Is Duos Mode the Secret to a Better 'Battlegrounds'?

Is Duos Mode the Secret to a Better 'Battlegrounds'?

Glixel

Playing co-op with a buddy combats the chaos of solo play in the popular Early Access battle royale game

Playing co-op with a buddy combats the chaos of solo play in the popular Early Access battle royale game

In PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, David and I are hunting again. We sprint our way through the treeline, down toward a line of broken buildings. I take the left and he takes the right; within half a minute, we meet back outside. As we suspected, this late in the match, our fellow scavengers long ago picked over these houses for loot. Suddenly, a figure peeks over the mossy hillside; one of the horde, seemingly bereft of his partner. Hastily, I take shots at him, and he runs. We fan out – again, me to the right, David to the left. First he scrambles behind a tree, and then a rock. I call out his location, and David swoops in; a staccato burst of shots ring through the trees, and the tango’s down. We pick his body over and sprint off; after all, that damn circle is closing in again.

Chaos is native to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds; in fact, you might say that it’s the very heart of its appeal. Its Solo mode – which thrusts you in a plane with ninety-something other degenerates before you plummet to earth to scrap it up until only one sucker remains – resembles a roulette wheel spun with a bullet instead of a ball, a casino game disguised in a Kevlar vest. Sure, you get to pick where you land, but actual distribution of the military paraphernalia you scoop up from battered homes and hollowed-out warehouses is almost entirely randomized. Braving high-output locations such as the school or military base might increase your odds of success, but it reduces the first few minutes of the game to a high-intensity scavenger hunt – first to pick up an automatic rifle wins. To avoid an endgame where two players spend hours trying to find each other inside a giant map area, the game shrinks the boundaries as the match progresses – forcing the remaining survivors to compete in an ever-smaller space.

As the round wears on, the experience tightens, with your competitors falling into two major camps. The foes lucky enough to find themselves within the blue circle of pain that defines the ever-shrinking battlefield steel themselves within the second floor of lone buildings, waiting for stragglers desperate, brave, or dumb enough to enter. The unfortunate souls stuck on the outside make a mad scramble across fields and meadows devoid of cover, hoping to make it just past the perimeter before the circle overtakes them, or at least happen upon a mangled motorbike or buggy to carry them there a little bit faster. Yet no matter which group you find yourself a part of, when death comes for you – and it will come, many, many, many times courtesy of a grenade through a window, a car in a forest, or even just the good old bullet in the brain – it will often come so swiftly that you won’t even be sure what happened at all.

At first, this surprise has a certain novelty; but, after a significant amount of time in the royale, suiting up with an exquisite Arctic Warfare Magnum sniper rifle and five clips of ammunition only to get shot in the back by a rando with an AK gets old, fast. As the rush has faded over my dozens of hours with PUBG, I’ve found myself retreating from the utter anarchy of its single-player mode and into the more-considered chaos of its Duos mode, which allows you to take a partner to its post-Soviet hellhole of an island to watch your back – in theory, at least. Of course, this means that all the other operators you run into will have their buddies, too, and that complicates every aspect of the game. (Note: In the following scenarios, I'm sorry to say that I’m usually the hapless friend.) As such, I’ve found that, unlike in Solo, striking first isn’t always advisable, especially against distant targets – if one of them has a better scope than you, they’ll riddle you and your partner with lead before you can even get a bead on one of them.

Though opportune ambushes are always in the realm of possibility – especially when you’re sprinting across featureless fields – in snatches and bursts, PUBG’s Duos mode manages to grant the dark, muted satisfaction that you usually associate with the tactical shooter milieu. (In a way, this shouldn’t surprise anyone; the incipient “battle royale” genre first found life as a series of Arma 3 mods.) Unlike the likes of Arma, however – which force you to pry said satisfaction from their tangle of complex systems – including “stances” that dramatically alter your chosen firearm’s performance in the field, PUBG strikes a balance between strategy and shoot ‘em up that gives you much of the thrill of a sim-grade experience without the weeks spent sliding down a steep difficulty curve. Better yet, by scattering its vast toybox to the four winds at the very fore, it trades the tedious menu management and non-stop equipment-jockeying of its parent genre for its more intoxicating just-one-more-house paradigm – an endless buffet of guns, delivered one dead edifice at a time.

When my friend David first talked me into purchasing PUBG despite its Early Access tag, our first excursions to its famed island played out like late additions to the Three Stooges’ filmography; we would block each other’s shots, fall over ourselves entering the same doors, and flip vehicles with stunning regularity. Ill-advised jaunts to the edge of the map were commonplace, usually terminating in our deaths at the hands of some fucker with a car. I once spent so long attempting to loot a corpse that I fell victim to the not-so-slow advance of the electrifying circle. (Trust me, it could happen to you.)

Yet as we grew more and more accustomed to the simmering strife of PUBG – often punctured by the familiar crack of gunfire – a funny thing happened. Slowly but surely, we adopted squad tactics, or at least a layman’s approximation. The unspoken shift came gradually, then all at once. Soon enough, we would announce compass headings, for targets and destinations; unintentionally or not, we memorized the garages that held guaranteed vehicle spawns. Now, my satisfaction comes not from the roiling chaos that made PUBG a compulsively-streamable game, but from the promise of victory, and the rare occasions when our grand plans manage to come together. And though it has transformed the experience for me – and kept me glued to that damn island – I'm not sure how much more Solo I can take. At some future point, perhaps the long-awaited custom match options will emerge from the mists of Early Access to augment this pseudo-tactical experience. Until then, however, the hunt is still on.