I tested 8 PUBG clones so you don’t have to
«PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds», or «PUBG» for short, is a real phenomenon. It started out on 23 March 2017 as an early access game and since then has managed to rack up just shy of 30 million sales on Steam alone. At peak times, over three million players are battling it out on PCs around the world. So I suppose it’s no surprise then that it wasn’t long before the game’s first copycats were on the scene.
I’m not talking about «Fortnite» here, a game which became very popular with its battle royale mode. At the end of the day, «PUBG» is itself just a progression of an «Arma 2» mod. What I’m referring to is those cheeky copies that appear in the mobile world. Those ones that take generous handfuls of inspiration from well-known games. They go by names like «Pixel’s Unknown Battle Ground», «Grand Battle Royale» and my personal favourite: «Play unknowingly Battleground».
By the time you see the logo, you’ll usually know what the copy is based on. At the moment, two official «PUBG» mobile games are in development. Until then, the freeloaders you come across most in the Google Play Store will keep raking it in.
So we’ve talked about the people behind the copies, but what about the games themselves? Are they really as bad as you might think? There was only one way to find out...
Side note: nothing bad happened to me while I was gaming but with some clones you just never know if they contain some kind of dodgy code. Install them at your own risk, folks. Once you’ve started them up, they often request far-reaching rights. Each time that happened I refused all of them and I was still able to play.
The games I road-tested were mostly those that come up first when you search for «PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds».
«Pixel’s Unknown Battle Ground»
The very first thing you see when you open this game, even before you’ve pressed anything, is adverts for in-game items. Then when it starts up, the game claims to be called «Battleground Royale». It’s always a good sign, I tend to think, when the game can’t even decide what it’s called.
As I write, a video ad has just popped up on the screen. And I’m still only in the start menu – I’ve not even touched a button. Great. It only lets you click out of it after 30 seconds. I think it’s fair to say we’re off to a great start.
Right, time for gaming. There are three modes to choose from: battle royale, team battle and a zombie mode. I’m only interested in the first one so let’s jump straight in. After a minute, the sky is filled with 25 helicopters (including mine), all whizzing across a small town.
The graphics are obviously a take on «Minecraft». You play in the third person and as with all the subsequent titles, you move using your left thumb and aim and shoot with your right. These kinds of games were never really up my street. Add to that the fact the controls aren’t at all precise. Mine keeps automatically firing whenever I aim at someone – this can be in first person mode.
I stumble around, collect weapons and even shoot at two opponents who are struggling even more than me to get to grips with the controls. There are vehicles as well, and they can shoot, too. But if I’m not mistaken, you can only get in if you unlock them first. I manage to get down to the last five standing before I’m taken off to the pixelated afterlife. And what’s waiting for me on the other side? You guessed it: another advert. That’s enough for me, thanks.
Free on Android and iOS.
«Free Fire Battleground»
The logo is fairly inconspicuous because of trademark violation. Once again, we’re off to a good start. And then it takes me ages just to get into the game because it won’t accept my username. Goodness. It’s not like I even used any special symbols or umlauts.
The graphics on this game are reminiscent of «PUBG», albeit more at the level of «GTA 3». Here’s how the game works: there are 50 players in a round. You fly across the map in a well-known, four-engine plane, which seems to be a tenth of the size of the one it’s modelled on. In its defence, it does provide more action.
Weapons, equipment and movement options are almost 1:1 adaptable. This includes the item levels and supply drops. Make the most of playing with the sound on, as this lets you hear the opponents’ moves. As it is, three well-equipped opponents have already succumbed to my superhuman shooting skills.
I’m thankful I picked up the triple vest and the nice helmet. But in the end, my desire for loot gets the better of me when I want to pick up a plane drop and get blasted by an assault rifle. That’s always in my top 10.
All in all, it isn’t a bad game, and the developers are restrained with adverts.
«Grand Battle Royale»
Another game that hopes to piggyback on the success of «PUBG»-«Minecraft» is «Grand Battle Royale». The character design almost looks identical to that of «Pixel’s Unknown Battle Ground». Now clones are copying clones! In this game you also play in the third person but with more verticality.
Alongside me are 20 obstinate people stumbling awkwardly through a fairly straightforward city. As I don’t come across anyone when I land on the roof, I decide to see what happens if I jump off. Either I didn’t hurt myself at all or my character has very muscular pixel legs. The controls are so imprecise that they affect my peace of mind. I can only get through it because I know other players are even worse at the controls than me and keep falling victim to my crowbar.
But then, once a character dies you get adverts before you can continue. Hmm, no thanks.
Free on Android
«Unknown Battlegrounds Royal»
This title makes me think a bit of «Unturned», another PC game that looks like it has drawn a lot of inspiration from «Minecraft». Apart from the name, there aren’t many similarities to «PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds». To keep things interesting, you play a bit in the first person and wander around in the wilderness while zombies lie in wait for you. Either way, you’re armed with a gun from the start.
As for the controls in this game, they feel rather blurry. It’s as though you’re playing after having drunk two bottles of vodka too many. I wish that were really the case, as it would explain the dizziness. While the bars for food and water slowly tick away, so does my patience.
An interesting point to mention is that when you play in solo mode, you’re not up against human opponents or other players – you only have network options. But a server didn’t pop up and I’m glad to say I don’t know anyone else who’d waste their time on something like this. In other words, I couldn’t put in an IP to connect to. Oh well.
Free on Android
«Survival Battle Royale»
This game doesn’t even have a star rating in the Swiss App store. You have no idea how much that fills me with confidence. Once you get into the game, you’ll see there are three modes to choose from. I chose 1vsAll with a maximum of 32 players. You’re then asked if you want to watch an ad so you can access your guns.
We’ll see about that. I don’t need to watch that annoying thing. Who needs guns anyway?
10 seconds later and I’m thinking maybe I was a little hasty. You’re standing there half-naked in your underwear without a gun. Then you blink twice and have a sea of automatic firearm shots coming at you from all sides. But first, here’s some ads for a bit of relaxation. I start to wonder if my opponents are other people or just the computer. In the app description it clearly says players, so I assume they mean people. But then why did they literally all shoot at me at once? Strange.
I decide to change to solo mode vs 32 and within a few seconds I’m transported to a sparse, miserable place. What fun! In the end I give up and reluctantly watch a video ad so I can get my weapon. Each time it only takes about five seconds before everyone on that level seems to have their gun aimed at me, sentencing me to yet another ad break. In this game, that pretty much seems to be the punishment.
Verdict: awful, uninspired. Next, please!
Free on iOS
«Last Battle Ground Survival»
In «Last Battle Ground Survival», as in the game it’s modelled on, you can game alone, as a two or with four people on your team. You can even play directly with your friends.
The game starts in a plane. After the parachute landing, you diligently go off looting all the houses. In terms of design and construction, they look a hell of a lot like those in «PUBG». They have even taken «inspiration» from the weapons and vehicles in that game. The latter make driving noises – they sound like an Atari 2600 that’s under the weather.
The controls are also typical of third person games on a mobile. In other words, quite limited. But the SK12 was good enough for two kills. Unfortunately, I was denied the highlight of killing someone with a car. Either the damage model hasn’t been extended far enough or it was a bug. In any case, it was a shame. This game has 40 people waging war against each other, but all in all I wouldn’t say it was particularly fun.
Free on Android
«Rules of Survival»
The start screen gives you flashbacks to «Just Cause 3». Out of all the games so far, this is optically the best. You’re also not bombarded with adverts straight off the bat. Instead, you start with a tutorial, which you can always skip if you want. Then you jump into a strange-looking plane and go in search of a landing site on a huge map. It’s probably almost as big as Miramar or Erangel (the maps from «PUBG»). The only difference is you have 120 players fighting against each other here.
I decided to play in solo mode, but you could also play in duo, squad or in a fire team. This type of teamwork even supports voice chat. The rest of the game is the same old same old. Basically, what you’ve come to expect: guns, equipment, looting, staying in a circle and not getting hit by flying bombs.
There are vehicles as well, even Harleys. The design is obviously a take on «PUBG». And as for the controls, they’re fairly precise for a third person game on a mobile. Things like automatically running when you hold a button down for a few seconds are really practical.
You can box as well. I can recommend «Rules of Survival» but with a few caveats. I still think shooter games are like a scene straight out of hell. If that doesn’t bother you then get stuck in: you’ve got both a crude copy and something to help pass the time.
«Play unknowingly Battleground»
The title alone gets brownie points. But they’re immediately deducted when I have to sit through 30 seconds of naff adverts right at the start. The skybox looks like it came straight from the «PUBG» installation folder.
For this game, you play in the third person. Sadly, it’s only against computer opponents. You run around in a minimalist city, small town or an area with buildings and trees while drunkards tear around like lunatics all over the place in red racing cars. The aim of the first mission is to clobber your opponents. The whole thing is more buggy than «PUBG» in the early access phase. After a few blows, your opponents tip further and further backwards in shapes that would even put Michael Jackson in Thriller to shame.
As you’ve only got your fist and your opponent strikes just like you do, you end up flat out by the third fight. There’s nothing you can do but watch some adverts. You’re then onto the next level, where you run from one green advertising column to another. My cup runneth over.
In «Superman 64» it was a real highlight. In Level 3, the opponents have helmets but no guns and they don’t fight back any more. At one point, I was standing on the heads of two of them and couldn’t get back down. That’s my kryptonite. And somewhere there was a generic metal track on an endless loop.
«Play unknowingly Battleground» is like a game in the pre-alpha phase. It’s so bad that two colleagues and I often have to laugh out loud about it. That’s more than I can say for most of the other games. So for that alone, let’s have a round of applause for this masterpiece.
Free on Android
The original version (at least the Xbox One version) looks like this: