There are a lot of problems with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Xbox One but, despite multiple issues, the game’s essential 1v99 magic still manages to shine through. That says a lot more about PUBG, than it does Xbox One. There’s a reason why it became the most played PC game on Steam, constantly talked about and streamed. And, even with all the problems in Microsoft’s version - the ropey frame rates and textures - a taste of what makes it special still breaks through.
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The game itself, just in case you’re not up to speed, is a very asymmetrical multiplayer gamer that sees 100 players dropped onto an island, all trying to kill each other. Everyone starts unarmed and scrabbles to grab guns and gear, while a damaging blue energy field slowly pushes them closer and closer together. In a style that’s not unlike The Hunger Games, there’s only ever one winner (a person or team) and it’s generally a stressful and exhilarating mix of stealth, patience and luck. That said, on PC the original is a poorly optimised game at the best of times, requiring more power than it should to run well. On Xbox’s closed system it suffers even more.
Obviously, this is very heavily flagged by Microsoft as a ‘Game Preview’ release (its version of Early Access) so to some extent those performance issues are to be expected. But this is a big (timed exclusive) release for Xbox One, with tons of hype and marketing, and I suspect many people will be surprised just how roughly it all runs. Especially more casual people who might see the box in the shop and pick it up because they’ve heard so much about it.
Anyone playing on an original Xbox One or Xbox One S will have the biggest problems, with framerates that are mostly sub-30, and sometimes closer to 20. Worse still it can be inconsistent. Arguably even a bad but stable frame rate can be bearable - it’s the fluctuations that are less tolerable, and this is all fluctuations. There’s also a laggy, imprecise feeling to the controls. Shutting doors in particular can be an infuriating, fiddly procedure. The prompt to do so pops up and disappears not quiet in sync with your movements, leaving you waiting a precious heartbeat or two to ensure you’re definitely in the right place.
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This might sound like an odd thing to single out, but this a game where open doors broadcast your presence in a house to anyone that sees it, leaving you open to ambush or attack. Shutting them quickly and easily is vital, and shouldn’t be so tricky. Or any level of tricky. Shutting doors should be completely trick free. It’s the same for picking up items: it’s a muddy operation that leaves you feeling like you’re trying to grab tiny things with oven mitts on. When you need to get geared up as quickly as possible you don’t want to be half-stepping back and forth over guns and attachments trying to get the right one. Other odd PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds control quirks, like tapping Y to cycle multiple weapons instead of a weapon wheel, or pressing the left trigger once to access precision aim, are odd, but at least easy to adapt to.
On Xbox One X the tech improves radically, at least. The frame rate is mostly 30fps (although it can wander. Usually south) and things feel far more snappy - you can slam doors behind you with barely a second glance, and hoover up gear without breaking step. The improved textures and draw distances also make a huge difference. PUBG is a game all about hunting other players over a huge 8km x 8km map, so clarity and distance is as important there as the frame rate is to shooting.
So the Xbox One X is the superior (less ropey) experience, but even on the lower spec options there is fun to be had. It all depends on your tolerance for the issues I’ve mentioned. It’s basically a glorified hiding simulator, as the best way to progress is to avoid all contact. Armour, if you can find it, gives some protection but little more than a few shots worth. It means the majority of the time any encounter ends up with you dead, or leaves you in such a bad way you might as well be.
It creates short bursts of stressful, survival motivated gameplay that’s especially rewarding when you dial in to how all the systems work. Gear and gun choices are vital and change over time - shotguns at the start when you have to risk entering houses, ranged and scoped weapons later when fighting is unavoidable. Chances are you‘ll take a few evenings to acclimatise to the pace and the meta of weapons and tactics.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to how desperate you are to jump on the PUBG bandwagon and join the fun. Because on Xbox One that fun is ramshackle at best and those with a taste for 60fps, hell 30fps even, and games that… basically look finished, might struggle to enjoy this. What PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds does well has survived despite all that, and on more than one occasion I forgot all the issues as I reached the top 30, 20, final ten, but it might be better to wait for improvements. Especially if you don’t have an Xbox One X.