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Why the PUBG Savage map is going to make us all better players, by refusing to let us rest on our laurels (and default to extreme cowardice).

The loop for getting into PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the same for most everyone who plays it:

  1. See someone else playing it online.
  2. Think to yourself, “I want to get in on that.”
  3. Drop into your first round full of vim and aggro, thinking you’re going to be a badass.
  4. Get killed in seconds.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for… longer than I’d care to admit.
  6. Start playing sneakily.

If you’re not blessed with the supernatural skills and reflexes of a top-tier Counter-Strike pro, the full-frontal assault method – dropping into military and playing a meta battle royale, before the winner then goes onto the main round proper with all the best loot – rarely works in PUBG.

And while it is a fun game to play, even if you are getting your ass handed to you on a startlingly regular basis, not making any progress can become demoralising.

Most players, myself included, flick a mental switch from John Rambo to Solid Snake. You fly to the very limits of your parachute range, to loot quietly and in peace. You learn the places to avoid, and ways to traverse the terrain with the most cover. If you can make it on foot, you leave noisy, obvious vehicles behind.

Most important of all, you don’t engage enemies unless you absolutely have to. The only kill you actually need to make to win a round of PUBG is the final one.

Doing that will dramatically increase your average finishing position. At certain points – in between periodic statistic resets during last year’s early access – I’ve had over 70% of top ten finishes. Conversely, my kill-to-death ratio would be terrible.

I won a few chicken dinners this way, then I started to get what sports people refer to as “the yips”, an extreme form of performance anxiety which results in the inability to complete simple actions without tensing up, or suffering twitches and spasms. It renders golfers unable to putt without stabbing wildly at the ball. Darts players have been known to not let go of the shaft of the dart. One snooker player, Bill Werbeniuk, suffered from the yips so badly that he effectively couldn’t play without drinking several pints of beer before a match. And during. And after. (It’s also worth pointing out that while a stiff drink or two can steady the nerves, especially in PUBG, Werbeniuk suffered from poor health and died of a heart attack aged just 56.)

In order to “reset” the yips, I forced myself to play fruitless round after fruitless round, parachuting into military, fighting, and dying. For someone used to so many top ten finishes, this was hard to stomach, but the mad panic of a cramped starting area fought off the yips. This was being thrown in at the deep end, PUBG style, and you really do have to sink or swim.

Now I’ve realised that while the key to greater success might be to play stealthily, you need to ensure you engage in combat frequently enough that you don’t lose that sharpness, of both your aim and of decisiveness. That might mean modifying the way you play generally, to favour a little more aggression, or it might mean periodical jumps into military to keep your frantic chops up.

PUBG 4x4km map

There is however precisely zero chance of getting the yips on the new PUBG Savage map, the 4x4km tropical island which went through early-stage testing last week.

It’s not just that the PUBG Savage map is smaller, though that does obviously play a part. With the same number of players as the other, larger maps, the relative concentration of angry bodies is higher. This means you’re more likely to run into other people, and more frequently, which means you either get better quickly, or die trying. A lot.

But where PUBG’s second map, the desert-based Miramar, drew criticism from players for its wide open spaces and lack of cover – leading not to greater combat engagement but to an increase in frustrating, one-sided, pinged by a sniper from a kilometre away in an open field deaths – the tropical Savage map is full to bursting point with buildings, and foliage, and most importantly, ground cover.

There are plenty of military complexes, clusters of buildings and conurbations to go at, for those who enjoy that side of the game. The addition of a temple and a deserted hotel complex even brings the feel of a classic, multi-corridor Unreal Tournament deathmatch maps to the middle of PUBG’s Savage map (even if they did look a bit weird without textures during the preliminary test).

But the foliage is the best part of the new PUBG Savage map.

Bushes are underrated in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. They don’t offer any hard cover, no physical protection against gunfire, but when you’re playing a stealthy game, bushes are your best friend. Why run straight across a cornfield on Erangel, when you can move from bush to bush along the edge of the field? Why crouch behind a tree or a rock – with hard cover from one direction, but visible from the other three – when you can sit in a shady bush, invisible to all but the keenest scopes? Why lay prone in the grass – with your bag and secondary weapon sticking up in the air, and keeping in mind grass isn’t even rendered on players’ screens over around 400m away – when you can crouch in a person-sized shrubbery?

Not only does the PUBG Savage map have a plethora of bushes, far more densely-packed and plentiful than the other maps, but each one is as big and lustrous as the next. These monster ferns sit clumped all across the terrain, often in the shadow of trees for extra camouflage, and close enough to their trunks for some quick hard cover if required.

On the grass itself: because the Savage map is smaller and has much greater obfuscation of sight lines, the grass has less chance of being rendered invisible – or rather, not rendered at all – above that 400m tolerance point. There really is cover everywhere you look.

All of this comes together to allow for both stealth and combat tactics in a single round. PUBG’s Savage map is condensed enough that you will keep finding yourself in combat, with no chance for your skills to dull, but cover is so plentiful that you can still play in a competitive and stealthy way.

You don’t have to choose between being Rambo or Solid Snake. Now, in that dense, tropical jungle, you can be the Predator.

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