you will feel exhausted of the same map over and over again. And developers PUBG Corp. are still trucking on adding new content still. Makes sense since fans of the game are clamouring for it, but I would still prefer they pushed on for more polish and bug fixes, as seen in their now-defunct #FixPUBG campaign, beforehand.
Because when the novelty of battle royale fizzles away, and when the content well dries up, those surmountable amount of annoying bugs, terrible graphics and no polish whatsoever will add up to a bad experience. I for one won’t be playing this for long.
Imagine a dingy restaurant. The place looks shady. The waiters are either incompetent or don’t care to work (or worse, both) that you can’t get orders quick. Cleanliness is questionable. Yet, despite it all, many people still flock to it. Because its chicken dinner is a talk about town and is the best around, so they say. Or maybe you’re going there with friends, which should make the experience more bearable.
So is PUBG a battle worth fighting for? If you can put up with subpar presentation and low standards of quality, PUBG’s trendsetting battle royale gameplay will get you hooked. But why settle for less when there’s other more competent games that do battle royale, slicker, sleeker and overall better?
If you never liked what you saw of PUBG before, the PS4 release won’t change your mind. But if you love PUBG on PC or mobile and what to give the console port a go, as ever, you have to put up with a lot of its terrible features. Should you choose to persevere, the thrill of battle royale is real and the taste of victory is as succulent as a perfectly cooked chicken dinner.
Review based on played on a base PS4. Review copy provided by PlayStation Asia