I’ve been playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds for nearly a year, and I’m still bad at it. That’s okay — it’s the taking part that counts, and the genius of PUBG is that you can have a fun, tense experience no matter your skill level.
I was still happy to get my first solo chicken dinner recently, though, as you’d expect. But I didn’t think it’d happen the way it did — in my bed. On my phone.
I’ve been playing the Chinese mobile version of PUBG, appropriately subtitled “Exhilarating Battlefield,” for a while. Tencent, the giant company behind WeChat, bought up the rights to publish PUBG for phones late last year. The mobile version should make it outside China at some point — as of today, it’s available for Android in Canada as a test launch.
Anyway, what you should know is that mobile PUBG is really great.
PUBG was a technical mess when an early version came out on Xbox One last year, and though things have improved a little since, it’s still far from a polished experience. Back then I mostly gave it a pass for still being fun, understanding that it must have been a challenge to bring a notoriously unoptimized PC game to an underpowered console. But the mobile version is so good that I’m starting to rethink that assessment.
Sure, the graphics have been downgraded significantly, with emptier buildings, lower level geometry, and blurrier textures during the initial parachute jump. But it’s hard to tell on the smaller screen — the overall experience of playing this version is more impressive than seeing the Xbox version on a big TV. It really feels like, and is, PUBG. Performance is solid on the pre-production LG V30S I’ve been testing, with a smoother framerate and higher resolution than on my Xbox One S. (The game suggested the highest of three quality presets for my Snapdragon 835-powered phone; a higher quality mode seems to be on the way, presumably aimed at 2018 flagship devices and beyond.)
The touchscreen controls are also smart, if not wholly original, taking ideas in turn from mobile PUBG knockoffs like NetEase’s Knives Out. There are lots of thoughtful additions, like the ability to “lock” your run in a certain direction, and the way there are fire buttons on each side of the screen so you can shoot while strafing or aiming. Some crucial actions, like looting and closing doors behind you, are frankly easier to do on the mobile version than the PC or Xbox.
The game is mostly the same as the Xbox version in terms of content. You only get the one original map, but you do get features from the 1.0 PC version like the ability to vault obstacles. There are some other tweaks too — blood is now green, and the minimap shows icons to indicate auditory clues like footsteps and gunfire in case you’re in an situation where you can’t play with headphones. The game’s pacing hasn’t been significantly altered, however, so you should still expect rounds to last over half an hour.
One major difference from the other versions is the presence of bots, apparently designed to help new players get to grips with the game. As you level up, the ratio of real players to bots increases, and it’s easy to tell the difference — the bots are pretty dumb and don’t put up much of a fight. This might be disappointing to hear for anyone who plays for the first time and is amazed by their own latent skill level, but it’s a clever way to ensure people have a good experience when they first play PUBG.
As on other platforms, though, the game already has a formidable competitor. Epic Games’ Fortnite Battle Royale is the Instagram Stories to PUBG’s Snapchat, brazenly ripping off the core design while putting it in a slicker package for a new and wider audience. (Like Drake.) Invites for Fortnite’s iOS version started to go out today; we’ll have more coverage on it soon.
For now, though, it’s just really cool to see that a groundbreaking gaming concept that brought monster PCs to their knees a year ago can already run on phones. Whichever your battle royale game of choice, it’s going to be worth checking out the mobile versions when they become widely available.