While I was visiting Seoul last year I spent quite a bit of down time inside a few of its many PC Cafe’s playing Overwatch. While walking past the glowing screens I noticed that a lot of them were playing a game I had never seen before, something called PUBG, or Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.
I had never heard of PUBG, but I knew it was a big deal, not just because everyone was playing it but because it was advertised outside of almost every PC Cafe I came across in Seoul (and they are on almost every block).
Why was this bland looking military shooter so popular I wondered? As I walked around the pc cafe I tried to gain some insight into what the game was all about but failed to come up with any answers.
When I got back to Australia I decided to download PUBG and find out for myself. I instantly understood its popularity.
The premise is simple. You and 99 other players are dropped from a plane into a large environment where you search for gear and try to survive until you are the last man standing. One life, no respawns, you die and it’s back to the menu screen.
The game was intense like no other I had ever played. The only thing I could compare it to is terrorist hunt mode from the old Rainbow Six games, except you’re hunting real people instead of AI, upping the tension immensely.
I was instantly addicted. Death after death I kept on queuing for the next game, but I never won that chicken dinner and eventually I realized the reason why I liked the game was also its biggest flaw.
Games of PUBG are decidedly random. You spawn in, hope you find good gear and try to stay within the ever-shrinking circle while trying to avoid being ambushed and killed by other players.
While situational awareness and aiming are important, success is also based on a good chunk of luck, especially when playing solo. Most of the time, you won’t see the enemy coming and it becomes a game of who spots who first.
It’s what makes the game both thrilling and infuriating. Every game is a tension filled gamble and while this was fun at first, I soon grew tired of walking for long periods of time only to be shot in the back by an enemy I didn’t even know was there.
While the appeal of PUBG was fading, it’s successor caught my eye.
Fortnite improved upon PUBG in many ways. The game ran smoother, and felt more polished than PUBG. It’s cartoonish art style, while not to my taste, allows you to see the battlefield clearly. Hit markers remove the guess work from gunplay and the map is smaller, resulting in more firefights and less walking. It’s a less realistic experience, but I feel it’s the better game because of it.
However. The game features a crazy building system where you can erect gravity defying structures instantly whenever and wherever you feel like it. I’m not talking about laying down some sand bags or barricading a door, players can build giant stone towers ascending up into the heavens in a matter of seconds. It’s the Fort in Fortnite, and the feature that sets it apart officially from PUBG. It’s also what ruined the game for me.
It was just too ridiculous for me to take seriously, and so I avoided it. I never learnt how to become a good builder and I could only get so far because of it. Unlike PUBG I did win a few games, but I knew I was handicapping myself by refusing to play the game as it was intended, and so eventually I quit.
I came from PUBG craving a faster paced, tighter version of that game, but Fortnite is a different beast entirely, taking things a little too far to the left of realism for my liking. Perhaps one day they’ll release a no build (or slow build) mode that will be closer to what I was looking for, but right now it is what it is.
So was my battle royale experience fun? Yes, it definitely was, and I can’t wait for the day when a game comes out that finds that perfect balance between gritty realism and arcade action. It’s a genre that has tons of potential, and I think we’re going to see great things to come especially given the huge popularity of these two games.
FYI These are my experiences as a solo player, I’m sure both games are vastly different in a squad.