Impressions from an Unknown Battleground

Posted in Kulturecade by - June 01, 2017

If you’re reading this article, on this enthusiast gaming site, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard a lot about Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG, if you will). It’s become an overnight phenomenon that has completely dominated Twitch, Steam and even the video game press and enthusiast social space in an unexpected and fascinating way.

So what is it about this one particular online game that has generated this continually cresting wave of enthusiasm in an ever-expanding and already crowded genre? Well after a few dozen (mostly stressful, occasionally gratifying) hours of the first-hand experience, I think I’ve figured it out.

There are quite a few of these online, round-based, battle arena type games already available and there have been variations of these modes for many years. But what separates PUBG from your typical Call of Duty Free For All mode or something like H1Z1, is developer Bluehole’s ability to hit the sweet spot with three important factors: simple (but not too simple) game mechanics; a huge (but not too huge) game map; and short (but not too short) round lengths. Let’s dig into those a bit, shall we?

Some may consider the simple game mechanics in PUBG to be a detriment to the game’s longevity, however, I believe these simplified FPS mechanics to be critical to the game’s appeal. First-person shooters are one of the most popular genres of modern video games, so developers often rely on gimmicks to set their gameplay apart. This more often than not leads to poorly executed, half-baked gameplay that may provide some fun in the short-term, but lacks any long-term staying power (see Titanfall as an example). By keeping the toolset simple and the mechanics familiar, PUBG offers a highly appealing multiplayer game format with a low barrier to entry, which forces players to rely more on their tactics and strategies, rather than build-order and weaponry.

Similar can be said for the size of the map. It’s large enough for 100 players to find their own little sections to pilfer and lay claim to, but small enough that sooner or later confrontations will occur. It’s also got enough variation and landmarks speckled throughout that going to a different section can almost feel like playing a completely different map and as play areas narrow down, the final arenas often feel unique each time. This provides a crucial sense of variety to the gameplay, but also fosters enough familiarity for experienced players to gain a sense of knowledge about the lay of the land that can become advantageous.

For me personally, of the key factors to PUBG’s success, the length of the rounds is what has kept me so engaged with the game. Each round goes for a maximum of about 40 minutes or so and there’s a great pacing to the constant shrinking of the play area that gives each round a nice gameplay flow. I find the round length to be just quick enough to keep me on my toes the whole time, but not long enough to get bored or feel like I’ve wasted much time when I place fifteenth at the end of the game. It’s almost the perfect balance between meaningful and inconsequential gameplay that makes you want to try your best, but also not get too upset when you don’t win.

The interconnecting thread that joins each of these factors, and what makes PUBG so addicting to play and watch, is that everything in the game is there in service of you interacting with other people in one way or another. Whether it be blasting an unknown stranger that walks into your compound or stalking another group of enemies with your buddies, the thing that makes Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds so much fun is the rollercoaster of human emotion that comes with genuine interactions with people in the game. It’s a short, fun ride no matter if you’re going alone or with some friends, but what makes it even more fun is knowing that other people are screaming too.

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He is a gaming staff writer for Kulture Shocked and the site’s unofficial southern hemisphere correspondent. When he’s not on the run from customs for importing Mortal Kombat games, you can find him slapping the bass in his Psych-Rock band Neptune Estate or enjoying the beautiful Queensland weather from the safety of his couch.
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