Our video showing PUBG Mobile in action.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Mobile had a surprise soft launch (or what normal people call a beta) on Google's Canadian Play Store today, finally giving Canadians like me something to lord over the rest of the world. Don't get too envious, though. While PUBG Mobile is a faithful port that brings the battle royale genre to the little screen, it’s no surprise that you're still better off playing it from the comfort of a computer desk.
PUBG Mobile is about as good a port as anyone could hope for. While the resolution is noticeably downsized, the basic design of the 100-player free-for-all isn't. The map of Erangel is the same size, a giant blue field of electricity still ushers you inward, and the frantic pace of looting and shooting remains intact. I couldn't get the game running when not on wifi, but I'm hoping that doesn't indicate that PUBG mobile is wifi only. Tencent hasn't said whether or not PUBG Mobile will eventually be crossplay compatible with PC players, but its the older Chinese version doesn't have it either. That's probably a good thing.
In my first round, I ended up placing second after killing nine other enemies. Yup, I'm officially better at PUBG Mobile than I am the real game. Moments before my opponent rounded a crest and lit me up (I only had an SK12 and was immediately doomed), my heart was pounding with that same nauseating exhilaration from reaching the top ten on the PC version. When it comes to capturing the spirit and thrill of the battle royale genre, PUBG Mobile is surprisingly adept.
But in capturing that spirit, PUBG Mobile also has to make a ton of concessions that exacerbate PUBG's already annoying-as-hell problems. Surprising no one, PUBG Mobile's controls suck. If you've played a shooter on a phone before, you can already imagine the nightmare of using both of your thumbs to control virtual joysticks while trying to still see what's happening on screen. Making matters worse, PUBG Mobile peppers the entire screen with smaller buttons that perform secondary actions like reloading, switching fire rate on weapons, and even toggling first-person aiming.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that managing my inventory wasn't a nightmare, however. PUBG Mobile will automatically collect loot for you based on what it deems a priority. So if I have an M16 equipped, I can stand over 5.56mm ammo and pick it up without pressing anything. Diving into another dead player's stash or rifling through a backpack is more involved, but there are also quick slots for consumables like bandages that you can rapidly access in the heat of battle. Those are all welcome changes.
The video above shows a better look at a slightly-altered version of China's PUBG Mobile.
Controlling your character isn't too hard when you're just running around, and I like that PUBG Mobile doesn't eliminate more complex features from the PC version like being able to look and move in two different directions. In fact, the only movement feature that has been cut is leaning, which means you can't peak around trees to shoot an enemy. That said, the moment I tried entering a doorway, I realized that the controls desperately lack any sense of precision. I'd sometimes waste seconds strafing back and forth trying to get my character to go inside. It felt less like walking through a doorway and more like Luke Skywalker firing a proton torpedo down the Death Star's exhaust port—only there was no Force to guide me.
Where things really fall apart is in the middle of a fight. Firing your gun is, well, a crap shoot. Those nine kills I scored? I am loathe to admit that probably half of them weren't deserved. The cumbersome controls make aiming precisely impossible, and more often than not I found it easier to simply strafe the reticle over my opponent rather than actually trying to aim at them. And god help you if someone comes up from behind because turning around quickly is impossible.
On my Google Pixel, the graphics were still pretty good, but I doubt anyone is going to be making insane long-distance headshots with a sniper rifle. If the controls don't get in your way, the limited draw distance will. Still, Tencent has done a respectable job getting Erangel to fit on a tiny screen, even if the usual range of engagement meant I was holding my phone inches from my face just so I could see what the hell I was shooting at (spoiler: it was a bush).
If you lack a computer powerful enough to play PUBG or are just desperate to take it on the go, PUBG Mobile might satisfy you. Despite all of its very clear problems, I'm having fun tinkering with it. But if I ever find myself on a bus jonesing for some battle royale action, I think I'll just wait until I get home.