When I played DayZ for my first time in early 2011, I remember thinking to myself how much potential survival games have, and how when one day when a game manages to get the gameplay right, it's going to be phenomenal. Six years later, that game still hasn't arrived.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is undoubtedly the closest we've gotten to the dream survival that gaming has deserved for so long. Its approach is a bit different in that rather than its open-world being persistent, it's a battle royale to the death. But fundamentally the idea is the same: loot items, tread cautiously, and show no mercy.
Historically, survival games are a bit of a mess. It all began with the mod for Arma 2, which inherited all the gameplay clunkiness of the base title. That didn't stop it from accumulating a player base of hundreds of thousands, though.
Since then we've seen a standalone DayZ release by Bohemia Interactive, H1Z1 by the former Sony Online Entertainment, and the controversial Infestation, formerly known as War Z. All these titles have had their own angle on the same concept that the DayZ mod pioneered in 2009, but none have been able to get away from the tradition of bad gameplay.
PUBG swooped onto the scene early this year with incredible ambition. Host on Unreal Engine 4, it is undoubtedly a cut above the competition with visuals that appear just a couple years dated rather than a generation, and movement controls that don't make you want to pound your keyboard.
Outside of these two qualities, the game is familiarly underwhelming, though. Interacting with objects, from looting items to opening doors, is finicky, to a point where it can get you killed. The gunplay isn't sharp, inspiring zero confidence when you pull a trigger. You learn early on that using a weapon is a last resort, and your best bet at surviving more than 25 minutes is to avoid confrontation altogether.
Considering all these problems, it's a miracle that the game has sold as well as it has. In-fact, it's the best-selling game of 2017 with over five millions copies in the hands of consumers, and currently growing at a pace that has overshadowed Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Whatever it's doing, it's doing it well.
Like many others, I have put up with PUBG's shortcomings, mainly because there isn't any reasonable competition. It plays well enough to where gameplay isn't a deal breaker, though it's a common source of frustration. It might not feel great in the hands, but that hasn't stopped me from clocking in over 25 hours in two weeks.
Although I'll be quick to invite my friends to squad and play this evening, part of me wishes that a talented AAA developer would finally invest in the genre. There's clearly enough money to be made that Ubisoft—who came halfway with Tom Clancy's The Division—and other top companies should give it consideration.
One day when a game manages to get the gameplay right, it's going to be phenomenal.