This is Playstyle Royale, where I head into Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and try to win my chicken dinner while adhering to arbitrary rules. Tonight, I’m hoping to share my supper with RPS’s very own Alec Meer - who has never played the game before.
As if that didn’t make things hard enough, this week’s rule is that Alec is the only one who can use his weapon.
That means that this week you get two after-action reports, with my version on the first page and Alec’s on the second.
To give us a fighting chance we decide that I can provide support with (my old friends) smoke and stun grenades, and that I can go weapons free if Alec gets knocked down.
How hard can it be?
Alec is refusing to wear any clothes. I try and explain that darker clothing puts you at an advantage as it makes you harder to spot, but when we launch into the game I’m nonetheless confronted by his naked pink torso.
I guide us down to a spot that’s a reasonable distance from the flight path where a car is likely to spawn. I’m keen for us to reach a less populated area where we can loot in peace while I run Alec through everything he needs to know. Unfortunately, another team has had the same idea: we both get taken out by someone with a pistol, and the round is over before it’s begun.
My stint as a Plunkbat guide is not off to a good start.
With Alec now fully dressed, I decide to take us back to the same landing site as before. It’s even further away from the plane’s flightpath than in the previous round, so I’m confident we’ll have the place to ourselves. Mercifully, this time I’m correct.
Our looting continues for 20 minutes or so, during which time we don’t see a single other person. I’ve deliberately steered us to areas which I reckoned would be deserted - which is ideal from the perspective of someone who’s trying to survive as long as possible, but not necessarily someone who’s after an Exciting Videogame Experience.
I’m used to Plunkbat’s extended periods of downtime, but as we hole up in a house while we wait for the circle to decide what it’s doing, I’m starting to regret taking the passive approach. Alec gets a taste of the action soon enough though, as the circle contracts and we’re forced to abandon our position.
Two people on a motorbike land a little ways in front of us. Alec opens fire and lands a few hits, but quickly goes down when the two of them turn their own guns on him. They dispose of me shortly afterwards. 20 minutes of not much happening followed by near instant death? As I have to confess to Alec, it’s a fairly typical round of Plunkbat.
I direct Alec towards a farm, where we land by ourselves and manage to loot the place in peace. I’m eager to make things a big more engaging for Alec, so when a crate drops a few minutes away we start running over to it. By the time we get there it’s already been ransacked, which makes me nervous - I send us dashing towards a nearby building where the doors haven’t been opened.
The circle shrinks and forces us to head back the way we came, though it’s through an area that we didn’t bother looting in our rush to reach the empty crate. The ground around me erupts in bullets, but I manage to make it into a house without taking any hits. Alec runs over to join me a few minutes later, and takes some fire - but it’s nothing a can of pop can’t fix.
We hole up in the attic, comfortably sat in the middle of the circle. They’ll have to come to us.
Alec gets downed from outside the window, and I manage to pick him up. He has just enough time to use a medkit before someone comes up the stairs and knocks him to his knees again. Me and Alec’s assailant get into a ridiculous duel that doesn’t at all remind me of this.
It all ends when the guy’s squadmate shows up and Leslie Nielsen’s me into my grave.
We decide to go for a spicier start, so head to Pochinki at the start of the next round. It’s a large town that happens to be almost directly underneath the plane, and is normally teeming with players. For this game, of course, only two other teams join us. I steer us to the south part of town, where we manage to go through a couple of buildings before we spot anyone. When we do, it’s only one person with a pistol. I get a chance to take them out, but the rules forbid it. It’s a feeling I’m getting used to.
The edge of the first circle appears just south of Pochinki, which I quickly deduce is going to send everyone else in our direction. We start moving, and things get even worse with the next shrinking of the circle: it’s going to close around Sosnovka island, so we need to find a vehicle if we want a shot at safely crossing the bridge.
We come across a set of houses with open doors. I tell Alec to run past it and hope we don’t get shot at. At this point, we start getting shot at. Fortunately, we make it over the ridge without taking a single hit. Less fortunately, we then reach the coast - having failed to find a vehicle. We’ve got a while before the circle shrinks again though, so I suggest we go for a swim.
We dive in. I say we’ll just have to cross to the other side and hope we don’t get shot at, at which point we start getting shot at again. I try to reassure Alec that It’s not as bad as it looks: it’s quite hard to hit someone in the water, and we’re completely safe whenever we dive beneath the surface. Someone keeps taking potshots at us for the entire journey, but doesn’t manage to hit us. I’m thankful: we’re getting lots of drama, without the inconvenience of dying. It’s like being shot at by stormtroopers.
When we reach the beach, no one is in sight - though we can hear at least one battle going on in the town to our right. I suggest we steer clear of that, and head in the opposite direction. We loot a couple of little huts, then set up shop in a two story building. We’ve made it to the last 15.
The next circle forces us to abandon our hidey hole, requiring us to dash across an open area where we’d heard gunfire just moments before. I tell Alec this is likely the end, which turns out to be all too accurate in his case. He gets knocked to his knees shortly after we leave the building, and I’ve got no chance of reviving him.
I make it to a bush, crouch down and start quivering until I’m in the final five. The circle shrinks again, and I dash from bush to bush towards it. I convince myself I’m safely inside it, but the blue zone appears and rudely informs me otherwise. I emerge from the foliage once more - and get gunned down by an unseen attacker.
Looking back, it seems obvious that we’d struggle. Even the most experienced Plunkbatter would have difficulty winning a 2v1 fight, and Alec was tasked with doing that before he’d had a chance to even get his bearings. It’s easy to see how that could put him off the game, though I think the long stretches of downtime were enough to do that anyway. It’s funny, because I remember feeling the same way myself when I first started playing - but after over a hundred hours, I actually get less bored in uneventful matches. My guess is that it’s to do with what you go in expecting a game to be. Despite our rule limitations, Alec still got an authentic Plunkbat experience - and the reality of that experience is often sitting still in a house, then getting shot in the back of the head.
My very first Plunkbat experience went almost exactly as I had always presumed Plunkbat (for me, at least), would go: I was shot by the first person I saw, that shot killed me outright, and that shot happened within 20 seconds of the match beginning. THIS IS WHY I AM A VIDEOGAMING MISANTHROPE. Matt claimed the reason for this misadventure was simple misfortune – that he truly had not believed anyone would land in the same quiet part of the map as I, but, well, they did. Two of them. And that was that.
Bout two lasted a whole lot longer, and had familiar DayZ beats of cautiously raiding abandoned houses for loot. This stage of the game seemed to go on forever, the endless acquisition of weapon mods and ammo and very slightly different bits of clothing, all of which were incredibly specific and apparently of absolute importance to our survival. I had my doubts, I must confess: would having the right little black bit plugged into my gun or the right coloured trousers really make any difference in the heat of battle?
Turned out, no. Well, maybe they would if you’re not me, but I am me and that means that I was dispatched in short order when we finally ran into someone after twenty minutes of picking up rubbish. I’m not sure any gun in the world would have helped me much. I did land a few hits on the other guy, but inevitably they didn’t slow him, whereas his first shot felled me outright. So much for all that armour. I was aware, however, that we had once again been unlucky – caught short while running for shelter as the circle contracted, whereas had we been inside a building I could have pulled off a tasty ambush. In theory.
Two for two on the game going down exactly as I’d anticipated then; this second round had lasted much longer but I have my doubts about whether all that prep was really worth it. I should acknowledge, however, that were I an even faintly capable shot, this encounter would have gone rather differently.
More positively: what a lovely-looking land Plunkbat has. Our car tours around the scenery were positively delightful, and it was a crying shame that bullets had to be involved.
I expressed my doubts about our previous tactic to Matt, in a full and frank airing of views. Seems, however, that this is the essential ebb and flow of Plunkbat – all that time spent looking for trousers can pay off sometimes, but other times it won’t, all the time scavenging will have been essentially wasted, and that will be that. Psychologically, I’m struggling with that concept a little: I can readily accept not coming out on top after twenty minutes of relatively regular action, but the whole trouser hunt thing seems pretty dry and repetitive to me. Perhaps once I know the game better, my sour heart will sing when it finds particular items, but right now I just want to, frankly, kill someone.
I came a little closer this time, and more importantly the inevitably lethal battle was a battle, as opposed to just immediately dying at the hands of the first person I saw (and failed to headshot). We spent a little time combing the area for loot again, and even took a crack at heading to a crate drop – only to find that someone had gotten there first. I dug the tension here: it meant someone had very recently been in our immediate vicinity, but were they lying in wait or had they already departed for pastures new?
Whether the guys who shot at us ten minutes later, as we skulked our way into another cluster of buildings, were the same guys who’d nabbed the crate or newcomers, I cannot say. But we had a suitably scary stand-off, someone suddenly taking potshots at Matt, lurking on the top floor of a barn, while I was a couple of buildings away from him. He’d found a sniper rifle, he told me once he was safe, and it would be most wise if I obtained it – but to do so I’d have to wander through what was almost certainly their line of sight.
They politely waited until I was right at the door of the barn before they made a few holes in my back, but at least it wasn’t lethal. Near death, I made it up to Matt, but they’d already shifted to get the barn windows in their sights and I took yet more shots. I was felled, but Matt managed to revive me, and a subsequent medikit took the edge off the wound. It all felt terribly heroic. Sadly, by that time they were coming up the stairs, and then it went a bit Benny Hill. I emptied most of an SMG clip into the first guy but, seeing as I was already deeply wounded, he finished me before I could reload or switch, then he and Matt shot at each other from opposite sites of the same wooden box for what seemed like an eternity. I watched from the floor, laughing to myself despite my sad situation, and amazed that no-one was dying. It could have gone either way – but then then enemy’s wingman arrived and that was that.
Another ignominious end, perhaps, but it had felt more like a survival experience this time, and not simply an exercise in masochism.
For the first time (in this admittedly brief Plunkbatting career), I feel the itch. I have a sense now of how this game can go, even if I am relatively aware of how, more often than not, it does go. By now, I also understand the nuts and bolts of the game, and hopefully Matt’s role as a spotter won’t be quite so compromised by having to explain obvious things to an idiot. I can exercise some autonomy in terms of finding and equipping gear, leaving him free to scan the horizon for trouble. It’s a perfect plan, and I shall henceforth defer entirely to Matt’s superior wisdom.
Naturally, I renege on this immediately by demanding that we depart from our usual routine and deliberately parachute into a known player hotspot, purely so I can get my adrenaline fix immediately, rather than after half an hour of Trouser Hunt. Matt knows exactly the place, though I swear I hear fear in his voice.
Sure enough, we parachute into more or less immediate danger, but the same’s true of everyone else who landed here. As such, though a few shots are fired, no-one actually dies. Matt, presumably because he’s going against every strategy he’s built up over months, sounds to me a little edgy about the whole thing, but he successfully leads us out of the frying pan and into not exactly a fire, but a string of buildings all of which have their doors open, therefore implying they’ve had recent - and possibly still-present - visitors. I really dig the almost horror vibe of this aspect of Plunkbat - the constant terror that someone might be nearby, the small signs that a practiced eye might use as evidence of that, and of course the outright shock when bullets suddenly start whistling past your ears.
Which is exactly what happens next. Matt’s lead us to the river, our failure to secure a car having limited our transport options around the ever-decreasing circle. There’s a big ol’ bridge, and if it were up to me I’d sprint right over it, but apparently this is suidice. By contrast, throwing ourselves into the water and slowly swimming to the other side, sitting ducks all the while, sounds exactly like suicide to me, but here my ignorance of Plunkbat’s finer points comes to bear. It’s very hard to shoot someone while they’re in the water, it transpires, plus we can temporarily duck under the surface to dodge the bullets entirely. Which is exactly what happens - someone, somewhere, tracks us the whole way, all six or seven arduous minutes of it. They shoot, we dive and navigate somewhere else, we resurface, they shoot, etc. I’m convinced death will take us any moment, but Matt’s right: the unseen sniper just can’t get the job done.
A match that started fast and furious ended up slow and tense, which I guess is a more authentic Plunkbat fandango. Though we eventually reach the other side safely and find cover, we’re soon forced out by the contracting circle. As we sprint out from safety, danger finds us, and starts firing bullets at my back. There’s nothing I can do - even stopping to shoot at whoever is behind me would kill me. It feels unfair, but it isn’t: we should have moved sooner, but we couldn’t because we were swimming. I understand that, and I take the learning on board. Because of this, I don’t feel that bad when my pursuer knocks me down. In the climactic minutes, dead, I watch Matt hide inside a bush, somehow surviving until the final five. He’s disappointed when he’s killed shortly later, but it seemed an appropriately bizarre and heroic finale to me.
No chicken dinner, then, and some lingering doubt in my mind that the slow build-up of a PUBG match isn’t entirely worth it if you don’t win, don’t have all your work rewarded. Nonetheless, the itch remains: I get it now, I feel as though I have a fighting chance next time, and hell, I might even spend some time looking for trousers before I hurl myself into harm’s way.
If you'd like to set some rules for Matt's next session, let us know in the comments. And if you want him to take along any other members of the RPS crew, we might be able to arrange just such a thing.