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'PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds' Hands On

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Despite the unwieldy name, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds landed on Steam Early Access with a big splash. Borrowing mechanics from games that came before it, like DayZ and H1Z1, Battlegrounds focuses on what made those games fun while cutting out the dull downtime. 

The result is a fast-paced competitive survival shooter with a heavy reliance on tactics that is sure to leave you with a good story or two to share with others.

From 'ARMA' Mod To Stand-Alone Game 

Battlegrounds lacks any story or single-player campaign because it has its roots in a multiplayer mod for ARMA 2, a meticulously realistic military shooter sim for PC. The mod was called DayZ and took place on a large island where players would have to survive against roaming zombies and the potential threat of other players.

Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene worked on versions of this popular mod and some standalone games that cropped up as a result of its popularity, eventually landing himself at developer Bluehole to create what would become PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. 

A Better Battle Royale

Battlegrounds is considered a "battle royale" game, which means it features survival and competitive multiplayer mechanics. In each match, 100 players parachute onto a large island from a plane that cuts across the map from a random direction. Your goal is to be the last person standing. You have to choose when to jump from the plane, and immediately upon landing, begin the mad dash to find weapons and armor. 

Whether you're running desperately toward the play space or in a firefight with another player, Battlegrounds never lowers the tension.

The map is tremendous, and it's entirely possible for you to land in secluded areas, even with 99 other people in the game. But Battlegrounds forces confrontation by slowly shrinking the play space with a circular field of toxic gas that closes in on a random location of the map.

This simple premise cuts out the excessive downtime of crafting items, worrying about hunger or thirst meters, and the need to hunt down players found in earlier battle royale games by herding everyone closer and closer together. 

The game quickly picks up the pace as the play space continues to shrink. The safe zone, marked by a white circle, will show up around a random location in each match, while a wider blue circle will tighten around the white circle. Then it starts over again as the white circle shrinks and the blue circle follows, picking up speed as the match goes on. Any players caught outside the blue circle will take continuous damage.

You'll need to keep a constant eye on your position relative to this danger zone, so no place is ever safe for long. Whether you're running desperately toward the play space, or you're in a firefight with another player, Battlegrounds never lowers the tension. 

End Game

Cars and motorcycles can be found for quick transit, helpful for outrunning a quickly encroaching blue field of death or for getting out of a shootout. But by the end of the match, the play space will be small enough to see end-to-end. That means when things get down to the wire, hiding ceases to be an option, and whoever keeps cool under fire will prevail. 

Your match ends when you're the last one alive, or as soon as you die, but getting to the top 10 can take 25-30 minutes. When playing on teams, you'll enter a downed state from which you can be revived with minimal health. A match can be painfully short if you're unlucky, but the formula works so well that we never felt discouraged from just jumping back into another match and trying again.

Winning (or simply participating) nets you points that currently only unlock randomized cosmetic apparel, but we suspect more will be seen in this space as the game continues to develop. 

Ready For Combat

Battlegrounds' combat still has signs of its military sim heritage, so paying attention to your surroundings is key. The game is primarily a third-person shooter, but you can switch to first-person at any time, even if it's just to aim down the iron sights of your gun. Maintaining visual awareness will be as important as keeping an ear out for player footsteps, especially indoors, so a gaming headset is highly recommended. It's in the quietest moments where this game leaves its lasting impressions. 

You'll find various armaments while you scavenge the map, including pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. You'll also find snipers. In addition, you'll find armor and health items, backpacks for holding more guns and ammo, and weapon parts for attaching red-dot and magnified scopes. Items only spawn indoors, so landing among buildings will be lucrative but also a hotspot for other players looking to do the same thing.

Players can choose to queue up solo, with a friend, or with a team of players, and team size separates you into different matchmaking servers -- meaning, solo players only play with solo players, doubles with doubles, and teams with teams. 

Proximity voice chat is on by default, even in solo mode, but we recommend using something else to communicate unless you're teaming up with a random player. Speaking with the game's voice chat can be a great way to give your position away in a tense moment mid-match.

The game has a habit of doing strange things for people playing with minimum-spec PCs

Private servers with modified rule sets already exist, but can be a little tough to queue up for. So far, most of the modified servers include rules regarding weapon availability, like snipers-only, pistols-only, and so on. The most interesting ones we've seen were a frying pan-only server and a server that forced first-person mode at all times, which had a much more profound effect on gameplay than we had originally considered--it removed our ability to safely peek around corners, and forced us to rely on the sound of enemy movements.

Early Access Done Right

Battlegrounds is a Steam Early Access title, but the game is in a very stable state. The development team has also pledged weekly balance updates on top of monthly additions to the game. 

But the game isn't without signs of early development. On a minimum-spec PC, even at low settings, the game has a habit of doing strange things. Buildings may fail to be visible, getting in or near vehicles may cause games to crash, and sound may cut in or out.

Already we've seen meaningful balance changes and additions, such as new melee weapons and changes to how footsteps sound coming from different floors of a building. There's a lot being promised for this game in the coming year, but with a foundation this addicting, it's already worth the price of entry.

Credit: Bluehole Studio