Nintendo's resurgence may have been the biggest gaming story of 2017, but following close behind was the surprising popularity of "PlayerUnknown's Battleground." Released as an Early Access title in March, the game, by the PUBG Corporation, exploded on the Steam platform, becoming a mainstay on the top of its charts
Within six months, "PlayerUnknown's Battleground" had become a phenomenon unto itself. Part of the reason is that it's an easy game to jump into. The concept takes the ideas of novels such as "Battle Royale" and "The Hunger Games" and applies them to a shooter. Players join a match against up to 100 online competitors, and they have to kill off each other until there's a sole survivor.
To make the scenario fair, the avatars parachute onto Erangel island, a fictional locale near Russia. It's full of abandoned buildings, bridges, swamps, hills and a military base. From there, players have to scavenge for weapons, ammo, armor and other items. That's an important step in an island free-for-all because having better gear is the key to survival.
To make sure, players don't hide out and camp a neighborhood, "PlayerUnknown's Battleground" has a safe area that constantly shrinks as the match goes on. Adding another layer of tension are red zones, which are random sites bombarded by explosives. These features funnel players to smaller and smaller areas, and as the number of survivors dwindles, the pressure ratchets up.
It's a thrill ride, where players create their own stories as they interact in life-or-death struggles. Being the sole survivor and seeing the phrase "Winner winner chicken dinner" on the screen is a rewarding experience. Players earn Battle Points for each match, based on performance, and that in-game currency is used to buy clothing and other options to customize their avatar. But getting to the top takes a mixture of luck, strategy and teamwork (when playing in a group).
It all begins with the landing spot. When players skydive onto the battlefield, they have to pick the right location. The middle of the map offers the best access to the safety zone, whose location is randomly generated. At the same time, it's also the most popular area, the one where players will end up in gunfights.
From there, players make a series of tactical decisions. Should they scavenge an area to grab better gear, or run to the safe zone immediately, before time runs out? Is it better to be aggressive and take out fellow players and then loot the corpses, or to run away from combat and conserve ammo and health for the final conflict? Should players drive cars to the cargo drops, or will they face an ambush from another player who is guarding it?
The beauty of "PUBG," as the game is popularly known, is that there are no correct answers, no right or wrong way to play because the game is so open-ended. One of the gameplay's smart features is that it jumps quickly into the experience. Even if players die, they can hit start and join another match within a minute or so. That encourages experimentation, and they can try different strategies.
That also makes "PUBG" quite watchable. One of reasons for its enormous growth is streaming. The game is entertaining for spectators, as players try to find ways to outsmart each other and survive. The concept is so compelling that this is one of the most live-streamed games on Twitch.
With "PUBG" now on Xbox One consoles, we can expect to see even more of it. Like its PC counterpart, the console version follows the same path as part of the Xbox Game Preview program. It's essentially a work-in-progress on Microsoft's machines, but as with the PC version, we can expect the roll-out of gradual improvements and more content, including the new desert map called Miramar.
Because the game is essentially still in a beta on consoles, and recently came out of Early Access on Steam, it's premature to rate a game that's still under construction. With parent company Bluehole putting more resources into the hit, players can look forward to a more polished experience as the team refines a winning formula. ___
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