PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is - without question - the biggest game in the world right now, so Microsoft's current console exclusivity for the title is obviously a big deal. Equally without question is that the PC game is notorious for its work-in-progress visuals and wobbly performance. With that in mind, some might say that it's somewhat miraculous that any playable version of PUBG is possible on a console right now. From another perspective though, what's clear is that the current build of the game is a long way short of the standards expected from a polished console release.
PUBG on Xbox One starts up promisingly enough with a decent, attractive front-end, but once you've moved on from character creation to your first in-game lobby, you're instantly besieged by low resolution textures that seem to be failing to stream in properly, combined with performance just above or below the 20fps threshold - depending on whether you're playing on Xbox One or its significantly more powerful 4K counterpart.
Moving onto deployment into the game's single map (the PC's second map is en route), performance continues to be a struggle, kicking off with a prolonged stutter before moving on to 15-20fps territory as the transport plane flies above the map. In terms of first impressions, PUBG is borderline horrendous - an assault of low quality artwork, jarring pop-in and disappointing performance. Input lag also feels off - whether that's down to deadzone issues on the analogue sticks or the variable frame-rate remains to be seen (it's something we're looking into) and in this respect at least, it's the same story whether you're gaming on a standard Xbox or the X.
Does the situation improve once you're deeper into the gameplay? Well, a 30fps cap with correct frame-pacing is in there, and there are areas of the map that can yield an agreeable enough experience, when gameplay does indeed hit the target frame-rate. However, there is very little consistency overall. An extended journey across the landscape in a jeep can play out smoothly enough, with a flawless 30fps line. Meanwhile, entering a house, opening a toilet door and exchanging fire with a lurking assailant can see frame-rate dip to 20fps for no reason we can readily come up with.
PUBG is indeed enhanced for Xbox One X, and although we've only had time for a cursory comparison, the improvements are substantial. First of all, native rendering resolution jumps from 1080p up to full 4K. Secondly, texture detail gets a significant upgrade - it's still far off the standards set by most console titles, but it's clearly a massive upgrade compared to what's served up for base Xbox users. Additionally, foliage draw distance also gets a big, big boost on Microsoft's 4K console.
By and large, performance is also better and when both consoles drop beneath the 30fps threshold, we've noted a delta of between five to 10 frames per second in like-for-like scenes. But again, there's no real consistency in the performance differential and one area we tested did show a small advantage running on the base Xbox One. Regardless of console, foliage-heavy scenes are the one constant that can clearly cause the game issues, though again, this varies in terms of severity.
It's very challenging to 'benchmark' a game as dynamic in nature as PUBG, even if you revisit the same area, doing the same things. With the title tracking gameplay from up to 99 other players, clearly there's a lot going on behind the scenes that could impact performance and we're willing to bet that PUBG can be both CPU or GPU-bound at any moment. In order to get accurate metrics from like-for-like scenarios on base and X hardware, we set-up a small squad and played together on the same server. Across one 22 minute game, we noted an average frame-rate of 25.6fps on the base console, rising to 27.6fps on its more powerful 4K-orientated counterpart.
Average frame-rates are only so useful on console games, their usefulness limited by a 30fps cap, but the numbers here from a sample of 78,000 frames tell you that you're going to be spending a lot of your time well under the target frame-rate. It's fair to say that despite the early access nature of the title, we expected more. Microsoft revealed that its Advanced Technology Group were involved in the port, and these guys are unsung heroes of sorts - working with developers behind the scenes to get more out of the Xbox hardware. At the same time, we were told that The Coalition were also a part of the process, and for our money their work on Gears of War 4 stands among the best in terms of Unreal Engine 4 utilisation on console - and PUBG is based on the same engine. [UPDATE: To clarify, Microsoft's teams supported the PUBG Corporation, offering assistance, while The Coalition helped to optimise controls.]
Of course, this game isn't exactly a shining beacon of scalability, stability or optimisation on its native PC, and equally, it is far from the finished article in its console form. So in that sense, if you're aware of the game and its limitations as it stands right now, you can probably accommodate the rough, unpolished nature of the action. Certainly, despite its many issues, PUBG is still plenty of fun to play - similar to Ark Survival Evolved, the concept manages to enthral even in the face of clear technical challenges. But with Microsoft directly involved and with the quality of the talent deployed on the title, we expected more. Just a consistent frame-rate would prove transformative for the quality of the experience. We'll be tracking the progress of this title as it evolves, but for now, we'd consider caution before any purchase - and if you want a taste of the Battle Royale experience without the technical drawbacks, Epic Games' Fortnite is well worth a look.