Playerunknown's Battlegrounds is back with a new console port, finally arriving on PlayStation 4 a full 12 months after its debut as a timed-exclusive for Xbox One (where the title has transitioned to Microsoft's Game Pass subscription service). Available for £24.99/$29.99, we went into this one wondering whether the PUBG Corporation has managed to resolve the lingering issues with the Xbox One code, and the extent to which the port may have been changed or even improved over the existing game.
Upon booting the new release though, It's pretty clear that leveraging the capabilities of the PlayStation 4 hardware isn't a priority for the developer. Kicking off with some PUBG gameplay running on the base PS4 console, the overall impression you get playing it is uncannily similar to the standard Xbox One version. There's the same lurching performance during packed lobbies, the same ugly stutter going into the main game, and similar weirdness that sees frame-rate tank at the beginning of the session, before swiftly stabilising to 30fps - albeit with periodic stutter. Running some quick comparisons, the PS4 version is indeed very close to the turnout delivered by the vanilla Xbox One - the most noticeable improvement being pushed out foliage rendering in the mid distance.
There is PlayStation 4 Pro support, but the implementation is lacking. There are two key advantages to running PUBG on the enhanced console. First of all, there's a resolution bump to a straight 1440p - the 'go to' pixel-count for some of the least ambitious Pro upgrades we've seen across the years. Don't get me wrong, 1440p can look amazing - just check out Ratchet and Clank or For Honor on Pro - but the presentation here is blighted by no improvement to anti-aliasing quality. The jaggies and moire pattern aliasing are just as bad as they are on the base PlayStation - something of a mystery when PUBG's Unreal Engine 4 underpinnings include one of the best temporal anti-aliasing solutions around. The 1440p presentation is also matched by what look like 1440p HUD elements, which really should have been native 4K.
The Pro's second key advantage over the standard PS4 is welcome, but equally mysterious - vastly superior texture work, delivering a night and day boost to the overall detail level. I ran some comparisons using PUBG's training stage (which has a locked time of day for easy head-to-heads - and the added advantage of not being shot to death) and it seems as if the higher grade art is available on both Pro and Xbox One X, while the standard machines get the lower quality assets. When there's a 4GB differential in available RAM - as is the case between Xbox One S and Xbox One X - this makes sense. However, PS4 Pro only has a 512MB RAM advantage over the base unit - yet it's delivering often vastly improved textures.
It's not limited to the training area either. As the shots below demonstrate, the difference extends to the main stages too. By comparison, the standard consoles look significantly worse with so much low resolution art. Texture streaming speed on the base machine is also no match for Pro, resulting in the lowest quality textures remaining on-screen for much longer, adding further to the general sense of ugliness.
The end result is a sense that PUBG on PlayStation should have been much, much better. The PlayStation 4 GPU is much more capable than the Xbox One S equivalent, and surely the render-time budget must have been available to deploy improved anti-aliasing at the very least - we know it exists in the UE4 toolbox. Similarly, UE4 has some really impressive dynamic scaling and temporal super-sampling tech that could have worked wonders on the Pro version of the game, which - as things stand - simply doesn't look good on a 4K screen.
In essence, the visual differences between the four console versions are pretty clear then. The standard PlayStation 4 delivers an experience very close to the basic Xbox, albeit with improved foliage draw distance, bringing it into line with the same setting used on Xbox One X. The PS4 Pro gets the X's vastly improved textures, but tops out at 1440p. Otherwise it's a pretty close match to Microsoft's flagship - though the native 4K pixel-count diminishes the impact of the poor anti-aliasing considerably. It also seems to have some improvements to ambient occlusion not found on the Pro, but resolution aside, it's pretty similar overall. Regardless of platform, there's still the sense that this is a some way short of the experience delivered by the PC game.
It's been a while since we last looked at PUBG and with the Xbox version now released from early access, and a PlayStation 4 port now available, I was interested to see whether the game had improved in performance terms, and also whether the intrusive bugs and glitches had been resolved.
On the former count, there is the sense that optimisations have been made and gameplay is more level now at the target 30fps. There's still the same lurching stutter when players are teleported to the carrier plane, and the same hitching jank when parachuting down into the play area. During these suboptimal situations, PlayStation 4 Pro habitually outperforms the base PS4, sometimes significantly so. However, once players are on terra firma and the players have fanned out across the terrain, we are mostly in 30fps territory. There is still a lot of hitching and stuttering across the duration, and it's interesting to note when comparing feeds of Pro spectating a base PS4 player that the stutter frequently happens in identical places, but with less impact to frame-times. Performance isn't great overall, Pro has the advantage, but the overall experience does seem improved over the last time I played a console build.
However, the bugs and glitches are still commonplace. As mentioned previously, texture streaming on the base machine isn't great, I've seen gunned-down opponents fall through the floor, parachutes stuck on roofs, and even fleeting glances of placeholder textures. Accessing the Sanhok map, there's no guarantee as to whether real-time shadows will appear at all - and when they do, they are of a poor quality (as they are throughout the game). Lighting has aspects of competence about it, marred by an overall lack of shading - too much of the game looks like real-time shadows and ambient occlusion are completely omitted.
It's PUBG, so it's still fun - especially so with squads in multiplayer - but the lack of progress in turning a substandard port into a polished, attractive experience is a real disappointment. And the real challenge facing the PUBG corporation here will come from the competition - Fortnite is free to play, runs at 60fps, and doesn't feature anything like the same level of bugs or glitching still found in PUBG. And then there's Call of Duty's Blackout mode - much closer to PUBG in concept but delivering another 60fps experience, expertly tuned gunplay and weapons feel - and again, a vastly improved level of technical competence. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that PC remains the best way to play this game - the console versions fall drastically short, and the competition's just too strong.
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