Do you reminisce about the first days of the seminal battle royale game in the summer 2017? Me too
Sometime in 2017, I was a bit tired of my CSGO stack and couldn’t find a group with the right empty role in Dota 2. I’m big on YouTube, and I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about some new game that drops 100 people on an island and lets them fight to the death. After checking that my then-subpar PC met the scarily high system requirements, I went all in for what was an expensive $30 for the Beta version of a game. Over five years on, I’m still convinced that that was the best $30 I ever spent for entertainment.
PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds, quickly shortened to PUBG by what at one point was at one point tens of millions of active players, was something no one had ever seen before when it first came out. The concept had been around for decades, and both H1Z1 — later known as Z1 Battle Royale — and The Culling had brought the concept to the virtual realm before. However, no one had done it the way PUBG would. Here’s everything we loved about the seminal Battle Royale that changed the gaming scene for those who missed out and those who reminisced.
There’s not much to be said about the visuals of the Main Menu of PUBG other than the fact that character customization (on the PC/console version at least) was very limited. However, the music was just something else. The theme that came with the first Beta release and continued till November was suspenseful, moody, and had just the hint of a greater sense of purpose to it. Older players will still undoubtedly feel nostalgic upon hearing it, and the piano part is a treat for the ears.
The theme that came with the original 1.0 release, though, was something else entirely. Beginning in a tense manner, much like its predecessor, it soon gave way to swelling brass and espoused a sense of achievement, dramatic in-game moments, heroism, glory, and even an outright sense of patriotism for no country in particular, but perhaps your party and every PUBG player out there. Both themes were master strokes in their own ways and begs a mention when one talks about the game.
A Map for the Ages
A loading screen that said “The ultimate life & death fight” was undoubtedly cheesy, but one didn’t have to play more than a couple of games to understand that for the right players, it would be just that in any shape or form. The game was an-open ended marvel full of randomness. You were free to ‘chute into a crowded area and have a bloody shootfest before meeting a premature ending, you could take the stealthy route and stay hidden with suppressed weapons until you had to relocate to the new Zone, or you could just plain mess around and have fun.
The beauty of the game lay in the unprecedented level of freedom it offered. It had options for players and indeed, groups of players with any play style imaginable as long as they had the skills to pull it off. Plus, the sheer scale of the map was enthralling, and kept people coming back for more. Even after making it a point to drop at every named and unnamed location with any loot, I still found myself in areas of the map I hadn’t been in before many months into the game. There were also weather effects — rain and fog — that added to the map’s personality.
One of the best things about the first days of PUBG was the sheer madness that went on in the pregame lobby. Imagine a hundred invulnerable players — all with full voice chat capabilities — running around a small island. These players weren’t sweaty tryhards jacked up on energy drinks (or painkillers, for that matter) to get that W, but people were just trying to have good fun on the new game everyone’s talking about.
There were people singing along to someone playing music, dance parties with players busting out some serious moves, and massive conga lines with players leaning left or right while walking around in circles. Among the endless gibberish being spouted through an inordinate number of horrible mics, there were also hollow threats and challenges being issued. I remember taunting many different groups to drop at School if they dare only for my own squad to take over an utterly empty Yasnaya Polyana.
Location, Location, Location
Speaking of which, one of the biggest debates while playing the game was where to get down. The various villages and towns scattered around the island of Erangel, along with the many clumps of houses dotting the landscape, all had varying amounts of loot. You could find a Level 3 Vest, Backpack, Helmet, and every weapon you’d like to carry to the end of the match within the first couple of houses if you were really lucky, or you could fail to find all of the above for the entire duration of the game.
Although the smaller villages and clumps of houses were usually safer places to loot, the bigger cities offered more loot with the caveat of potentially running into other players or teams in the process. As a result, looting was done carefully and in groups, even when playing with 4-person squads. You never knew when you might run into some sneaky player with a double barrel hiding inside a bathroom, and death was quick and irreversible, with a potential half-an-hour-long wait time before the next game on the cards if you were unlucky.
One of the best parts of the game was the weapons. There was a wide enough choice for things not to get monotonous, and without the later rifle-DMR meta being set in stone yet, things were a lot more open-ended. You could pick up just about any weapon and still hope for — and achieve with a bit of luck — victory. My own first-ever Chicken Dinner came by way of a 13-kill Duo-turned-Solo game where I got the last 10 kills with a Thompson SMG, of all things.
Although there was no doubt that the M416 was the best weapon in the game at the time, there’s another weapon that needs a fond mention. While the AWM and M24 were amazing, there have been few feelings as satisfying in the history of gaming as getting a headshot with the KAR98 in PUBG. The crisp, unmistakable report of the shot echoing through the hills or forest, seeing the enemy you just shot down on all fours or dead entirely, and the feeling of having accomplished something so difficult would just pump you up!
The Sound of Violence
Speaking of sounds, PUBG had some incredible sound design despite its flawed directional sounds at long range. It was impossible to move in complete silence, barring minute shuffling movements, and the sounds that footsteps made on every surface were telltale signs of exactly where someone was. On top of that, the sounds made by each weapon could easily be told apart after just a couple of weeks of playing. Each weapon also sounded different depending on who was firing — and from how far away and whether they had a suppressor on or not.
One important aspect was the in-game chat, which, if set to the “All” channel could be heard by anyone nearby. A lot of people would use music, funny sound clips, soundboards, or even straight-up talk to enemies, taunting/insulting/begging/pleading, depending on the situation. This made for great content, and YouTube was inundated with PUBG clips where players were using the voice chat option to comedic effect.
If you’ve managed to play PUBG for over a week without having been frustrated by the placement of the next Zone, you haven’t played it right. Countless matches were lost by way of sheer luck by better-skilled, better-armed, and better-kitted-out teams simply because the Zone wasn’t in their favor. You could be the best player in the world, but when you’re hiding behind a cozy rock and the Zone asks you to make your way across 300 meters of unprotected land, there’s really not much you can do, even if you have some Smoke Grenades handy.
At the same time, the Zone could set up some ridiculous wins. Matches were often won by a couple of players hiding inside a building with a shotgun and an SMG while the world outside them rang with gunfire, explosions and flames. You could also get really lucky and the Zone could just zero in on your initial drop area throughout the game. The only annoying thing about the Zone was that it would rarely finish in outlying areas.
It took a bonafide hero or greedy fool to venture out to one of these. While the payoff of an excellent weapon along with high-level armor and maybe even a Ghillie Suit was tempting to say the least, the idea of being assassinated while rummaging through an airdrop was equally dissuading. Seeing several crates lying around a ransacked Care Package was a common sight, and often it was only the luck of having it drop very close to you in a secluded area that allowed you to make the best of it.
That being said, the equipment found therein could be devastating in the right hands. Whether it was the powerful, barking MK14, the sleek M24, the endless suppression of the M249, the powerful but wild Groza, or the almighty AWM, the weapons had the power to turn the tide of any battle when in the right hands. As long as there was even a half-decent chance of getting away with it, an airdrop was a worthwhile risk, and players would keep their ears peeled for the trademark rumble of the plane engine.
What would a trip back to old-school PUBG be without mentioning the bugs? Aah the bugs. People swimming in the air, walls not loading on time and trapping people inside when they “solidified,” guns doing reload animations by themselves, clipping issues that caused you to fall off to unceremonious deaths or just down below the map into no-man’s land — these are just to name a few. This game had bugs coming out the wazoo. While this made for a poor competitive experience, it was great for laughs and overall enjoyment.
We would be utterly remiss if we didn’t mention vehicles when talking about early PUBG bugs — especially bikes. While vehicle collisions were extremely unpredictable and would often lead to them blowing up from contact or running you over at the slightest touch, bikes had the ungodly power to launch you halfway across the map. They would also tip over at the slightest bump to kill you outright, and occasionally fly through grilled windows or get stuck at some weird place and randomly explode. This was especially bad with the sidecar bike.
YouTube, Twitch and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek
It’s hard to gauge if PUBG’s popularity ushered in the streaming age or vice versa, but what we do know for sure is that it was absolutely massive on Twitch and YouTube. Everyone who was anyone was playing it, and many channels became popular by virtue of just that game. Streamers such as ChocoTaco, Dr. Disrespect, WackyJacky, Tecnosh all made their bones on PUBG, and the one person to benefit from PUBG more than any of these people was Shroud.
While the others were undoubtedly brilliant, Shroud was simply something else at his peak. He was already well-known from his CSGO exploits, but he was never as good at CSGO as he was at PUBG. His aim was insane. His plays were epic, and on top of all that, he was smart. There isn’t a single regular PUBG player from back in the day who didn’t watch at least a few Shroud montages, where he would regularly drop 20-30 kills. He also enjoyed a fair few collaborations with other streamers, which caused quite a stir when it happened.
PUBG might be semi-dead and overtaken by its mobile variant by now, but it was an incredible game for its time, and still has a classic charm. Although many changes have caused it to lose favor among the masses, it is by no means a “bad game.” Even if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s undeniable that for better or worse, it changed the gaming industry forever, and to most of those who played it at its peak, was the most entertaining, immersive, and awesome game for quite a while.