I swore to myself, I really did, that I would never play a pay-for-play game. I said I didn't have the money, didn't have the time, they were dumb, the people were dumb. And I stand completely and 100% corrected now that I've played Planetside, the Massively Multiplayer First-Person Shooter from Sony Online Entertainment.
MMOFPS is the most obvious way to describe Planetside. But it doesn't even begin to encompass what Planetside is - it's as if EverQuest, Battlefield 1942, and Tribes 2 were somehow combined and the end result was something greater than the sum of its parts. And still, Planetside isn't really like any of those games and the only way to describe it is as something else entirely.
But first, some information on the setting of the game: Planetside takes place on the war-torn planet of Auraxis, in a solar system far removed from our fair planet Earth. Thirty years ago, the Terran Republic discovered a wormhole across space to an unknown world that was ripe for colonization. A Military Expeditionary Force was sent to the planet to establish a colony on the newly-named Auraxis.
Almost immediately, however, the remnants of an ancient civilization are discovered on the planet in the form of bizarre artifacts. Through reverse engineering, the secrets of Vanu technology are unlocked and mankind achieves relative immortality through Vanu "rebirthing" technology. Twenty years after the initial colonization of Auraxis, the wormhole suddenly closed, trapping and isolating the colony from Earth. Soon after the wormhole closed, two new factions formed: the freedom-loving New Conglomerate, who claimed that the Terran Republic was robbing man of his basic freedoms, and the technology-worshipping Vanu Sovereignty, who take their name from the ancient civilization discovered on Auraxis. The traditionalist Terran Republic immediately tried to squash these two seperate insurrections, resulting in an immense global war.
And that's where you come in.
After choosing one of (currently) five servers to play on, the player is presented with the choice to join one of the three factions: Terran Republic, New Conglomerate, or Vanu Sovereignty. Each faction has its own strengths and weaknesses and caters to a different style of player. Traditional FPS players may favor the Terran Republic, whose military supremacy is based largely on overwhelming volume of fire. Those who prefer to aim and place shots carefully will prefer the New Conglomerate, whose tactics favor powerful and well-aimed, but less rapid, attacks. Lastly, the Vanu Sovereignty relies on incredible speed and superior maneuverability to compliment their unusual half-alien weaponry.
Each new character is basically a blank slate: they can only wear the two most basic types of armor and use a basic rifle and basic pistol. And that's where "Certification Points" come in. By spending Cert Points, your character can become proficient in different forms of warfare and different vehicles and tasks. Each certification requires a different number of Cert Points, but none cost less than 2 or more than 4. As your character more battle experiences and increases in "Battle Rank" by killing enemies and (more importantly) helping to capture bases, additional certifiations can be purchased. In this way, your character develops from one that can only do one or two specific things to a jack-of-all-trades that can hold his own in many different situations.
So, what does this mean for new characters? Will 'higher level' characters wipe the floor with you? Surprisingly, no, not in the least. Actual combat relies entirely on individual skill: once you have a cert, you are the equal of anyone else with that same cert, whether they're five levels below you or ten above you.
There's a definite rush when storming a base, pushing back the enemy with wave after wave of men as you fight alongside your squadmates. And there's also a definite feeling of triumph as you watch friendly tanks pour into a valley to assault the base. That's where Planetside's truly great moments come from: teamwork and triumph over the enemy. As far as giving you a good feeling of combat and the trials and tribulations thereof, it really does feel as if you're part of a greater whole, working for something far larger than each individual person involved. It's a beautiful thing to watch on the map as your army's forces sweep across the landscape, watching base after base fall to them.
In combat itself, Planetside functions like a traditional FPS with traditional FPS controls. Aiming is done first-person via a target reticle that shows the spread of your weapon, a la Counter-Strike. The game mechanics, however, will be alien to most FPS players: your weapons seem to be rather weak and numbers are much more important than individual skill. This is, probably, my biggest complaint about Planetside. At times, especially in larger battles, you can get the feeling that your individual efforts are unimportant. Even the best player can't take on three people and not expect to die. In this aspect, Planetside differs from traditional FPS games, where a single player can dominate a game.
The vehicle controls in Planetside are comparable to Grand Theft Auto for the ground vehicles and Tribes 2 for their aerial counterparts, of which there are currently regrettably few. The only air vehicles currently in the game are an anti-tank aircraft comparable to an A-10 Warthog (the Reaver), a nimble and lightly armored dogfighting aircraft (the Mosquito), and a large dropship which can carry an entire squad and one vehicle (the Galaxy). In future patches, we've been promised both a bomber (the Liberator) and a vehicle transport (the Lodestar). While these have not yet materialized, it seems likely that they will within the next few weeks. Ground vehicles are much more numerous, including light and assault tanks, armored personnel carriers, mobile base units, and the equivalent of a jeep.
Since I'm on the subject of content and patches, I should deal with the major caveat of my review: new content. As it stands, Planetside is a fun game, but its staying power is questionable due to the limited scope of its gameplay. What could keep the game new and interesting is a steady trickle of new content, such as the recently-added Skyguard anti-aircraft buggy and the soon-to-be-added Liberator bomber. If they can keep the updates and tweaks coming, Planetside could easily remain entertaining for months if not years. As it stands, though, there simply isn't enough content for more than a month or two of playing time. It's a great game and it's very fun, but after your hundredth base siege they all begin to flow together and there's not much difference between one and the next.
In addition to this, there remain slight balance issues between different factions and their various aspects. I won't get into specifics on this, though, as it would take far too much time and your mileage may vary.
So, what can you do in the game? To put it simply, practically anything. You can drive a resource truck to refuel bases, lurk in the hills surrounding a base and pick off lone wolves with a sniper rifle, stalk tanks and Mechanized Assault Exoskeletons with an anti-vehicle weapon, raise your teammates from the dead and heal the wounded as a medic, repair vehicles and bases as an engineer, subvert enemy defenses and hijack vehicles as a hacker, or any number of other tasks and jobs. Another caveat, though: not all of these things directly get you experience points, leaving you to rely on your squadmates to get the XP for you. Since squads share XP and the majority of your XP comes from capturing bases, this isn't such a major issue. However, it would be nice if you were able to get your squadmates XP by repairing things the same way they can get you XP by getting kills.
Graphically, Planetside can be a pretty astounding game. The modeling for the game is very good and the animations are pretty impressive. However, the scope of the game seems to have driven the hardware requirements through the roof. Although the game will run relatively well on a 700mhz machine with just under 400MB RAM, don't expect to have the settings any higher than 'bottom of the barrel' mode. Even on high-end machines, Planetside can suffer from video lag, choppy response, and control leg, especially in larger battles. This can get frustrating at times, but it will be no worse than any online game for the most part and the effects are minimized by avoiding the larger battles.
In the end, Planetside is a really fun game that lacks a certain amount of replayability and also suffers somewhat from the fact that it's a subscription-based game. It's the sort of game you play every day for a month and then suddenly find yourself only wanting to play once or twice a week. That sort of thing simply doesn't work as a subscription-based game, for me. For the amount of money you'd pay each month for Planetside, I need a game that keeps me coming back at least a little bit every day. Without a steady stream of new content, Planetside's gameplay does get old at a certain point. This, coupled with the occasional choppy gameplay and lag due to server issues and the game's rather high system requirements, makes Planetside lose a bit of the appeal that it initially had for me.
In short, Planetside is a fantastic game, but as subscription-based games go, it could use some work. If the new content is forthcoming and consistent, though, I'll gladly keep paying and keep playing.
For the first month I played I was all set to give it a 99 out of 100. It was that good. But to be fair, it's a subscription game and I expect it to keep me coming back for more each month. In that respect, the game needs some work. But even so, I got my money's worth and then some, which is more than I can say for a lot of games I've played.