Match Replays Add Context and Comedy to 'PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds'

Zooming out the camera a bit lets you see the truth: Nearly everyone else is just as frantic (and foolish) as you are.

Cameron Kunzelman

Cameron Kunzelman

Courtesy of PUBG Corporation

The release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds 1.0 came with a lot of neat things. There’s a new map, Miramar, and a host of new vehicles and styles of play afforded by it. There was some optimization, and there was even a UI overhaul that made the whole game look a little cleaner, crisper, and easier to read. The most critical part of the illustrious 1.0 version, however, is the inclusion of match replays.

After you finish a game, you can now use a robust replay viewer to fly around in a reconstructed game world and relive all of your most harrowing experiences. PUBG stores the last 20 matches you’ve played, and allows you to “lock” replays that are especially interesting so that they aren’t overwritten. This replay system is one of the most interesting things to be added to a popular game in years, and that’s because it adds a whole new element of enjoyment to an already-enjoyable experience: Players now have full context for everything that happens.

Context has always been key in PUBG. Context is the difference between a screw-up fight that leaves you howling with laughter or the absolute tragedy of accidentally running over yourself with your own vehicle. The introduction of the kill cam, a half-measure of the replay system, revealed this easily. For example, watching Austin discover that his game was ended not by the car barrelling him over but instead by an expert sniper shot is an apex moment in context changing the enjoyment of the PUBG experience.

What the replay system gives the player is infinite context for all of the actions that took place around them. We often pretend that playing a game, or even just wandering around in day-to-day life, is a series of rational choices made from a series of available options. Hearing an enemy walking around on the floor above you in an apartment building in PUBG sets off a dozen possible scenarios in my head. Will they be waiting for me at the top of the stairs with a shotgun? Are they leaning out a door just right so that they can shoot me but I cannot return fire? The replay mode dispenses with many of these illusions. In reality, that person was running around in circles, constantly putting on different levels of body armor, and they forgot to pick up the shotgun ammunition anyway.

The replay system humanizes other players. They’re making the same weird mistakes that I am, and spending time in that replay system bouncing around through all of the different people who were playing the game near (and against) me does the critical work of reminding me that they’re not just figures that I meet at the end of a gun. They’re not killing machines whose only purpose it to aim at my head with their heat-seeking, world-annihilating pistol shots—unless they’re hacking, of course. They, like me, forget to reload their secondary weapons. They shoot walls and floors as often as I do. They, like me, are just making the best of a clunky game.

I’ve had ample opportunity to explore both my own gameplay choices and the choices of others in the videos I have been creating with the replay viewer. While the viewer still has some control issues, and the handling of pausing and playing is a little clunky, I have still been able to make some interesting documents of what it is like to play PUBG right now (if you’re interested in talking about edited videos of PUBG, go check out the thread I made on the Waypoint forums).

Shows like Waypoint’s Breakfast and Battlegrounds and Polygon’s Awful Squad have leaned into the idea that PUBG is a platform for doing interesting things. It’s a scaffold, like a tabletop game or a sports title, for stories to emerge from, and the personalities that dot those shows are dedicated to acting out the possibilities that the game presents them. PUBG is the stage, and they’re performing theater for us, a kind of improv show with a reliable list of props and topics.

What those personalities also obscure, though, is that we’re all doing that in PUBG all of the time. We’re all doing this weird performance theater when we vault out of windows to scamper out of sight from our enemies. We’re all funny and creative when we’re put into these situations where we have nothing to do but react. Any player of PUBG’s four-person squad mode will tell you that they laugh far more often than they cry; it’s a joyous, comical, strange experience every minute of every game.

The replay video gives everyone the ability to dip into the inherent performative aspects of PUBG. You don’t have to be streaming or pre-recording all of your best moments. Was there a silly mix-up where you ended up fist fighting ten people on the roof of the casino? You can go back and capture video of it, editing to a tight, funny video that captures your inevitable attempt at super punching your enemies. Impossible moments that had been lost forever are now captured forever, replayable forever, and seeable from dozens of possible angles.

The replay viewer allows every PUBG player to see everyone in that game for what they are: Actors in a very silly play. Better yet, it allows us all to be our own director, spelling out our own unique experiences and sharing them across the internet to that other people can watch, laugh, and think about how they’ve been there too.

Even the clunkiest execution of the replay viewer is a welcome addition to the game, and if I were making any kind of multiplayer experience I would be attempting to implement some form of replay system as soon as possible. I haven’t gotten bored with PUBG since it released, and the five hours I’ve put into footage capture to make clips since the feature launched suggests that this is just another way for me to experience, enjoy, and share this wonderful and weird video game.