For the most of the year, I've been pretty perplexed by PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds' success.
To see it is to gaze upon any number of third-person shooters on the market today, and its premise doesn't differ too much from Xaviant's The Culling which beat it to the market, it's just bigger in scale. I could have played it at any point during the last year - I could have bought it on PC just to see what all the fuss is about - but to be honest, I don't like playing games huddled in front of my PC. Now it's finally been released on Xbox One, however, I've jumped into the rabbit hole.
The first thing that hit me was just how shonky PUBG's menus appear to be. I don't know what they're like on PC, but on Xbox One they're very unresponsive at times. Still, I struggled my way through them, created a character, and headed into my first match.
Matchmaking was fairly quick, and before the game started I was placed with all the other combatants in a small area, seemingly just to troll each other. During this time performance was terrible, and textures were still loading in slowly. Up to now, PUBG on Xbox One was definitely living up to its Game Preview status, and it didn't get any better when the match started.
Flying over the map by plane, the framerate chugs along like a slideshow, and at some point you've got to just bite the bullet and jump. I leapt from the plane, aiming myself for a farmhouse, but spotting someone else do the same I changed course for another building in close proximity. As I got closer to the ground, PUBG's performance seemed to get more stable, and when my feet touched the ground I was ready for my first ever fight for survival.
Gingerly entering the closest building in case someone else had beaten me to it, I scavenged a pistol, some ammo and a backpack. Upon further investigation, I also found a semi-automatic rifle. "Lucky me!", I thought. Being my first game, I wasn't quite sure what to do, so after making sure the coast was clear as best as I could, I decided to explore.
My very first PUBG kill came as I happened upon a shed. Discovering a handy helmet as well as another pistol, I caught wind of another player making their way up the grassy knoll in front of me. In a fluster, I quickly aimed and let lose a flurry of shots. My heart pounding, I was happy to see the other player crumple into a heap, and with my act of murder came the realisation of why PUBG is so successful: it's perhaps the most tense experience out there.
Playing PUBG is like watching watching those scenes in Game of Thrones where you're not quite sure if your favourite character is going to die or not. It's like those stupid scenes in horror movies where a hapless fool investigates a noise down a pitch black corridor. It puts you on edge and loosens your bowels. And when you hear the crackle of gunfire close by, your fight or flight survival instincts kick in just like they would in real life. You might play a game and move from location to location without seeing a single soul until you meet your demise, yet it's still entertaining because it's just so engaging.
After my first kill, the remainder of my first PUBG match was pretty uneventful in the grand scheme of things. I explored some more, somehow escaped the clutches of an unknown shooter, and watched as the number of survivors plummeted into the 20s. But then I made a rookie mistake. Wandering towards the edge of the map, the safe zone suddenly shrunk. With my health steadily depleting, I tried to dash back into the fight but I just didn't have enough juice in me. I died rather unceremoniously then, but I sure as hell jumped straight back in for another go.
I ended up playing three matches back to back, though my last one was cut short by the game crashing. It's clear then, that at this stage PUBG is very much rough around the edges. The framerate isn't stable, the graphics aren't anything to write home about, and you get the impression that the game could break at any moment, but it somehow remains compelling. Being in the Game Preview program means that PUBG on Xbox One should just get better and better, and I really hope that it does.
Tapping into our primal instincts to not only survive but to also crush the competition, PUBG is a game that provides a pure shot of adrenaline. It's simple, easy to pick up and rewards cunning just as it does a keen aim, allowing any player a chance of one day securing themselves a chicken dinner. It's janky as hell but it still manages to captivate with ease, elevating it above its competitors. And hopefully one day that jank will be pretty much eliminated, cutting out the frustrations and leaving nothing but a tense game battle for survival.