PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is undoubtedly the breakout hit of 2017, with over 25 million copies sold on Steam and Dota 2’s record for most concurrent players shattered in its wake. That’s not bad for a company’s first game, especially since it technically hasn’t even been released yet: PUBG is only set to leave early access with a “finished” 1.0 version for PC next week.
PUBG might not be the most conventional of game-of-the-year contenders, but Microsoft’s console exclusivity coup shouldn’t be underestimated. The game comes out today in preview for Xbox One, bringing a legitimate cultural phenomenon to console players for the first time. In a year that’s been light on significant Xbox-only releases, this is a big deal.
But neither Microsoft nor developer Bluehole have shown off the Xbox version in action before release, raising questions about how well it’ll actually run. Despite its rough-and-ready visuals, PUBG is a hugely resource-intensive game on PCs, requiring a powerful setup to play with higher graphical settings at a fast frame rate. Is it even possible to adequately reproduce the experience on the Xbox One’s comparatively weak CPU?
As it turns out, it is. PUBG for Xbox One is a compromised port, to be sure, but one that retains what makes the game so raucous and addictive on PC.
Just to recap exactly what that is, PUBG is an action game that sees 100 unarmed players jump out of a plane and parachute wherever they want to land on a vast island. They must arm themselves and fight until only one remains, and the play space is constantly shrinking so that everyone is eventually forced into close proximity. PUBG is conceptually simple but psychologically complex. Every tiny move you make can be a life-or-death decision, meaning that even hiding in a closet can be unbearably tense. It is, in short, a blast.
Things have been dialed back a lot for the console release
On Xbox One, though, it’s a much uglier blast. PUBG isn’t much of a looker even on a powerful PC, and things have been dialed back a lot for the console release. Textures are blurry and often take a long time to load in; I’ve driven up to what appears to be a giant marshmallow before it reveals itself as a school. Level-of-detail scaling (LOD) is used aggressively, too, so trees and foliage look very basic from a distance but get more detailed as you come closer. The initial sequence on the plane that starts off every round is particularly conspicuous: as you parachute toward the ground and see sharp buildings laid atop the Vaseline-smeared landscape, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a ‘90s flight simulator, not one of 2017’s hottest games.
This isn’t really a big deal. PUBG has never been about attractive visuals, and many PC players actually run it at lower settings on purpose to make spotting enemies easier. The more impactful compromise is in performance. PUBG never runs above 30 frames per second, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker given the game’s slow pace. The problem is that the frame rate regularly drops to 20 or thereabouts, which is definitely not going to help your quest to stay alive when the action heats up. Coupled with an unintuitive adaptation of the control scheme, PUBG feels even less polished on console than PC.
Although PUBG isn’t technically an Xbox One X Enhanced title, it does run a little better on Microsoft’s new console. I played a few rounds last night with my colleague Tom Warren — him on Xbox One X, myself on my original launch Xbox One — and it seems that the game’s reliance on dynamic techniques for things like texture filtering and asset streaming allow it to make at least some use of the One X’s extra power. We’d stand together next to what for me would be a particularly blurry stone, for example, and trade screenshots; things often looked noticeably better on Tom’s end. That said, no matter what, PUBG absolutely is not going to be a graphical showcase for your One X, so keep your expectations in check.
PUBG is one of the most brilliantly designed shooters of recent years, and that design remains intact on console. You don’t have to be an experienced online shooter fan to have fun with PUBG. It certainly rewards skill, but the way that each game has an element of luck keeps you coming back to see if you can do better next time. Anyone can land next to a shotgun and hole themselves up in a bathroom, and even experienced players can find themselves caught off guard if the play space shrinks in the wrong direction, or they run into an unexpected air strike. PUBG’s world is hostile but feels very fair, encouraging experimentation and making victory rely on smart decision-making as much as on a quick trigger finger.
One of the most brilliantly designed shooters of recent years
PUBG is still in Xbox Game Preview, meaning it isn’t considered a finished product and is still under development. The full release will follow sometime next year, but even after it exits preview you can expect continuous development on the title. Its technical issues may get better as the game sees further optimization, and you’ll eventually see new content like the long-awaited second map coming to the PC version next week. The two platforms aren’t on parallel development tracks — the Xbox version has vaulting already, a feature that really changes the game up by letting players more easily navigate obstacles, while PC players will get it alongside the new map.
None of this is too important if all you want to know is whether you can get much fun out of the preview version available for $29.99 today. The answer is unequivocally yes. If you don’t have a gaming PC, do have an Xbox One, and hold the slightest bit of interest in finding out why it’s become one of the biggest games in the world, you owe it to yourself to check out PUBG.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is available through Xbox Game Preview today. The PC version will leave Steam Early Access on December 20th.