PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PS4) Review — Bad Times at the Battle Royale
The wait is over for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) on PS4, but perhaps that wait was too long, as it wasn't totally worth it.
I distinctly remember experiencing envy when PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was at the peak of its popularity. As someone who played on consoles and didn’t own a PC, PUBG became a spectator sport for me. It seems ironic (and totally inaccurate) now, but I then viewed Fortnite as a knock-off “low budget” version, setting for that free game while the “cool kids” played the real battle royale game that started the craze.
Despite PUBG’s release on the Xbox One, I held off due to some poor word of mouth on the technical performance and controls. As the battle royale genre grew, so did my doubt that I would ever fall into PUBG should it come to my primary console of choice, the PS4. After having finally played this newly-released version, I’m happy to say that it plays just fine—better than I expected. But as a platform, PUBG for PS4 is not something I believe will have any sort of longevity.
Any schmuck who has played a video game in the past year is well aware of what PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is all about, to the point where the premise has become its own joke template. 100 players drop onto an island, looting buildings and dispatching all enemies, all while the play area closes in, as represented by a shrinking circle. The last person (or group) to stand is the winner-winner, chicken dinner.
Like the PC and Xbox versions, players can pick to deploy solo, in a duo, or in a four-person squad. With the PS4 version being a new build, and with no crossplay (unlike Fortnite), putting together a squad of your friends and peers might prove to be difficult. That’s unless you have a friend group who really wants to play PUBG just on PS4 and didn’t play it until its release on that platform. As someone who knows zero of those people, I had to contend with playing alongside random folks.
Having dabbled with PUBG on mobile, and pseudo-training myself through Fortnite, Call of Duty’s Blackout, and yes, even Realm Royale, I went into this version already understanding the ins-and-outs of the battle royale genre. Situational awareness, looting, and so on were concepts that I was familiar with. Besides feeling foolish about not being able to tell drivable vehicles from set dressing, and learning to reload every time I pick up a new weapon, I felt quite comfortable in navigating the space.
What did take some time to wrap my head around was how a game with several systems and controls like PUBG would utilize the DualShock 4. With so many different functions and too few control inputs, many buttons had to serve double duty. Tapping the square button would equip anything found on the field, but one has to hold the square button in order to reload—even though most console games have both of these functions under one button without having to distinguish a press between a hold.
The same went for aiming—holding L2 has you aim in third-person while tapping that trigger will give you a first-person iron sights view. While I was able to adapt to this scheme quicker than I expected, I found it difficult to navigate myself during certain scenarios. For example, if I’m aiming in first-person and want to sprint, my mind leads me to click on the left stick to sprint, but instead that has me lean to the left in first-person, and I disorient myself until my untimely demise in a firefight.
These controls are unusual for console players, but functional. It will take patience and an intense desire to master PUBG specifically on the PS4 (again, I don’t know those people) to tolerate the initially strange feeling of playing this game.
I realize that comparing the graphics and art style of PUBG to the works of Epic Games and Treyarch isn’t exactly fair, but wandering the environment still left much to be desired. Even with that jealousy during my earlier Fortnite days, the look of PUBG has never been one to excite me. I constantly wondered if the visuals would ever improve, whether it would be through more interesting architecture, more distinct themes in maps (rather than just deserts or tundras), higher-quality textures, or even cooler cosmetics that aren’t Suicide Squad-themed.
A lot of care seems to have been put on the menu presentation as if PUBG Corp. wants the player to believe that their experience has as high of a production value as its reputation implies. But entering the player lobby, surrounded by several more lifeless and personality-less moving mannequins, gives the impression that you’re still in some sort of mod. The frame rate stutters as the plane flies above the island, and although the game runs better on the ground, it never comes across as one dressed to impressed.
PUBG has never been a pretty video game, but with offerings from other developers in the battle royale genre to fill in that space for the PS4, it certainly pales in comparison.
In this day and age, most online games are expected to be a platform—a service, if you will. Looking at the foundation what PUBG for PS4 has, it isn’t a platform I expect to evolve too much. Sure, there’s a battle pass and some goodies to buy, but I don’t see anything that would want me to keep coming back to this particular game.
It wouldn’t be fitting for PUBG to have some of the crazy limited-time events or gimmicks that the likes of Fortnite has—this game is going for a different look and feel. But over a year after PUBG changed the game, I would have expected the powers that be to have come up with something unique to at least give the PUBG platform a competitive edge.
There is a whole generation of PS4 owners who are probably way too deep into Fortnite, with that game being their first exposure to the genre. While I wouldn’t count myself amongst them, I cannot imagine that any of those people would choose this $30 experience, with little promise to grow and improve, over triple-A titles that have since leapfrogged over PUBG.