Jumping into PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Xbox One this week, almost immediately I was met with something that just didn’t look or feel right. Having logged over 150 hours on the PC version, I went into PUBG on my Xbox One X expecting the same fevered gameplay with the obvious compromises consoles bring with them - controller in a reactive shooter, 30 frames per second and a reduction in visual quality.
What I got, however, was worse than you could probably imagine.
Jumping from your plane onto the map in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the very first thing you do as the game match starts in earnest. However, even that experience is marred by an unplayable frame rate and sluggish controls, making the pinpoint accuracy of your landing spot a dream that will never come true. While sometimes I landed where I needed to, other times the game’s chugging framerate and inability to keep up with its own netcode caused my character to slam into the side of buildings, get caught in trees, or simply appear on the ground with no clue how I got there or how half of my health was gone. That opening experience as someone who has played this game almost religiously the past year was jarring - imagine being an Xbox fan who has heard stories about this game and is finally hopping in for the first time?
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, for those who haven’t been following the internet in 2017, is a multiplayer game developed by PUBG Corp and published by Bluehole Studios - the same studio responsible for TERA and the upcoming Ascent: Infinite Realm. PUBG pits 100 players against each other on a giant map, where you compete for loot and attempt to be the last person standing - all the while being forcibly moved about the map by the “Blue Wall,” restricting the playzone and eating those who don’t make it to that zone in time.
A few metrics to get out of the way as well - PUBG runs at a full native 4K on Xbox One X, using what has been essentially confirmed as the medium preset on PC. OG Xbox One runs at a native 1080p on the low PC preset. Both games target 30 frames per second, which has annoyed some fans after PUBG creator Brendan Greene famously announced it would run at 60 FPS on the X, only to walk it back harder than Josef Fares crapping on EA at The Game Awards the next day. To say that PUBG runs at a sub-par fps is a gross understatement.
Now, objectively, 60 frames per second is better than 30 - and PC players have the benefit of higher framerates. That isn’t to say that a 30 fps shooter is always going to feel bad. Destiny 2 on console is a great example of this - with proper frame pacing, motion blur and more you can make a 30fps shooter feel passable. However, PUBG is a unmitigated mess, and it’s absolutely astonishing that PUBG Corp and Microsoft could look at this and go “Yea, this is good. Let’s sell this.”
Now - it should be stressed that PUBG is in “Early Access,” this mythical modifier that apparently absolves games from any criticism (more on this later), which means that players go into buying the game knowing that it’s going to have issues. The idea here is that players can play the game and help make the game better as it inches towards launch. This comes with the territory of unoptimization, poor visuals and more, with players expecting to see that improved over time. One only has to turn to ARK: Survival Evolved on consoles to see that isn’t the case.
However, the problem with PUBG is that - from the outset - it is borderline unplayable at times. Going back to my initial moments in my first PUBG match, the framerate tanked from the get go and didn’t even out to what could be seen as a stable 30 for quite some time. All the while I’m still needing to get stuff, be on the lookout for enemies and get into the playzone - not the easiest task at 20 frames per second.
It also doesn’t help that the servers PUBG is using are incredibly prone to just cutting the game or incredibly laggy.
An example of #PUBG on #Xbox https://t.co/SQfiaA8O9U — Joseph Bradford (@LotRLore) December 14, 2017
This is compounded by the controller support. The latency between when you hit a button and when the picture on screen reacts is legit one of the worst lag times in a video game I have ever experienced. This is made worse by the framerate - which already adds latency into the mix thanks to its low numbers. The control scheme itself isn’t great either - most notably how you reload your weapon - one of the most fundamental actions in any shooter. For some reason, the developers decided that holding down “X” for a second would be better than a quick tap of the button - like every other shooter ever. This elongates the time it takes to reload your weapon, which during a firefight could very well mean the difference between “GG” to “WWCD.” Simple shooter controls are ignored here and mapped to incredibly awkward and unintuitive buttons. It’s almost as if someone looked at a controller and decided to just figure out a way to map everything instead of figuring how to make PUBG work best on console to begin with.
What this means is that you, the player, are struggling not only with the frame rate but also your direct control over the game. My first match - I came in 6th - was lost because of the unintuitive controls. I could have easily made top 3 of the controls weren’t so funky and lost me precious time trying to figure out how to move my sights to the other shoulder (it’s pressing the corresponding thumbstick for the side you want, for reference - but it can only be done while looking down sights, otherwise if you press the left thumbstick your guy starts to run instead…).
Visually, PUBG isn’t impressive enough to justify running this poorly as well. One the OG Xbox One, the textures look worse than the PC’s lowest settings - often times just appearing as soup on your screen - and while the added detail in the textures on the X is nice, it’s still not visually attractive. Pop in is also horrendous with entire floors and geometry appearing out of nowhere, or elements on the screen flickering in and out of sight - oftentimes foliage and trees in my experience. It’s incredibly distracting and takes you out of the tense battle royale experience PUBG has become known for.
Now, all this aside - again, it’s an Early Access game. These types of issues are to be expected, correct? Well, yes - to a degree. However, it’s important to remember that this is also a game that players are spending money to play - and one that was simply hyped into the stratosphere. Microsoft threw all of its hype train into promoting this game - mainly because what else of note really came out this year for Xbox other than an annual racer and a poor RTS. Microsoft had their development team - the unsung heroes of console development and The Coalition - who are responsible for Gears of War 4 help Bluhole make the transition to console. However - the results just aren’t great.
When you have this much hype, when you have that much weight thrown by Microsoft behind it - and you charge players a premium for the game, even in Early Access, the consumers have a right to know what they are buying before going into it. Early Access or Game Preview markers do not absolve the game from being critiqued. It might be different if the barrier of entry was non-existent - like say Fortnite.
There’s no denying it - PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is an unmitigated mess on Xbox One and Xbox One X. It’s an embarrassing showing for a game that has been utterly brilliant and an insult to paying console gamers who have been waiting for this game for months since its initial announcement. It will get better with time, yes, but it should never have released in its current state - Early Access notwithstanding. In the brief moments where gameplay is stable and you’re not struggling with the control scheme, PUBG shows why it’s taken the world by storm. It’s still exhilarating to get a kill from across an open field, to survive a firefight using only a frying pan or to get that Chicken Dinner - but the journey getting to those moments is mired in muck so thick that it’ll be hard for Bluehole and Microsoft to pull itself easily from.