I’m an addict. My drug of choice: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the “Hunger Games“-like video game where 100 players paradrop onto an island, scavenge for weaponry and fight to be the last to survive.
I’ve played over 300 hours of PUBG to date, and I’ve now spent several more testing out the long-awaited Preview version of the game for Xbox One, which launched today for $30, £25 or AU$40.
The good news: It’s just as nail-biting and heart-pounding an experience as the PC original. With an assist from Microsoft developer PUBG Corp. has managed to bring over practically every element that made the game great, in spite of the game’s dizzying array of controls. (This is a game where shooting enemies can require pressing buttons to lean out of cover, hold your breath, aim down sights and zero for distance all at the same time.)
The bad: The game simply doesn’t run well, even on Microsoft’s recently released, amped-up Xbox One X. If you’ve got an original Xbox One, I’m not sure I can recommend it at all. Plus, some of PUBG’s gamepad controls still feel pretty awkward.
That said, the PC version had its fair share of issues at launch, too, though it steadily got better with updates. Another place to find the Xbox version is under Microsoft’s “Game Preview” program.
Here are five things Microsoft and PUBG Corp need to improve to earn my money.
Whether you play on Xbox One or Xbox One X, today’s PUBG can often feel like a choppy mess.
Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry has an excellent split-screen comparison between Xbox One and Xbox One X (see embedded video) but the short version is this: The game tops out at 30 frames per second, but can often dip beneath 20 frames per second, or even as low as 15 on the original Xbox One console. That’s abysmal for any game, much less a competitive multiplayer shooter.
Draw distance and pop-in
Video games don’t always render objects “as far as the eye can see”. Sometimes, they only display buildings and trees and items that are fairly close to you, to save on processing power. Draw distance is how far away objects are displayed.
Also, sometimes games will show you very low quality, rudimentary objects from far away, then “pop-in” the higher quality versions when you get close.
On the original Xbox One, the draw distance and pop-in are so bad right now you can’t drive a car at full speed, because you might hit barriers that don’t exist until they decide to show up and totally ruin your day. I certainly did.
Here are a couple examples of less worrying draw-distance and pop-in quirks:
On the Xbox One X, it’s quite a bit better, but it’s still pretty obvious that objects are popping into view.
It’s also super weird to see some of the game’s biggest landmarks, like the military base and the bridges between the islands, are invisible from the air until you get really close. That’s currently the case on both consoles.
There is none.
Unlike most shooters on game consoles, there’s no auto-aim of any sort… not even a little nudge in the right direction as far as I can tell. Which is why most of my fights wound up like this:
Except for that one time a player was kind enough to stand perfectly still, right in front of me. That was nice of them:
As is, you’ll really need to learn to precisely move the analog sticks to hit anything, and you may want to play with their deadzone and sensitivity too. Which actually is a setting you can change, by the way — from the main menu, hit Start to go to the screen where you select your geographical region, then again. (It’s a weird place to keep it.)
I don’t know about you, but I’d really like a teensy bit of aim assist so I’m not flailing around during gunfights. I’m here to wrestle with other players, not the control scheme.
Shouldering a weapon
And speaking of wrestling with the control scheme: One place where the PC version strangely outstrips the console’s is the simple act of precisely aiming a weapon at enemies. In order to aim down the sights, you’ve got to tap the left trigger to enter a totally different “Aim” mode where the rest of your controls change to better suit a sniper role.
But while it’s nice to have easy access to controls to hold your breath, and/or zero in your weapon in “Aim” mode, you can’t easily run away without tapping the left trigger again to “exit” that mode. It leaves you vulnerable. On PC, I’d simply tap and hold the right mouse button to carefully aim, then let go as soon as I needed to run.
On the plus side, I guess it makes sniping a little riskier. PC had too many snipers, if you ask me. Similarly, I think it’s weird that you have to hold down the X button to reload — which takes way longer than on PC! — but it makes the game more interesting when players run out of bullets.
It’s a pain. Any time I’m trying to loot a fallen enemy, it takes so long I’m practically begging for someone to sneak up and kill me. PUBG for Xbox’s inventory system requires tabbing through up to four different columns of items (ones on the ground, ones in your backpack, ones you’re wearing and your equipped weapons) to do simple things like take a scope that’s on the ground and attach it to a particular weapon.
(There was probably an easier way for me to do the above scope swap.)
There are handy shortcuts, like tapping a button to attach an item to a gun automatically, but it still takes a while if you haven’t burned them into your brain. Tapping X will put items into your backpack, and tapping A will equip items or attach them to your weapon, but if you tap X when you meant to tap A (or vice versa) you’ll do the wrong thing — or maybe not grab the item at all.
I respect that Microsoft found a way to bring all the item management elements of PUBG to Xbox by inventing this control scheme… but honestly the PC version’s inventory was already too convoluted. I was hoping for something simpler.
So: Those are the biggest things to think about before you buy PUBG at launch. But you should know they may not be annoyances forever. When I asked about the performance issues, I received this statement from a Microsoft rep:
“In bringing ‘PUBG’ to Xbox One, our goal was to bring the core game experience that fans have played on PC for many months to console. That means the development on the title is still ongoing and work in progress. ‘PUBG’ is launching in Xbox Game Preview, which enables fans to preview and purchase work-in-progress digital titles, participate in the development process and help developers make Xbox One games the best they can be.
“Similar to its development on PC, ‘PUBG’ on Xbox One will continue to receive content new content, updates, optimizations and more in the months ahead.”
So stay tuned. And if you want to get better at PUBG, check out my huge FAQ.