Don't Spend Money on 'PUBG' for Xbox One Yet
Yes, it's 'PUBG' on Xbox, but one with a wildly unstable frame rate and odd control decisions.
Image courtesy of Blue Hole
When Microsoft announced PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was coming to Xbox, I’d sunk dozens of hours into the game on PC. My first thought? “What delicious prey.” For many players, the Xbox One version was likely to be their first encounter with Battlegrounds, a game that takes a while to wrap your head around. Maybe, just maybe, I’d have an opportunity to leverage my experience from the PC and win a few chicken dinners early, before people with more time and skill took over and pushed me out.
Battlegrounds launched yesterday on Xbox One, and guess what? No chicken dinners! But the reason why is a little complicated; Battlegrounds is, at the moment, messy.
As Battlegrounds barrels towards its 1.0 launch on PC, a move that will push the game out of Early Access, the Xbox One version is only finding its legs under the console’s Game Preview program. (It baffles me Sony hasn’t come up with something similar.) Being released under Game Preview means, like Early Access, it’s not “done,” even if Battlegrounds is the type of game unlikely to reach a finished state soon, if ever.
Because hoo boy, Battlegrounds is definitely not anywhere close to "done" on Xbox One, especially if you’re using an original machine like yours truly. I’m not sure what the experience is like on Xbox One X—Digital Foundry suggests it's bad—but anything would be better than the stuttering mess that you’re forced to grapple with on the notoriously underpowered console Microsoft released back in 2013. As someone who mostly plays on PC and doesn’t own a 4K display, there hasn’t been much reason to pick up an Xbox One X, but if Battlegrounds doesn’t get a more stable frame rate on its older incarnation, it might provide a compelling reason to upgrade.
Though I’m loathe to spend so much time on frame rate, especially as someone largely fine with games sputtering, the dynamic of your average Battlegrounds match, where the moments of quiet are punctuated by intense firefights, requires split-second decisions. When you’re distracted by the game barely loading a house, it’s tough.On Xbox One and Xbox One X, the game is locked at 30 frames-per-second, but it’s rare I’m ever seeing anything close to that on my console, unless I’m hidden in a bathroom:
It gets better when you're on the ground, obviously, but woof.
Granted, Battlegrounds has a history of shaky tech, stretching back to its March launch. One of the biggest complaints against the PC version has been how poorly it runs on computer hardware that should be more than capable of running the game well. Battlegrounds has made enormous strides in that regard—check out the test servers for proof—to the point that my frame rate has effectively doubled recently on PC. It still hiccups every once and awhile, especially driving around where the draw distance changes all the time, but it’s much better.
You’d figure that’s the plan for Xbox, too, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
In fits and starts, it feels like the game I’ve grown to love throughout 2017. 100 people hop into a plane, head to a deserted island for lord knows what reason, and only one is left standing. Fighting in the school is still hellish, as everyone scrambles. It’s still useful to crouch by a bush, hoping nobody notices you’re hiding in plain sight. You are still more likely to die than survive, even if a heated death is often as entertaining as a kill. The panic when a door opens in a house you’re exploring is still thrilling.
Once I tried looking past the frame rate issues, I faced another uphill battle: the controls. I don’t envy trying to map everything to a gamepad here. Though Battlegrounds appears to largely consist of shooting a gun at other players, which so many other games that happily pull off on consoles, you actually have a huge range of options at any one time in Battlegrounds. A player who seems to be sitting still could actually be doing a range of things at a given time.
Holstering a gun, previously a click away, now requires holding Y. It’s fine.
Turning the camera around without moving your character, accomplished by holding the right mouse button, now involves RB and the right analog stick. It’s a little cumbersome, but at least the feature exists. I find it hard to run straight?
Scrolling the in-game map, once as easy as moving the mouse, now has players holding RB and using the right analog stick. When RB is released, the player controls the cursor that allows them to set points on the map. It’s sluggish, strange, and bad.
Between the plodding frame rate, trying to adapt to the controls, and a general change of pace that comes with swapping from mouse and keyboard to a gamepad, playing Battlegrounds on Xbox has felt extremely weird. It’s forced me to play conservatively, as I try (and fail) to remember which button on the controller opens the inventory or the map while in the middle of looting a kill, and curse whoever decided you have to hold X, instead of tap X, to reload your weapon. Please change this.
So far, I’ve managed a few kills, though it’s always felt like I’m fumbling towards victory.
Battlegrounds exists on Xbox One. This is true! At the very least, Microsoft and Blue Hole—sorry, PUBG Corp—should have offered a trial of some kind, giving people a chance to reckon with the frame rate and see if it’s worth putting up with. For most, I’d advise you to wait; this may leave a bad taste in your mouth, and it’d be a bummer to toss it aside so hastily. Hopefully, in the months ahead, it starts to resemble a console version of one of this year’s best games.
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