I’ve been watching a PUBG backlash unfold on the internet over the course of the past few weeks. Encouraged by discussion surrounding Game of the Year lists (you can read ours, which includes PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, right here), I’ve seen many contend that PUBG isn’t that good, actually, and that those considering it for GOTY are doing so based upon its popularity rather than its quality.
The reasons against PUBG being considered one of the best games of 2017 are understandable. It’s still in Early Access (its 1.0 update will coincide with its Xbox One release on December 20th), it’s poorly optimized and its muddied visuals and various bugs are representative of a game that isn’t quite finished. It’s certainly annoying to parachute into a game only to find that none of the buildings have rendered properly, leaving you unable to find shelter before being sniped out of your boots by a player who isn’t occupying the blurred hellscape you’ve been forced into.
But PUBG speeds beyond its performance issues and bugs until they’re little more than bumps in the road in its rear-view mirror, all thanks to the game’s ability to allow each of its players to weave their own stories within its brutal arena. PUBG succeeds because even the game’s losers can wind up feeling like winners as a result of the stories they can take away from it.
In most competitive multiplayer games, you begin a round with the knowledge that you emerging victorious is a possibility. In PUBG, you never have the expectation that you’re going to be the last player (or team) standing. The end-game “WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER” screen is so elusive that if you play a competitive game purely for the sense of reward, PUBG is going to leave you cold. While you’re ultimately striving to finish in that #1 spot, PUBG is instead all about the events that take place until the victor is crowned, and while the allure of that dangling carrot remains ever-present, it is far from the reason why this Battle Royale game has captured the imagination of so many.
There are 100 separate stories being told in PUBG in every match, and each story is different in its own way. Despite only taking place on one map (or two, if you’re including the public test server’s desert setting), the drama that unfolds every time you parachute into that map makes each round unique, with each player contributing to this interwoven narrative that can be as exhilarating as it is frustrating.
Every time you interact with an opponent you become a part of their story, and unlike most multiplayer games where the end result and the sequence of events leading up to it are made transparent, after you or your team have been eliminated in PUBG, you never know how that round played out after your untimely demise. Were you a small part of one of the most thrilling PUBG showdowns in history? Did the guy who shot you use the weapons he lifted from your fresh corpse to go on to win the game? Or did he promptly get downed by another player waiting around the corner?
Spectating a single, seemingly unspectacular PUBG match would reveal a fight to the death that plays out like an action movie, complete with evolving character arcs and concluding with an intense finale. The steadily decreasing circle of safety even contributes to a pacing of sorts, in which players begin by wandering an expansive landscape and rarely interacting with their rivals as a result of this openness, before being forced into close confines with one another as the battle progresses, increasing the odds of a thrilling final confrontation between you and the other last survivors.
When you’re unceremoniously ousted from a game and greeted with that sarcastic ‘BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME!’ screen, it can be easy to forget the bigger picture at play — that while you’re being forced to sit out of the game and go find another lobby, the round will continue on without you. You won’t get to see it unfold, and the events that will transpire after your departure will forever remain a mystery to you, but therein lies the beauty of PUBG — you want to see this battle to the end, you want to know what happens, and you want to be the hero of that story.
IGN recently posted a video depicting a round of PUBG but from each player’s perspective, showing the magic of the game that is always concealed from the player’s view. The front-runners are swiftly outlined as a result of their impressive early kills — it’s clear who’s going to make it to the end of this round, you think, watching players picked apart by those with expert aim and a clear understanding of how to best protect themselves in a firefight. But unlike most competitive multiplayer games, in which the more skilled player or team will almost always come out on top, in PUBG it’s not that simple.
We watch in the IGN video as Jordan Parkhurst, a player who confidently inserts himself into a variety of early firefights and emerges victorious in each of them, makes one false move in a vehicle and is promptly eliminated by Mr. Brawl 96. Later, Shiftrr starts singing triumphantly after killing a guy for his motorcycle while desperately trying to reach the inner circle, only to get popped off before he can reach the vehicle by Undecieve. In the closing stages of the game, the overzealous Gamma Avenger fails to match his bite with his bark, yelling out trash talk while struggling to hit a number of his shots on ChewyTheFirst, who eliminates his rival with a much steadier aim before promptly being killed while healing. Each of these individual encounters intertwine to create an enthralling narrative, with a variety of similar but wholly unique stories taking place on PUBG‘s servers every day.
While actually playing the game can cause you to forget that you are but one cog in the PUBG machine, viewing a single round from each player’s perspective is evidence of why it’s so compelling, as everyone involved is not just a player but also a character in its story. From the plucky underdog stealing kills and overcoming the odds, through to the Rambo-esque one man armies dominating the Battlegrounds battlefield, in the countless times you fail to finish in first place it’s difficult to feel like a loser considering the stories you’ll be involved in along the way.
It’s no surprise, then, that PUBG has proven incredibly popular on personality-driven platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. With the former typically favoring far more complex and esports-friendly titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2, PUBG becoming one of the biggest games on the site over the course of the past year is curious, though not unexpected.
With PUBG, viewers know that when they settle in to watch their favorite streamer take on the game, they’re diving into one lengthy episode filled with drama, action and plot twists, lending it a different appeal than the MOBAs, MMOs and FPSs that litter the site. When combining this format with some of the site’s most likeable personalities such as Dr DisRespect and Shroud, the experience for their followers can be similar to watching an action movie, with them cheering for their heroes to overcome the odds and make it to the final credits.
PUBG is a game in which the prospect of winning feels so distant that it rarely factors into your decision to play it. When entering a lobby, you may feel confident in your chances of survival, but that Chicken Dinner never quite seems like it’s going to make its way onto your table. This shows that the hook of PUBG is not in its players’ quest for victory, but rather the memorable events that take place before you’re eliminated.
It’s a movie in which every player assumes the role of a character within it, and only their wits and ability to survive will see them becoming its protagonist. For those who can look beyond its various imperfections, PUBG provides an unparalleled experience in a genre that it has forced onto the map, and it should absolutely be considered one of the very best games this year had to offer.