Perfecting the art of cowardice in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 307. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

A hundred people are dropped on an island full of guns, and the last one alive wins. That’s the beautifully simple premise of Battlegrounds, the survival game taking the internet by storm. A storm that I’m hopelessly caught up in.

At first I was treating it like a deathmatch, tooling up with any guns I could scavenge and seeking other players out in an attempt to shoot my way to the top of the food chain. But I was dying quickly, and embarrassingly, without even scraping the top 50.

So I decided to take a different approach. I started playing the game like an elaborate game of hide-and-seek. Hiding instead of attacking. Sneaking through the foliage, holing up in buildings, letting other players pass rather than engaging them in a firefight.

I’ll still kill people, but only if I’m backed into a corner and have no choice, or if someone is easy pickings. It’s hard to resist when a player hasn’t seen you and you have a clear shot—especially if they’re toting a fancy weapon or wearing a nice-looking hat.

But the game does have ways of keeping cautious players on their toes. Over the course of a match the play area gets incrementally smaller, represented by a shrinking circle. Stay outside the circle for too long and a wall of blue energy will sap your health until you expire. Also, large areas of the playfield are pummeled by terrifying airstrikes at random.

So you have to keep moving, even if you’re just trying to stay hidden. And when the circle shrinks and forces you out of your hideyhole, there’s a very real chance of running into another player. Especially in the later stages of a match, when there are only a handful of players left, when the circle contracts to the size of a Quake deathmatch map.

Playing Battlegrounds like this makes it feel like a stealth game, but with real, thinking humans instead of AI-controlled guards, and it’s incredibly tense as a result. It’s the only game other than Dark Souls to make my heart properly pound with excitement. And it’s the most fun I’ve had in an online game since I was deep into the similarly nerve-racking DayZ.

The only thing I miss from DayZ is how everyone on the map isn’t necessarily out to kill you. I love bumping into someone in Chernarus and that uneasy moment of figuring out whether they’re going to attack you or not. But in Battlegrounds everyone wants to kill everyone else, so running into another player almost certainly results in violence.

I’m getting better at being a coward. I’ve made it as far as sixth using stealth, and I’m hoping to win one match without any aggression. But when I play in a group, the safety of numbers makes me a lot more trigger-happy, and attacking other squads is the best way to play the game with friends. It’s a totally different experience.

Battlegrounds has sold over 6 million copies and is so cosy at the top of the Steam charts, it’s just bought a house there. But unlike many Early Access darlings, I feel like this one entirely deserves its ridiculous success and the $60 million it has reportedly generated.

Although being a popular Steam game, it does have a tendency to attract some of the worst people in the world. Do yourself a favour and disable voice chat before you play, because the prematch lobby is a sea of idiot racists and edgy teens.

Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.