This week, Yahtzee reviews PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
You may have noticed a rather glaring gap in my 2017 lineup of reviews. "Oh, really, Yahtz? You mean the game that's been the biggest seller on Steam for fucking months? The one that practically embodied the year itself because it's nihilistic, depressing, argumentative, and full of loot boxes and wankers?" Yes, I am, of course, referring to none other than Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Ha ha, big joke. I mean PUBG, which stands for "PlayerUnknown's Bonanza Goldmine". The breakout hit multiplayer shooter based somewhat on the concept of Battle Royale, except Battle Royale didn't involve quite so many people running around in their underpants. (Not yet, anyway. Don't put the idea in their head; you know what Japanese culture's like.)
One hundred players are dropped unarmed and helpless into a deserted sandbox map, everyone who owned property in the area apparently thought that a small pile of guns and supplies makes a lovely living room conversation piece, the playing area gradually shrinks over time, and the winner is the last person to get shot, fall to their death, or quit in disgust after listening to the voice chat, because another thing PUBG could stand for is "Players Unabashedly Backing Genocide"! Seriously, the first thing I did was mute that shit, 'cos I started my first game and immediately heard someone going "Niggers, niggers, niggers, niggers!", and I know that sounds like something I'd make up, but I swear they were. Hell, who needs to interact with the other players, anyway? I do usually avoid multiplayer games - after all, I "Personally Understate the Benefits of Gregariousness" - but I'm fine as long as I don't have to socialize and we can just mutely exterminate each other, like when I go to trivia night at the pub.
PUBG is such a simple concept, I'm hesitant to give Mr. Unknown any credit for it. Multiplayer shooters have had the tendency to overthink themselves lately in an effort to stand out from the crowd; "Ooh, let's make it about capturing territory! No, wait, let's make it one tough player against four weak players working together, like a sort of reverse gangbang!" So sooner or later, someone was going to go, "Hey, why don't we just take the basic deathmatch concept that was in the very first multiplayer shooters ever and scale it up to the biggest map and the biggest number of players possible with modern technology?" And then the innovation of the shrinking play area would be obvious, as otherwise, you'd have the last two players sitting eighteen miles apart, waiting for the other to come into the coffee shop they've been camping for three hours, for you see, "Pugnacity Under Boundaries Germinates".
What I'm saying is that someone was going to come up with this eventually, and in a better world, it might have been someone who knew how to make a game that didn't crash every hour or so, that doesn't look like it was composed entirely from stock textures and models from the Contemporary Shooter Starter Kit, and where the graphics didn't flicker like my eyelids whenever my mum asks if I'm ever going to get a real job.
But anyway, I imagined my first experience with PlayerUnknown's Buggery Grind was pretty similar to most people's: I ran around in a seemingly empty landscape for a while, then something far in the distance made a coughing sound and my head exploded. Then I'd use the DeathCam and witness my death from the point of view of the fucking Terminator, who whipped around 180 degrees, instantly spotted me eight miles away, and sniped me with a gun the size of an ironing board that he must have gotten from a downed alien spaceship. And incidentally, it was while consulting a DeathCam that I discovered that the game doesn't draw long grass past a certain distance; so there I was, crawling on my belly, thinking I'd cleverly concealed myself, only to discover that the other players were seeing a bloke lying in full view, attempting to make love to a golf course fairway.
But over time, I picked up some useful strategies through experience, hard grit, and reading a website with some useful strategies on it, such as, "Stop going prone, you idiot! If someone's shooting at you, that's when you need to be running like fuck; as we all know, 'Proning Ultimately Begets Grief'. And try not wearing boots; it doesn't reduce movement sound by much, but hey, could be the fight-winner." Advice I found slightly galling, because boots were the one thing I'd gotten from the one loot box I'd earned, and I'd been excitedly running around the levels, showing them off to all the concealed snipers.
But my skills swiftly improved; I'd find a nice tucked-away spot to touch down, find gear, sprint across open terrain, serpentine-ing and making incoherent blubbering noises, find more gear, score a couple of kills by crouching in the corner of a large, obvious building, and waiting half an hour for people to serpentine in. By these methods, I was soon routinely surviving to the top ten. "But wait a minute," I thought as a protracted squatting session between two pews in a church rolled into its tenth minute. "There's something missing from this essential gaming experience. Oh, that's right! I'm not having any fucking fun!"
Impressive as my numbers were becoming, the moment the game drew close and I was forced to go where the last few dudes were, I felt like Robinson Crusoe being rediscovered by human civilization; so there'd be five or six super-Terminators having the inevitable sniping duel that every game turns into, and me running into the middle of them going "It's me! Ha ha! I was in that church all along! But now I'm out and I'm proud and--! Oh, look, so is my large intestine. Bleh!" I'd only gotten better at hiding, not fighting, so that was when I made the command decision to do the exact opposite of the good advice and start dropping directly onto fucking target ranges and IHOPs that were going to be swarming with dudes right away, so success becomes less about tricksy, inconvenient things like actual skill and more about who can randomly stumble upon a room with a gun in it first. Sure, I started dying a hell of a lot more, but I also hadn't put enough time investment into each match to give a shit. Drop out and start another game, fuck it; after all, "Prolonging the Unavoidable Bores me Greatly".
And hey, sometimes I had actually survived the initial melee, and then, bonus on bonus, I wouldn't have to loot the area, because all these corpses lying around have thoughtfully done it already. Then I was having fun! Sometimes I'd suicidally parachute onto the very edge of the map and hope to find a motorbike with which I could speed into the safe zone and start doing stunt jumps as increasingly large numbers of bemused crosshairs zero in, and that was fun, too. So I'm not too bothered about "gitting gud" at PlayerUnknown's Bear Grylls, 'cos it's not a very refined game and all the people who have "git gud" don't seem to be extracting much fun out of the bargain; lots of loot boxes, I'm sure, and in the year when loot boxes became a symbolic evil right alongside toothbrush mustaches and ugg boots, PlayerUnknown's Burbling Grandma's cosmetic loot boxes are taking a pretty sizeable amount of piss, probably up to waist-deep, at least.
After my first boots adventure, I knuckled down and church-camped my way to my second loot box, dreaming of the next fancy cosmetic that would surely make me the belle of the morgue, and you know what I got? A pair of beige trousers. Great! This'll be perfect camouflage if the next match takes place in an IKEA showroom. So I knuckled down again until I got my third loot box, which contained a pair of white trousers. My fourth, which was about where I resolved to give up playing the loot box market, was - brace yourselves - a pair of black trousers. Well, at least I assembled a complete spectrum of trousers, or to put that another way, I "Painstakingly United a Britches Gradient".
- The unknown soldier: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- For the record my very best result was coming 2nd, which I can only assume was during some kind of mass typhoid outbreak
- This is probably the most time I've spent in church in years