PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is gaming’s latest phenomenon, and like anything that’s super hot in the industry, it’s already being cloned by other game developers. Fortnite Battle Royale is the most popular clone so far. How well does it stack up as a console alternative?
With over 13 million units sold and a Steam record of almost two million concurrent players at its peak as of this article’s writing, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (also known as PUBG) is 2017’s biggest game. No surprise then that copycats have sprung up since PUBG went viral. Fortnite Battle Royale comes closest to the former’s success, having over one million players when it launched on September 26.
So what exactly is it about these games that has gamers flocking to them?
As mentioned in our quick play games list, PUBG is an online competitive multiplayer shooter heavily inspired by the film adaptation of the Japanese novel Battle Royale. 100 players parachute from a cargo plane onto an island where they have to fight over limited resources and stay within a safe space that gets increasingly smaller over time. Last person or team standing wins.
Fornite Battle Royale copies that concept wholesale, with very minor cosmetic differences such as the “party bus” replacing the cargo plane and the “storm” signified by a transparent pink wall replacing the contracting blue wall of death.
Well, there is also the one major difference, which is the entire crafting mechanic from the original version of Fortnite.
A short background on Fortnite
Fortnite is a cooperative survival game where players have to gather materials to build structures and weapons to fight off a zombie horde. It’s still in beta with a full free-to-play release planned for next year, but it’s available now on PS4, XB1, and PC for US$ 30. Epic Games, the company that created Fortnite, saw the popularity of PUBG and decided to make their own free-to-play version of it. This stirred up a whole controversy with Bluehole, the makers of PUBG.
Setting aside this spat between two extremely profitable companies, does Fortnite Battle Royale actually compare to PUBG as a good alternative, especially since the former is available on consoles while the latter isn’t?
While not being terribly original visually, Fortnite Battle Royale at the very least pops with its bright DreamWorks-like design, unlike PUBG’s drab late-2000s action shooter aesthetic. Overwatch might be the king of cool cartoony 3D graphics, but there isn’t a whole lot of competition in that market that Fortnite Battle Royale can’t still be nice to look at.
The verdant hills and small living spaces evoking suburban and countryside Americana of Fortnite Battle Royale stand out next to the barren, brown, and bombed-out quasi-Eastern Europe of PUBG. The former’s one map is significantly smaller than the latter’s, but it shows more character.
The kiddy CGI scenery isn’t just a backdrop for mayhem. Because of the crafting mechanic from vanilla Fortnite in place, almost every object and structure in Fortnite Battle Royale can be harvested for resources. That also means just about anything can be destroyed, whether it’s a pre-made house or a custom-built room that a player is hiding in.
In PUBG, environmental destruction is limited to tiny wooden shacks, glass windows, and doors. Safety can still be guaranteed behind a concrete wall or boulder. Not so in Fortnite Battle Royale, which adds a whole new level of anxiety, as no place is truly secure.
It also works the other way, since you can build yourself a makeshift fort complete with stairs and traps in the middle of an open field if you have the resources. This obviously makes you a target, but it can spell the difference between a rousing win or a crushing defeat when it’s down to a handful of players and the safe zone is limited to a small spot of land.
Switching to the building mode also leaves you vulnerable. Anyone can just shoot you when you’re busy buttoning through the types of structure you can build and the materials to build them with. It’s a risk-reward dimension that just isn’t present in PUBG.
Slow and floaty
It might not be such a dangerous proposition to switch to building mode, though, if the game were more responsive and the controls more intuitive. The button layout for the combat controls maps closely to standard shooting games on consoles, but there is no immediate example that comes to mind for the crafting controls. It’s not the easiest thing to wrap your head around, so going back and forth between the different layouts when you’re in a heated situation can lead to fumbling through your building options.
The shooting as well as general character control aren’t perfect either. The guns don’t have much of a kick when you’re firing them, nor do they give much force feedback when you’re the one getting fired on. Your avatar doesn’t have much weight to its movement, too. There’s a distinct delay when picking up items from the ground and when tabbing through your inventory.
Fortnite: Battle Royale has a very light, dare I say, cheap feel to it. It’s all the more apparent after playing Overwatch and Destiny 2, both games that provide a very tight and tactile sensation with every push of a button and pull of a trigger.
Emulating the core thrills
Despite bungling the controls, Fortnite Battle Royale still captures the excitement that’s core to PUBG’s success. That is, trying to survive against overwhelming odds in a massive map that slowly but surely forces confrontation in wildly different ways.
Whether it’s going in guns blazing and wiping out numerous opponents or avoiding fights and getting the one crucial kill at the very end, it gets the blood pumping either way. Being able to jump right into a new game when you do fail is also retained from PUBG’s formula, so it’s easy to keep on playing after dying.
Fortnite Battle Royale, like PUBG, doesn’t have an official “1.0” version release, so here’s hoping for more polish on the product in the future. Right now, it’s a decent facsimile to PUBG, and being the only option on consoles that provides a PUBG-like experience, it’s worth checking out. It’ll only cost you about 16GB of hard drive space and US$ 0.