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Review of battle-royale game 'Player Unknown: Battlegrounds' — this week's No. 1 app

David Pogue
Tech Critic

Welcome to David Pogue’s Rated:App series. Each week, I install whatever is the No. 1 bestselling app on the iOS or Android store and review it, to save you the effort in case it’s a turkey!

This week, the No. 1 most downloaded app on Android store, and No. 2 on iPhone, is a game called Player Unknown: Battlegrounds, better known as PUBG.

Why is it No. 1? Because it’s free, because it just came out for phones, and because it’s already crazy popular. Its PC/console versions made PUBG the most-played new video game of 2017.

In PUBG, you explore the island, looking for people to kill.

Meet the battle royale

PUBG is a “battle royale” game, meaning that it’s a military-style, free-for-all, fight to the death. It’s extremely similar to its arch-rival, Fortnite: Battle Royale (which is also free, and is currently neck-and-neck with PUBG on the iOS app store [not available yet for Android]).

At the very start of the game (after choosing the look, gender, race, and screen name for your avatar), you’re in sort of a limbo where you can run around, practice punching and crouching, waiting for 100 players from the internet to accumulate. Once they do, the action cuts to a plane flying high above an island. You choose when to jump out, at which point you skydive, and eventually pop your parachute.

Geronimo! You can control your direction as you skydive.

You explore this island by running around (the “camera” is always behind you) or hopping onto rusty old cars, tanks, or motorcycles. As you go, you find and pick up weapons, protective gear, medical kits, and energy drinks. But be wise: You can carry only so much weight — and you can hold only two guns at a time.

If you’re in Squad mode, getting shot by the enemy doesn’t necessarily mean Game Over. You’re just wounded at first, and your teammates can help you back to your feet.

As time goes by, the playing area slowly contracts, forcing players into a tighter space and heightening the action. The walls, in the form of a creepy blue shimmering bubble, slowly close in on you; if you’re caught inside it, you lose Health.

Beware the shimmering blue dome. It’s closing in, forcing players into tighter proximity.

Oh yeah — it’s also best to avoid the Red Zone: an occasional region of bombardment that will get you killed if you’re not inside a building.

Your objective, of course, is to kill people by shooting them. If you (or your team) are the last alive, you earn the famous “winner winner chicken dinner” screen.

Hey! You won!

Now, depending on your age and temperament, you may be slightly aghast to learn that the most popular phone app in the world encourages the brutal killing of total strangers. As a parent, even I caught my breath to see YouTube videos of PUBGers in action.

On the other hand, if we’re going to start objecting to violent video games, we’ve got a much bigger problem than this little app.

Approaching an injured enemy to finish him off and take his ammo.

The PUBG controversy

One nice thing about PUBG is that even your first time out, you can have some success. You might even get yourself some chicken dinner.

Don’t get too cocky, though. At the beginning levels, many of your enemies are just clumsy, slow bots, put there by the software company to give you something to shoot at. As a novice, I found that to be a clever and welcome idea, but experienced gamers are mightily annoyed at what feels like patronizing, sissy training wheels and manufactured popularity.

But there’s a larger controversy surrounding PUBG Mobile: Lots of people are running this app on their PCs (in a phone emulator) or on a Chromebook (an Android laptop). That way, they can avoid paying $30 for the actual PC version of the game. And that way, use their keyboard and mouse, which gives them a huge speed and control advantage over the poor slobs whose only controls are the phone’s touch screen.

There’s no solution in sight. And plenty of gaming pundits think that this “PUBG on the PC” problem might ultimately ruin the game.

But how is it?

PUBG’s graphics and sound are really good (they scale to the abilities of your phone); if you listen with earbuds on, the sounds actually clue you in to the location of enemy fire. (There’s an on-screen directional indicator, too.) The controls are generally about as good as you can find on a phone touchscreen, although many PUBG’ers complain that they fire their guns accidentally — the “shoot” button is right in the path of the thumb you use to look around you.

If you find a vehicle, you can make better time exploring the island.

If a military-style battle royale sounds like your kind of gig, you’ll find a lot of satisfaction in PUBG. It requires both luck and skill; it gives everyone a shot at the poultry meal; it raises your heart rate and, at times, makes you crack up. Just try to avoid mashing your thumbs all the way through your screen.

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can sign up to get his stuff by email, here.  

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