This week, Google Stadia emerged with a surprise announcement of a pretty big game launching immediately: Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG). Say what you will about the game's age or its arguably dated take on battle royale, but PUBG still enjoys a healthy population of PC and console players. And now, it's included with paid Stadia Pro subscriptions (which includes the new two-month trials that dropped earlier this month) and supports cross-play with a healthy population of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players.
But what could have been a no-brainer blip of good Stadia news has been bungled by a design decision that's sparking frustration and annoyance and is even affecting the existing console versions: new, stupid, spawn-out-of-nowhere bots.
98 problems, and a bot is… all of them
After hearing reports about a surprising bot influx on Tuesday, I booted PUBG using my Stadia Pro account on a laptop to confirm the bad news. I took an angry Redditor's advice and jumped into a less popular matchmaking queue in order to guarantee I'd run into at least a few bots: a "first-person" solo-battling queue on the newly reworked Vikendi map.
After waiting roughly four minutes, I entered a pre-battle lobby with only one apparent human rival (you can tell based on who's running around and throwing snowballs). Then the usual PUBG battling began: you skydive onto an island, pick up scattered supplies, and run toward an ever-shrinking central point.
Things were weird before I even put on my virtual parachute. Each match begins on a plane that flies over the battling map, and you get visual feedback for who's jumping off and where. But in my first Stadia test, I only noticed one opponent jump off my plane, not dozens. Hmm.
Nobody apparently took a parachute anywhere near my starting zone, and with headphones on, I didn't hear any footsteps or vehicles as I began amassing loot and preparing for an eventual showdown with someone. But who? The first answer came in the form of an explosion of bullets from a lightly occluded patch of trees half a klick away.
Here's how dumb this bot was: the time I needed to triangulate the shot, get the foe in my sights, fire, realize I hadn't put any bullets into my gun, reload, aim, and actually confirm my kill would have been enough for any human player to shoot me down three times over. I could see the bot mostly standing still in the distance while it pumped round after round in my direction. When I eventually looted its corpse (marked with a username with an underscore in it—an apparent tell of an official bot), I confirmed my suspicions: it was shooting an unwieldy SMG without a scope and, therefore, had no realistic chance of accurately taking me out from its distance. (It also had a massive inventory of health items, in spite of spawning and attacking nowhere near any lootable buildings.)
Its AI-driven decision to shoot roughly eight bullets a second with that pepper-spraying gun (in a stupid display of "HEY, OVER HERE, GUYS!") while standing still had me howling: even noobs don't play PUBG like that.
Some good Stadia news
This bot update is a shame in part because PUBG on Stadia plays pretty darned well—at least, compared to the game's notoriously bad performance on base Xbox One consoles. My tests confirmed near-locked 60 fps performance, hearty view distances, and handsome shadow resolution.
The game's textures and resolution are both much fuzzier than you'd expect on a years-old gaming PC, but as a version of PUBG that works on a wired Chromebook, this looks and runs quite well. We suggest using a gamepad with this version, since that obscures Stadia's inherent latency issues and enables console crossplay. (More on the latter below.)
I moved on to loot another nearby building, at which point a bot appeared from out of nowhere, with zero audible footsteps leading up to its appearance, and struck me down. In a normal PUBG match, this would be the point where I could either pull up a "deathcam" view of my demise or "spectate" that player's continued run through the island. I couldn't select "deathcam," however, while "spectate" instead loaded the viewpoint of the only other human player in my match.
Every opponent this player faced had at least one underscore in its username and would appear in all kinds of random ways. Some could be seen running in stuttering patterns on the horizon. Others opened fire wildly, exposing themselves as open targets. Still others zig-zagged backwards into the poison cloud with no apparent rhyme or reason—and certainly not in careful, "circle around for a safer path" strategies. At one point, a bot appeared behind the person I was spectating on top of a hill with a ridiculous upper-ground angle; the human I was watching didn't notice this, stood still in a hiding point to peek at other bots, and was never shot. Meanwhile, two other bots in the distance ran next to each other without exchanging a single bullet.
A bot did eventually take this human down, at which point I got to watch the remaining two bots shoot each other to death—slowly and inaccurately, despite the spectator camera at this point showing that each bot had perfect aim on its target.
Caught watching paint dry
I joined one more match this way, waited five minutes in a queue, and was booted into a match where I was the only human player. I watched the "kill feed" in the top-right whittle down with AI bots killing each other, with each username containing an underscore. I amassed four kills by taking out bots who magically appeared somehow (again, zero skydivers followed me to my ridiculous corner of the map). Then, once more, an out-of-nowhere bot appeared within a few meters and killed me. Had I put forth any effort in these mostly bot matches, I would've probably fared better, but I was almost instantly bored with this proposition: a wholly unfair slew of stupid bots, who would either give me mindless target practice or would pop up around a corner and insta-kill me.
Then I wondered: is this the normal bot population I should expect, especially in a game that supports crossplay? I went back to the livid "PUBG on consoles" community on Reddit, where I learned something that Stadia's PUBG build doesn't communicate: you can't join XB1 and PS4 instances unless you hook up a gamepad. It's a reasonable limit in a world where mouse-and-keyboard players enjoy an assumed matchmaking edge. But why did I need to dig through angry Reddit posts to learn that, instead of getting a tidy, official notice within PUBG or the pre-game Stadia loading screens? Shouldn't Stadia be eager to hide any evidence that its userbase is scant?
With a gamepad hooked up, I jumped into a more popular "third-person" server queue, where my session began almost instantly and was populated with roughly 20 other snowball-throwing lobby members. I waited a second to parachute, began free falling, and looked around: I could see five parachuters and skydivers Read More – Source