Games like Overwatch possess an obvious appeal. When you’re backed by a mega-developer like Blizzard, at your fingertips rest the resources other game creators could only dream of. Thanks to the consistent support Blizzard has given Overwatch, they’ve been able to perpetually tinker with the game’s guts, making it a nearly perfect online experience.
Then again, sometimes a game’s concept is so good, it rises above its technical problems and generally unrefined nature. That last sentence essentially explains the basic appeal of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, a Steam Early Access Game that released in late March and moved two million copies as of this writing. While Battlegrounds exists in a fairly unfinished state and features an extremely simple premise—kill or be killed—after playing a few matches, it’s easy to see why this new creation is shaping up to be one of 2017’s most surprising hits.
How It Works
Basically, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds borrows heavily from survival/combat games like Arma and H1Z1, but does a much better job of cutting to the chase. Every match starts with you parachuting down to an island with 99 other players, and once you hit the ground, your goal is to be the last one standing. With so many players spread over a fairly large environment, Battlegrounds could feature some lulls in its matches, if not for one very important element. Every few minutes, the map essentially shrinks by gradually limiting the size of the “safe areas” you can travel comfortably—stray outside of these borders, and your health will begin to drop.
While matches start out fairly quiet—for the lucky players—the whole map-shrinking concept means players are perpetually pulled closer together by the end of a match. So, even if you’ve spent most of your time safely gathering weapons and items from various abandoned buildings that dot the map, you’ll eventually have to confront the remaining humans to achieve your goal of being the last one alive. Granted, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds stands as an unfinished, unpolished game that can be a bit of a technical mess at times, but, despite these downsides, its formula feels like absolute magic.
Why It Works
Tension is the fuel that powers Battlegrounds’ matches. At the very outset, you’re stuck on an island, holding no weapons or items, and fully aware that 99 other players will try to kill you on sight. And even when you manage to pick up the odd gun, backpack, and/or piece of armor, the (always) on-screen countdown of remaining players only serves to up the pressure. When death comes in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, it usually comes swiftly and without warning: you could be sniped while running across an open field to the next safe zone, or run into a house only to be shotgun-blasted in the face seconds later. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes to jump into a new match.
And since Battlegrounds explains nothing to the player, each match serves as an important learning experience, with each choice carrying its own risks. For instance, you can always jump down to the island much later than other players; this approach gives you more free time to explore safely, but most likely you’ll eventually have to spend a lot of your time fleeing to safe zones. Closing doors after you loot houses can fool the enemy into wasting their time searching looted locations for items, but this tactic can also work against you if other players feel like camping behind a shut door to attack anyone careless enough to enter unprepared. Since each match features 100 human brains acting independently, every Battlegrounds experience can feel wildly different from the last.
It’s Only Getting Better
Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds may not be a completely finished product—as if any online game ever truly is—but the core concept still shines through its rough exterior. And the good news is that its developers are devoted to consistently improving the game, and plan on having an official release in the fall. With such a great concept on their hands, it’s hard not to get excited about a version of Battlegrounds that feels like its own game and not just a clever mod for something that already exists. In any case, with Battlegrounds’ massive audience growing by the day, it might be a good idea to jump in early so you have a head-start on the competition when this game really takes off.