In 2000, a bizarre and controversial film called “Battle Royale” was released. In the film, dozens of Japanese high-school students are placed on an island, given weapons, and forced to kill one another until one person remains.
That person is crowned the winner.
Its plot sounds similar to “The Hunger Games,” but “Battle Royale” is a far more brutal film. There is no prevailing heroine, no odds overcome. “Battle Royale” is a bleak, suspenseful, violent movie.
A breakout game with a bizarre name, “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” aims to re-create the tension and brutality of “Battle Royale.”
Unbelievably, it succeeds.
“PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (“PUBG”) is available on PC and, as of Tuesday, on Xbox One as well. It has only one game mode. It’s not even fully complete – the game is available in “early access,” which means it isn’t finished, but you can buy it early and start playing now.
After just nine months of availability, “PUBG” has sold over 20 million copies. It’s the most-watched game on Twitch, the world’s largest game-streaming platform. It’s even our number one game of the year.
So what gives? Why is this game blowing up? Here’s the deal.
Though it looks like a typical shooter, “Battlegrounds” is anything but.
Before we go any further, allow me to explain the ridiculous name:
• The game’s creative director – Brendan Greene, also known as “PlayerUnknown” online – is known for creating “Battle Royale”-style games, which are massive online games where players fight to the death with limited weapons.
• Thus, the game is just called “Battlegrounds.” The full name technically is “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” but that’s kind of like calling “Jurassic Park” “Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.”
Every game starts the same: You’re on a plane with about 100 other humans. It’s the most depressing plane ride I’ve ever seen.
The plane is a visual representation of an online lobby, essentially, but it serves another purpose: You choose when to exit the plane, and that choice is important because the next step is parachuting down to a massive, deserted island.
As you parachute down, you’ll see other players doing the same. This is where the game starts – floating down to your almost certain death, eyeballing other players.
Since every player starts with just the clothes on their back, the first 10 minutes of every match is a scramble for weapons, armour, vehicles, and security.
Any given part of the massive map looks like this. There are roads and abandoned buildings, and the vacated island is rife with weaponry.
After you land on the island, your first move is almost certainly to go indoors. You could bumrush other players who land near you in an attempt to punch them to death, but you probably shouldn’t.
Instead, you likely will look for supplies – and those are indoors. This concept of looting for resources is a panic-inducing moment right off the bat.
Let’s say another player lands near you in a town. Here’s how that might play out:
• You both land around the same time, see each other, and head toward separate buildings.
• Maybe your building has a good weapon, or maybe it has a police vest for protection. Maybe it has nothing.
• But what about that other player? You’ve lost them, and they could have a killer weapon. Do you head out to another nearby building, hoping they aren’t in the same one? Do you wait near a window, keeping an eye on the building they’re in, waiting for them to leave? Do you take off running toward another nearby town, hoping for better supplies?
This is the central tension of “Battlegrounds,” and it starts immediately.
Unlike most shooters, “Battlegrounds” gives players very limited health and ammunition. As a result, each bullet matters far more.
After getting a weapon, maybe some protection, and perhaps a sweet shirt, what’s next? That’s up to you.
There is one major restriction, and it’s central to how “Battlegrounds” works. Though the island is massive, it begins shrinking after you land. Not literally, but your map shows a massive white circle. If you’re not within that circle at any given time, you’re likely to die.
That’s how “Battlegrounds” forces players together on a massive, deserted island – you must keep moving toward the shrinking circle of space on the map, or you’ll be killed by the game itself.
This does two important things:
• It keeps players from sitting in buildings waiting for action, instead forcing them to confront each other.
• It gives players an objective other than survive.
There’s a constant feeling of “I have to keep moving” at the heart of “Battlegrounds,” and it exists alongside your instinct to survive, which screams: “Stay in place! Watch your back!”
Each encounter with another player is a choice: Should I engage, and give up my location to anyone nearby? Or should I try to get away, sight unseen?
Even with 100 people – actual human players – combat is sparse. You’re far more likely to see someone in the distance and take careful aim from a well-hidden perch. And you’d better not miss, as every bullet fired is a massive red flag to any other players in the area. You’d also better not miss because chances are you have only a handful of bullets for whatever weapon you’re firing.
As a result of this restraint, each interaction with other players has far more weight than something like “Call of Duty.” Your instinct says to fire no matter what – this is essentially a free-for-all “deathmatch” game – but “Battlegrounds” forces you to play more thoughtfully. Often, the best response is to let other players kill each other before you step in and wipe up any remaining players after their fight.
Though “Battlegrounds” uses the classic deathmatch concept as its base, it twists expectations in a few crucial ways:
• Deathmatch usually has 32 players, tops. “Battlegrounds” pits 100 players against one another.
• Since ammunition is limited and each shot could alert other players, shooting isn’t always the best choice.
• You have only one life – when you die, you’re done. So playing carefully is crucial if you want to be the last remaining player of 100.
It’s crucial you stay on your toes in “Battlegrounds.” Any misstep means death, and thus, the end of a match — for you, that is.
What you see above is a mistake, though it’s one you’ll often have to make while playing “Battlegrounds.” Standing up and taking aim is something you should only do if absolutely necessary – you’re better off kneeling or outright laying prone on the ground.
Because of the shrinking circle of playable area, you’re constantly on the move. It’s possible you’ll parachute into the center of the white circle, though it’s also unlikely. It’s a huge map. Thus, moving around from cover to cover (or shelter to shelter) is key. The best “Battlegrounds” players limit their exposure to open fields as much as possible.
There is another recourse: vehicles.
A handful of drivable cars, trucks, and buggies made it through whatever happened on the island, and you’ll occasionally find one while you’re looting. They are a blessing and a curse.
This is what I’m talking about.
In the example above, one player with a sniper rifle and a ghillie suit hides on a slope and fires on a car from a safe distance. The car explodes.
Perhaps the player shot the gas tank. Perhaps another player attacked them with an explosive – you’ll find grenades every now and again, both explosive and smoke-based.
What’s clear is this: The driver made a lot of noise with that engine, and other players noticed. Then those other players attacked.
While vehicles are a much faster way of getting around and can be used as weapons, they are also a massive source of noise in a relatively quiet, massive world. And what are you trying to do out here again? Survive.
You’ll encounter a variety of environments on the island, and using them to your advantage is key. Water, for instance, is especially useful for hiding.
Maybe you need to cross a bridge. Maybe you’re sneaking up on a house you saw an enemy run into.
Using water as a means of stealth is crucial. You can hold your breath for a limited time, but ducking underwater is a great way to sneak.
There is a trade-off, of course – if an enemy catches you underwater, you’re defenseless. If nothing else, “Battlegrounds” is a game about risk versus reward.
Tall grass can also be useful, though if you’re wearing a bright blue jacket, it’s less useful.
Players can go “prone” – lie flat on the ground, stomach down – in tall grass, thus making them slightly harder to see and, thus, to shoot. This is a great way to wait for enemies who might be, say, heading toward that car you intentionally left as a trap.
It’s easy to understand why “Battlegrounds” caught on so fast: There’s a constant feeling of “What’s going to happen next?” that makes it ridiculously replayable and exciting.
Even the best “Battlegrounds” player might parachute into an area on the map that has next-to-no weapons. Even the worst “Battlegrounds” player might stumble upon a jackpot of weapons, health kits, and armour. Not fighting anyone is a strong option in “Battlegrounds,” which is a welcome change.
The guy above in the ghillie suit with the sniper rifle? Maybe he’s just waiting out another fight. Often, the best option in “Battlegrounds” is to play it safe, hang back, and let other players kill each other while you laugh and watch the player count drop.
Remember, the goal is to be the last one alive, not to be the player with the most kills. As a result, “Battlegrounds” feels outright intellectual. It’s a game of outsmarting other players, not shooting them first.
At some point, if you survive, you’ll find yourself pitted against the remaining survivors in an ever-shrinking circle.
This is when you might want to pull out that assault rifle you’ve been hanging onto. Try your best not to be as brash as the player above, who’s standing in the open firing his weapon. Just like the first 10 minutes of the match, the last 10 are a terrifying scrum as players rush to take each other out before the circle closes in on them.
This is when you’re most likely to see people throwing explosives, setting buildings on fire, and driving cars into each other. It’s similar to the first 10 minutes, but with far more heavily-armed players.
Should you be taken out, don’t despair — there’s always another group of 100 people waiting to parachute on the island.
Since soft-launching on Steam’s Early Access program on March 23, over 20 million copies of the game have been sold. At $US30 apiece, that’s a gross of $US600 million on a game that isn’t even officially released yet. The game’s developer, South Korea-based Bluehole Studios, is planning to have “PUBG” exit Early Access on December 20.
That’s really good, but here’s some more context: “Battlegrounds” is currently the No. 1 most streamed game on Amazon-owned Twitch, the world’s largest game-streaming service.
It’s also the number one game on the current-players list on Steam, the world’s largest digital-game store. That’s no joke – we’re talking about a platform with over 200 million active users. “Battlegrounds” is an explosive breakout hit.
Don’t have a PC? Don’t worry — “Battlegrounds” is now available on the Xbox One, and possibly the PlayStation 4, in the near future.
The Xbox One version of “Battlegrounds” is a little behind the PC version; it’s an Early Access game for the foreseeable future, with no “final” release date on Xbox One in sight. Though it’s very similar to the PC version in terms of content, the Xbox One version is missing the new map – Miramar – and doesn’t run quite as smoothly as the PC version.
Unfortunately for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch owners, the game isn’t announced as coming to either platform. Indeed, the game is only coming to the Xbox One this year specifically because Microsoft has a formal Early Access program on its console, whereas Sony does not.
Despite the exclusivity deal with Microsoft, Bluehole is looking at bringing the game to the PlayStation 4 as well.
“We have a team working already on looking to port it to at least the Xbox,” creative director Brendan Greene told Business Insider during a livestream of “Battlegrounds” earlier this year. “We’re looking at both consoles of course, but we have no time frame for both.”