Thursday 20 September 2018

PUBG review: The battle is only half-won on Xbox

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (XO) ★★★★ Age: 12+

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds
Playerunknown's Battlegrounds
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

It's the silence that gets you in Battlegrounds. In rival shooters, the air crackles and fizzes with the din of furious gunfire. But much of your time in PUBG (as aficionados dub it) is spent fearfully creeping around abandoned buildings scavenging weaponry while listening intently for a sound, any sound.

That is PUBG's genius, last year's PC mega-hit created by Kildare developer Brendan Greene and now playing on Xbox One in an Early Access beta form. With 100 players parachuted on to a sprawling island at the start of each game, it's possible to survive for 15 or 20 minutes without ever seeing another combatant if you're playing solo and not with a squad. But an ever-reducing zone of survival gradually forces players together into a merciless cycle of kill or be killed.

The eerie hush of those tense first minutes in which you desperately hunt for arms and armour contrast with the inevitably rushed denouement as players sprint or drive to the end zone, scrambling for kills.

Greene and his team handed Xbox development duties to a small Spanish studio in Girona, which has turned in a version of PUBG that mirrors its troubled early days in 2017. Littered with glitches, ropey frame-rates and several months behind the relative polish of the PC edition, this PUBG undoubtedly earns its Early Access designation.

Those rough edges never harmed its parent edition, however (30 million sales at last count). The full PUBG phenomenon may be out of this version's reach for now. But it is destined for regular improvements and feels already fairly playable, although hampered by poor controls and surprisingly low resolution, even on the powerful Xbox One X.

Okami HD

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 12+

Few games are deemed worthy of a remaster but Okami HD stands as a rare example of a work that deserves a remastered remaster. The original didn't sell particularly well in 2006, despite its distinctive cel-shaded visuals, Zelda-like gameplay and delightful calligraphy motifs.

Remade in 2012 for PS3, Okami's definitive rendition emerges six years later with this 4K upgrade that preserves the original's unique vibe. It centres on a quirky tale from Japanese folklore of a magical wolf trying to lift the curse of a demon serpent from a peaceful land, yadda yadda. Beyond the stilted storyline, though, lies a gorgeous, painterly world to explore, punctuated by the wolf's power to, literally, draw on the screen - a slash to defeat an enemy or a circle to call on the sun's rays, for instance.

Okami HD may overstay its welcome a little in its 40-hour running time. But its clever and engaging gameplay warrants a new audience.

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