2017 was the year of Battlegrounds. Starting as a niche, early access title in an underserved genre that even most hardcore gamers had never heard of, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (opens in new tab) picked up steam until it was an inescapable juggernaut (opens in new tab), plastered over every YouTube channel, Twitch stream, and mainstream games media outlet in existence. A huge year of blistering sales and record-breaking popularity culminated with an important double landmark for the PUBG team: a proper 1.0 release on PC, and the first in what surely will be a plethora of launches on other platforms: the console version on Xbox One.
Talk about in like a lion, out like a lamb. The Xbox One version landed like a brick wrapped in wet newspaper, with a sad, demoralizing thud. Plagued by technical issues and bizarre design choices that made even the earliest Steam version look polished by comparison, the console port threatened to put the brakes on the runaway hype that accompanied most of its launch year, and portended a dark turn in the new year.
In fairness, the game was released as part of Xbox’s Preview Program, Microsoft’s answer to Early Access, and isn’t being marketed as a finished product. But even for an early access title, PUBG on Xbox feels surprisingly incomplete. So what can be done to reverse a disappointing, off-putting first step into the console market (and to pave the way to the inevitable future releases on other platforms (opens in new tab))?
Change the controls
The first and most glaring and obvious flaw in the Xbox One version of PUBG is the bizarre control scheme. As shooters go, PUBG is a fairly complex beast, with an intricate looting and inventory system and the ability to crouch, go prone, or lean out of cover to take pot shots. Even on PC with full keyboard and mouse controls it’s a lot, and so it’s no surprise that trying to squeeze all that complexity onto a controller was a major hurdle. What is surprising is how badly it was botched.
The Xbox One controls feel like the developer was trying to precisely mirror the PC experience while throwing aside many of the accepted conventions of console shooters. The result is a stunted mess that feels more like a hacked-in workaround than a proper, intentionally designed control scheme.
They key to any good game port is tailoring the experience to fit on the new platform. Instead of trying to jam all of those PC controls onto a gamepad, the devs should consider trimming and streamlining the game to suit consoles. And it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel where controls are concerned. The majority of console shooters share a core control scheme for a reason: because it works extremely well, and because it’s one the majority of players are already familiar with, so easing players into your game is much simpler proposition.
Fix the framerate
Even after you’ve fumbled with the controls long enough to get a handle on them, the game still never feels right, due in large part to a framerate that is at times staggeringly bad, occasionally dipping all the way down into the single digits. PUBG isn’t an awful looking game, but it certainly isn’t so visually dazzling that you expect the Xbox One to sag under the weight of running it.
It’s an obvious (and likely difficult) fix, but it’s importance can’t be overstated. A low or inconsistent framerate not only makes playing the game generally unpleasant, it can also be the difference between life and death in some of PUBG’s infamously tense shootouts. And sadly it’s most often during these crucial moments, particularly if there are several other players all engaged in a single shootout, that the framerate takes the biggest hit. Smoothing out performance should be priority number one, or at least prioritized right alongside fixing the convoluted controls.
Iron out the bugs
Unfortunately, it’s not just framerate that shows the early access seams. PUBG on Xbox feels rife with bugs in a way even the earliest PC versions never were (though perhaps some of that is an expectation by players of a higher level of polish in a much later, console release). From amusing bugs like vehicles floating in mid-air, or ghost doors opening and closing of their own accord, to more frustrating glitches like being unable to stand, or use medkits, or getting repeatedly booted to the menu mid-match, the Xbox version frequently feels half-baked.
To its credit, the PUBG team has been rolling out patches fast and furious, but even after the most recent update the game still feels like a mess. Focus on the game-breaking issues first because, with those patched out, the less meaningful bugs seem more charming and less like evidence of a greater, systemic failing.
Make it distinctly different to the PC version
This dovetails to an extent with the controls issue, in that a port should be tailored to fit its new platform, but there’s a larger point to be made here. For PUBG to truly be a success on Xbox and on other, future consoles, it needs to stand apart from the PC iteration in meaningful ways.
At over three million players already it’s hard to argue that the Xbox version isn’t a success, but that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential audience, and the possibility of pulling in players that already own the PC version exists, if and only if the Xbox version offers something unique not available in the Steam version. Whether this comes in the form of new game modes, some kind of single-player experience, seasonal events, new gear, vehicles, or maps isn’t important, as long as whatever is on offer is compelling and robust enough to tempt players that might be satisfied with the PC version (or, of course, players that have never played either version).
Build a tutorial
Last but not least (and this is an improvement that would greatly benefit the PC version as well) PUBG is begging for a proper tutorial. Not only would a walkthrough of the controls and basic concepts be a welcome addition, but just a shooting range where players could experiment with various guns and attachments would be a tremendously helpful way to onboard new players and make their first time out a significantly less stressful (and, ideally, slightly longer) experience.
Because the weapons handle so differently and because of how much attachments, particularly scopes, can transform a weapon, having some time to play around with them when you’re not in constant mortal danger would be incredibly useful. And all those complicated controls I’ve already harped on would seem much less intimidating to new players if you gave them a quick guided run through an obstacle course.