PUBG: Battlegrounds Free-to-Play Review – 2022

By | January 20, 2022

It’s been nearly five whole years since the pioneering PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds first appeared on Steam and popularized the idea of pitting 100 players against each other until only the best (or last) among them survives. Since then, the original battle royale has been locked in a fight for relevance against the many games it inspired, and only now has it dropped its entry fee and joined the ranks of its free-to-play competition. Now that the novelty has worn off, in some ways PUBG has been left wanting compared to newer and more innovative battle royales, but its unique focus on massive zones and realistic simulation means it hasn’t lost its touch either.

Survival after parachuting into PUBG’s relatively realistic open world requires you to be much stealthier and more deliberately tactical than you would in, say, the run-and-gun style of Fortnite. For example, you might wait for a passing aircraft to drown out your footsteps so you can enter a household undetected, or you might use a smokescreen to distract a squad of enemy players that are pinning you down from a nearby ridge. Firefights are regularly tense and enjoyable, though the wide selection of guns tend to be clunkier to fire than other modern shooters too (even after you’ve modded them with scopes and extended magazines).

What PUBG has in tactics, it lacks in the “gunfeel” that make games like Call of Duty or Apex Legends so enjoyable to play. Weapons are more tolerable to handle in third-person mode, but frustratingly inaccurate unless you switch to first-person or aim down sights. But since movement is clearly designed around third-person play, not to mention you get the ability to peek around corners without poking your head out, first-person mode feels slow by comparison, and the weapons suffer for it. PUBG’s emphasis on realistic bullet physics sets it apart in an interesting way, and it makes sense that hitmarkers are absent by default because PUBG wants to give you as little information as possible to make its fights more intense. But all that also means it’s not nearly as slick as, say, Call of Duty: Warzone.

Third-person play simply feels much better.

Third-person play simply feels much better, and it seems to be because your player model is physically simulated in much the same way as a character from Grand Theft Auto 5 or Red Dead Redemption 2, with a bit more fluidity in movement — so that you aren’t constantly tripping over yourself, but you still feel fragile. It’s a tough balance to strike, but it’s noticeable that you aren’t playing a game that was particularly intended as a first-person shooter when you switch over to first-person mode. Aiming down sights is also just plain stiff in comparison to any proper first-person shooter, especially Call of Duty or Battlefield.

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By comparison, PUBG is a rough experience on a PlayStation 5. It’s a struggle to distinguish other players at long ranges, rendering the vastness of PUBG’s maps feeling empty. There is a “Performance” mode which aims for a smooth 60fps at 1080p, but the lack of 4K fidelity, limited draw distance, and imprecise controls make it difficult to play PUBG the way it was designed. You’re also locked to playing with other PlayStation and Xbox players, which puts PUBG behind its battle royale contemporaries in terms of cross-play with PC and other platforms.

PUBG doesn’t have much meat on its bones if you get bored of skirmishing for survival in both solo and team modes. There’s very little in the way of custom maps, and the only other official Arcade mode is a lackluster Team Deathmatch that you can comfortably ignore. That single-mode focus is similar to Apex Legends, and it’s good that your primary option stays a lot of fun for a long time, but neither game can hold a candle to the versatility of Fortnite.

It’s great then that you can always dip into the dedicated Training mode and play with PUBG’s entire collection of weapons and toys, even testing them against a firing range, a race car track, and a cool “jump school” area that lets you parachute in as many times as you’d like. In fact, the new player experience does a fine job of getting you up to speed quickly with a few mandatory training matches against easy-target bots.