It's not our game of the year, but in many respects PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is the game of 2017. Despite the fact that it spent the vast majority of its time in an unfinished state on early access, it still shifted berjillions of copies, first on PC and then more recently on Xbox One. We hopped on board the good ship PUBG right at the beginning and resolved to return when a bit more spit and polish had been applied. Well, that time is now, and it's time to slap a number on the 1.0 version and get on with our Xmas holiday.
We put it like that because we get the feeling that like so many online games these days, especially the popular ones, the support is going to be constant even though it's out of early access. This newly formed juggernaut isn't slowing down anytime soon, and who knows what shape it'll be in this time next year? This newly released version contains a more polished version of the island map Erangel, and the new desert map Miramar. There's at least one more map that we know about on the way, and the future looks assured.
PUBG, at its beating heart, offers a very simple experience. Jump from a plane, and head for the target. It's you against the world. Kill or be killed. When distilled down to that essence it's easier to see the shared heritage between this and DayZ. Survival games that riffed on that same general idea popped up everywhere, all chasing the same growing crowd of online adventures, those who enjoyed scratching a living out of the dust and fighting to stay alive. But while the subgenre of sandbox survival started to first bloat and then stagnate (ironically before the finished version of DayZ even saw release), PUBG exploded onto the scene and took the gaming world by storm.
But where DayZ and its disciples explored depth and detail, PUBG went for explosive accessibility. The dynamic of each game is constantly changing as the noose tightens around the action, funnelling players towards a common target and inevitable conflict, with the action moving around the map with every fresh attempt. You're not scavenging here, instead, you just head for the nearest building and grab the weapons you find. There's enough variety and the weapons are distanced far enough away from each other to ensure that repeat attempts don't feel too samey. There are weapon mods to further enhance the gear you find in the buildings, meaning you're not grabbing the same build every time and instead you need to adapt to what you find.
Find a shotgun and pistol, for example, and you're playing a different game than one where you find and a rifle and scope. If all you find is a frying pan, well, you're probably screwed. Further enhancing variety are the maps, which are absolutely huge. We were just getting to know Erangel when Miramar dropped, and both of the maps are overflowing with detail. It's not all particularly interesting detail, and many of the assets are a touch overused, but these are big levels that you can experience time and time again and still find new things. This is magnified further by the initial parachute in at the start of the mission, when everyone hurls themselves from a plane as it proceeds to cross the map (again, every match sees a new angle of approach).
The opening jump and the build up around it is one area where we feel PUBG could be a bit slicker. It's true that the base game itself is in a much better place than it was in March, but the whole process of loading up a match could be better executed. At least many of the audio issues that plagued the game during those early months have nearly all been fixed, and while we still see clipping, some odd quirks, long distance pop-up is still an issue, and the servers can lag from time to time, overall you've gotta say that PUBG is in much better shape. There's still much work to be done, though.