The character animations are pretty decent for the most part, but mantle could still be better executed in a lot of cases. There's a rigidity to movement over scenery that hasn't been completely smoothed out yet, and there's room for PUBG Corp. to improve this side of the game. For example, during one match we made a running jump to try and land on a metal walkway, but instead of mantling over the railing we just bounced off it and down to the ground. Again, we've come along way since March, but it's still not perfect, and we think there could be a more tactile relationship between player and environment.
Nearly everything else we tested felt great, though. The waiting times between matches aren't too offensive (the benefit of having 30 million fellow players), and it never takes long to get back in the thick of it, especially if you parachute down near another player. The descent is now nice and smooth, and the opening part of each mission always involves landing safely and then quickly securing a weapon. If you jumped out the plane around the same time as another player and they landed nearby, there's going to be a battle and one of you are likely to die. If your number's up then it's back in the queue for the next fight.
However, if you can win the inevitable first duel, find a decent weapon and some body armour, and maybe grab some wheels, then you're in business and you can embark on a run to genuinely contest the game, and it's then that PUBG starts getting brilliantly tense. Players flock in the same direction, avoiding bombing runs from overhead and a shrinking line on the map that damages those on the wrong side of it. After an initial flutter of activity things can quieten down, but the dwindling playing area ensures that it's only a matter of time before people start bumping into each other around the objective. The one-life setup ensures that the stakes couldn't be much higher, and it's that marriage of intensity and conceptual simplicity that makes the game compulsive and engaging.
There are different modes pertaining to squad size and perspective (we actually liked the first-person mode, although we tend to default to third-person most of the time), and playing in co-op with a friend or two (which is surely recommended over playing with randoms) certainly changes the dynamic of a match, but ultimately PUBG is very simple in terms of structure: kill them all and get to the objective.
Overall it feels like progression is overly-slow, and there's a loot box system in place for cosmetic gear, although we largely ignored it. If you want to get all dressed up there are garments dotted all over each of the maps, and you can customise yourself (and your weapons) in-game, but these aren't persistent unlocks and you're back to square one once you bite the proverbial bullet. If there's a specific item of clothing you want to wear every time, you can either get ripped off over on the Steam marketplace or keep opening crates until you strike gold. Otherwise, this part of the game felt like a grind-fest just waiting to happen, and given the rising price of loot crates over the course of a week and the variable quality of the cosmetics found therein, we didn't spend too much time worrying about this part of the game.
What we did worry about was staying alive, and PUBG, despite one or two technical failings, manages to brilliantly capture the tension of survival multiplayer. It's punchy and immediate thanks to generous weapon drops and accessible mechanics, and the moving objectives and aerial bombardments keep the action moving. Still, almost a year after launch, there are bugs and glitches and server quirks, and that's something you'll have to tolerate to get at the good stuff. It's certainly in a much more polished state than when it launched in early access, but it still feels like the game could do with more polish and greater stability across the board. The addition of the new map spices things up, and there's clearly much more to come from PUBG Corp. and Brendan Greene. Their game is ostensibly finished, but it also feels like we're at the beginning of this particular journey, and we're really interested to see where the game goes next. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is beautiful, rickety, and full of promise; you've got to take the rough with the smooth, but when it clicks it not only works, it's glorious.