Let’s start at the top: in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, 90 to 100 players parachute from a cargo plane on to one of two islands – either temperate Erangel, which has been in the game since its early access launch, or the desert Miramar, which is new. Once on the ground these players, clad only in whatever rags that loot chests have granted them, raid abandoned buildings for weapons and scramble to kill each other while avoiding a vast forcefield that slowly closes in on a narrow area of a map. Die and you are kicked back to the title screen: survive and, er, you won. That’s it. Battlegrounds can be played solo or with a team, in first or third person, but this weaponised form of hide-and-seek is what it amounts to.
This formula has made Battlegrounds one of the biggest games in the world, with a seemingly universal appeal: it is both the game that boosted Steam’s presence in China and the game that my friends who play one game every five years are playing. It’s a truth apparently unacknowledged that what the world really wanted was paintball-on-demand, and the rewards for the first game to successfully render this experience outside of ArmA mods and H1Z1 spinoffs are apparently limitless.
Battlegrounds is not, on the surface, a particularly elegant game. Its strengths are in scale, not detail, and it has not quite risen above the sterility shared by most games with military sims in their DNA. There are vague gestures at this being some sort of edgy TV show, a flame motif logo that looks like a bad tattoo and a cast of appallingly-dressed mute weirdos. Theme and atmosphere don’t matter much here however because these things are provided by the scenario itself and, crucially, by your friends.
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