There are those who will always claim that you can’t beat a mouse and keyboard for playing shooters, and that gamepad-controlled games are crazy for even trying. I’ve always had some sympathy for this opinion, but equally there have been many games over the years which have discovered that with the right allowances a controller can come damn close to closing the gap.
What these games worked out was that they had to meet the controller halfway. Halo, and GoldenEye before it, offered a generous amount of auto aim, and the Call of Duty series (which still, for better or for worse, provides the definitive template for the modern shooter) worked out how to hide its own generous auto-aim behind a snappy ironsights system.
PUBG, which has just been released as an Xbox Game Preview on Xbox One, categorically does not meet the controller halfway. We’ve tried our hand at the new release, and so far it feels like a PC game played with a controller, rather than a console game.
Granted, this is an early access game, and so the experience will inevitably change massively over the coming months, but our first impressions of the game will be shared by anyone who chooses to pick up the game at release.
This was a game designed for the mouse and keyboard, and this is impossible to ignore as you play it with a gamepad. The game has a list of controls that only a keyboard can handle, and for better or for worse developer Bluehole has refused to compromise on this with the move to console. Almost every button on the controller has to handle a couple of different actions as a result.
The ‘X’ button interacts with objects if you press it, and reloads weapons if you hold it. The ‘Y’ button cycles through your guns if you press it, or you can unequip everything - and run faster across open fields - by holding it.
Hold the aim button (the left trigger) and you’ll enter an over-the-shoulder aiming mode, press it to jump into a first-person aiming mode, or you can press the left bumper to enter a longer-term first person mode. Dedicated lean buttons, so often the first casualty when a hardcore PC shooter moves to consoles, have also survived intact with PUBG.
Every direction on the d-pad performs a different action, from changing the firing mode of your weapons, to switching to your health items or throwing items.
Even the menu button has a dual role to access both your inventory and the main game menu.
Trust us, Bluehole has worked hard to find a place for every single command on the Xbox One controller.
Yet despite the fact they’ve bent over backwards to ensure the game has made its way unscathed to console, my first few matches played out completely differently with the new control scheme that what I’ve grown used to over my 100+ hours with the game on PC.
Without the ability to snap your view around quickly using the mouse, you’re much less aware of what was going on around you. I managed to pursue a player across a wide open field without them noticing me at all, which would have never happened in the PC version of the game where players are constantly spinning the camera to check behind them.
Each of my gunfights also played out far differently on console, with players delicately strafing around one another over a matter of minutes rather than the usual seconds.
The console version is never going to feel identical to the PC, but with a streamlined control scheme it could hope to find a similar kind of pacing.
No hand-holding for console gamers
From what we could tell, Battlegrounds on console doesn’t make use of any form of auto-aim, which has been a staple of the genre since GoldenEye.
While other games will give your aim a helping hand so long as you’re close, PUBG forces you to work for your hits.
It’s a purer approach, but in our initial matches we found that the balance between difficulty and satisfaction felt skewed towards the former, with gunfights becoming protracted as a result.
It’s just plain difficult to hit your target using a controller, and the game can feel a little slushy as a result.
A base to build on
On the PC, PUBG has received a steady stream of updates, both minor and major, which have seen it slowly improve over the eight months since its release and the console version will be no different. It’s been released as part of ‘Xbox Game Preview’, an initiative that emulates the Early Access model that’s grown so popular on PC.
At the very least we hope future updates fix the game’s erratic framerate, which frequently drops during more hectic moments, but what the game almost needs more is the gameplay tweaks that will allow it to feel at home on the Xbox One.
It needs the smallest amount of auto-aim, and it desperately needs its control scheme to be simplified if PUBG wants to feel like a console game, rather than a PC game controlled with a gamepad.
I really hope the game manages to find its feet, because there’s a lot of potential here. The benefits of a 4K resolution (more common on TVs than computer monitors) in this large scale shooter are obvious in long-range firefights, and with the recent UI upgrades the game feels more like a big-budget console release than ever before.
But as it stands, I felt constricted by the controller in my early matches, and I worry that new players won’t get what all of the fuss is about if they haven’t touched the PC version.
More complex games than PUBG have managed to marry their complexity with the humble gamepad. For years, the thought of a Diablo game on consoles was laughable, but now Diablo 3 arguably controls better on console than on PC.
Bluehole just needs to find a way to work that same magic with one of the hottest PC games of 2017.
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Jon Porter is the ex-Home Technology Writer for TechRadar. He has also previously written for Practical Photoshop, Trusted Reviews, Inside Higher Ed, Al Bawaba, Gizmodo UK, Genetic Literacy Project, Via Satellite, Real Homes and Plant Services Magazine, and you can now find him writing for The Verge.