I’m not great at PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It always happens the same way: I parachute out the back of the plane and find a place at the edge of the circle where I can grab some supplies. I survive the early rush by hiding, then creep along the edges of the ever-shrinking map until I get into a firefight. Then I die. I have never won a chicken dinner.
I killed eight players and landed second place the first time I booted up PUBG Mobile—a handheld version of Battlegrounds released March 19 on Android and iOS devices. The second time, I was winner, winner chicken dinner. I’m hot garbage at regular PUBG but on my phone I am a god. As The Verge points out, this is most likely because PUBG Mobile starts new players against bots that are not as challenging as real players, but it works. It's a good first experience with a complicated game, and once you're in, you'll see that that Battlegrounds on mobile is not as crazy as it sounds.
I was also skeptical at first. It's a big game, too big—it seemed to me—to cram into my little phone. But it works. The game looks good, runs well, and I’m great at it. Being good at a game tends to make me like it.
I think it’s the controls. In terms of my video game-playing abilities, I’m past my prime, especially when it comes to competitive shooters. At my age, professional Counter Strike players are either coaching or retired. We can’t keep up. Touch controls on a smartphone, clumsy as they are, level the playing field.
Using your screen to play a shooter is awkward. All the buttons are on the screen and there’s an aim assist that helps me hit targets even when I'm not right on target. It reminds me of the "tank controls" from early PlayStation One games like Resident Evil where players couldn't run and change directions at the same time. They had to stop, turn, and go.
In many real Battlegrounds games I die when I run from cover to cover, shot by snipers f I never saw across the map. Battlegrounds is a slower, less twitchy game than most shooters, which I think is part of what made it a huge success. Players don't need killer reflexes and hand-eye coordination to be useful team members, place in the top ten, or even win matches. They can hide, plan elaborate traps, and outsmart other players.
But there's still no denying that a competent player with a 9600 dpi mouse and better aiming skills has the upper hand. So many Battlegrounds confrontations end up with two players hiding behind two different trees, and the one who's better at getting headshots usually wins.
On mobile, at least for now, no one has a better mouse and everyone’s aim is shit. It’s great. In the land of terrible tank controls, I’ve got the advantage. I’ve played with them before. I remain calm.
One of the things that separates a good online shooter player from a bad one is calm under pressure. When you turn the corner and face an opponent, do you take a breath and steady yourself or do you freak out and twitch your mouse all over the screen? I tend to twitch. It’s especially bad in Battlegrounds where the games are often long and tense. Because I’m a creeper, I’ll go most of the match before seeing another player. When I do, I usually forget to breathe and immediately get shot in the face.
On mobile, everyone is dealing with weird controls and every firefight is a twitchy mess.
There’s a ton of little quality of life type improvements on the mobile version I love too. The game automatically picks up loot that’s better than what you have and will even auto-equip weapon enhancements. When I loot a player and they’ve got ammo I need, I automatically scroop it up.
I always knew Battlegrounds was a unique and popular phenomenon but I never felt the rush that keeps players coming back until I played it on my phone. After hours wasted with a mouse and keyboard, I finally felt the adrenaline high of owning strangers when I turned to the touch screen. I’m never going back.
Correction: This story originally did not mention that the reason I probably kicked so much ass in the first few rounds was that PUBG Mobile starts new players against bots instead of human players. It's still a good game though!