Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hunt and be hunted in the adrenaline filled Player Unknown's BattleGrounds

There's a stranger in the house with me. I don't think he knows I'm here, judging by the amount of sound he's generating. He's not trying to be stealthy. I happened to be on the top floor of this beautiful A-frame bungalow, when I heard his bike pull up. So, while he's blundering about downstairs, rummaging for loot, I can do an impression of a very quiet mouse and not move. My hands shake, but I have to keep my gun steady. I can hear him closer, now. Close enough to hear his thoughts, sense him do the fateful calculus that will decide whether or not he comes up the stairs and into my sights. I stop breathing; this needs to be done with finesse. A pause in the footsteps, then closer than ever. I'm fighting the urge to close my eyes in terror, my breathing is now involuntarily shallow. He steps into the doorframe. I click the mouse, and my gun barks out. Once, twice, thrice, a steady staccato drumbeat across his chest and into his face. A puff of pink mist, and I can breathe freely again — for about two minutes. What if someone heard that? Even now, as I stand here dithering, players could be converging on my location.

PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds (henceforth, PUBG) is filled with moments like these. Loin-tingling terror intermixed with the adrenaline thrill of a kill. It's a game that helps you understand why hunting is so popular. And why man is the deadliest prey of all. The concept behind PUBG is disarming: your character (along with 100 other players) is parachuted onto a huge island of roughly eight sq km. Scattered in the cities and towns and farmlands of this island are a bewilderingly large array of guns, weapons components, vehicles, armour and clothing. Your job is simple: be the last person on the island, alive. Oh and did I mention that there's this circle, a virtual wall of blue electric death, which rings the island? And it gets closer every five minutes until the final space where anyone can stand is a small circle with a diameter of just 12 metres? What this means is that everyone else on the island is looking for two things: a safe space and a means of inflicting death on everyone else.

PUBG recently became the only non-Valve-released game to break past 500K concurrent users on Steam, Valve's gaming platform, which has become the standard gaming platform for the PC gaming community all over the world. And if that wasn't impressive enough, it's not even a finished game. PUBG is in what Steam calls 'Early Access' — it's a pre-release version of the game that's good enough to play and constantly improved upon, but all the stakeholders: from players, fans, developers and platform owners agree, it's still not a finished game. And you can actually see the improvements week after week as the development team pushes out builds: graphics improve, audio quality and network performance improve, new servers are added for stability; the game is constantly evolving.

Playing a multiplayer game from India is iffy at best but PUBG has servers based all over the world, and recently added a South-East-Asia server, which boasts of decent ping times for my ISP. It's still not a perfect beast; I frequently get Network Timeout errors, especially when encountering larger groups of players. But it works enough of the time for it to remain enjoyable.

Whatever else may be written of PUBG: whether critics in the future decide to call its release a groundbreaking moment in the history of videogames or whether it finds not even a footnote in the annals of time, one thing is clear. For this moment, right now, at Rs 999 this is the best game your money can buy.

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