Publisher: Sony Online
Developer: Sony Online
Release Date: May 19, 2003
Preview By: Anthony Mitera
Buy 'PLANETSIDE': PC
The squad of New Conglomerate soldiers worked their way from tree to tree, hill to hill, advancing on the Terran-held facility. After dropping off from their Galaxy transport under the cover of a snowstorm and working their way to the base there had been no signs of enemy activity, a strange occurrence for such a key facility on the island. The squad hacked the security panel on a side door in the base and ventured inside. Following the well-lit corridors down to the basement the squad reached the bottom floor, a large warehouse area, which held not only the base’s countless supply crates but also the command console. The squad cautiously moved forward, something was not right. Suddenly, next to a stack of boxes a glimmering figure shifted ever so slightly, catching the New Conglomerate squad’s attention. As the squad turned and fired on the transparent figurine the apparition leaped over the nearby boxes to take cover. Just before the squad could begin to search out and eliminate the new threat a handful of Terran soldiers armed with chainguns and cycler assault rifles sprung up and leveled their weapons at the New Conglomerate group. As the rapid-fire Terran weapons laced the area with gunfire the NC squad scrambled to take cover behind corners and boxes. The squad leader cursed, this wasn’t going to be easy…
Ever since the FPS genre has been introduced people have been looking for a game that would have hundreds and thousands of players fighting against each other, wishing for such large-scale battles that most people thought that a game that would cater to it would never be realized. Battlefield 1942 tapped into this wish, but even on the biggest Bf1942 servers the player count peaks at 64. With the development and implementation of Sony Online’s PlanetSide, large scale battles of thousands of foot soldiers and vehicles across vast continents are no longer a wish, but rather a dream come true.
PlanetSide’s scope is almost too vast to effectively describe in a mere preview. At its core the game is a massively multiplayer first person shooter with role-playing game elements. Each player creates their character, first picking what side of the conflict they wish to fight for and then general character creation bits such as face type, gender, and the voice set. Once their character is created the player is sent to their faction’s sanctuary, a safe zone that not only serves to acquaint new players with the game but also as a “main base” for the faction. Every player has stats such as the health, armor, and endurance and an inventory that holds weapons, ammo, and items. Every player also has two ranks (levels), Battle Rank and Command Rank. Battle rank is gained by killing enemy units and capturing enemy facilities, while command rank is gained by leading a squad. Gaining command ranks unlocks command options such as setting waypoints and using an uplink device to better control your squad and its actions, and gaining battle ranks allots a certification point to the player. Every player starts off in PlanetSide with basic skills to allow them to wear the most basic of armor and wield the lowest class of weaponry, as well as a small number of certification points. To gain access to better weapons, armor, items, and the ability to drive vehicles the player spends the certification points at a certification terminal. Skills can take anywhere from 2 to 4 points to purchase, so they are a bit expensive. Since the maximum battle rank one character can achieve is rank 20 there are only so many skills one character can gain, making everyone have their own, specialized roles rather than everyone being able to do everything.
After learning a couple skills and loading up your inventory with weapons and ammo, it’s probably time to join the conflict and fight for your faction. There are a few ways to leave the sanctuary, the HART shuttle, the warp gates, and the instant action option. HART shuttles leave the sanctuary every 20 minutes and ferry soldiers (but not vehicles) to any spot of their choosing on any continent, dropping them off in an escape pod like vehicle that unfold and eventually disassembles upon landing. If you have a vehicle at your disposal or simply like walking, warp gates will take you to whatever continent they are connected to but if your destination isn’t one jump away then you have to warp to a continent, trek through that continent to get to another warp gate, and finally arrive at your destination. Continents that are directly connected to a sanctuary are usually connected to the sanctuaries of two of the factions, so holding them can stop the advance of another faction. The continents that are farther out are not connected to any sanctuary, therefore making it the “hill” in a “king of the hill” sense. The final option to leave the sanctuary is instant action, which takes you to a random battle anywhere in the game, good for just finding a fight rather than strategically taking key areas.
In the vast world that PlanetSide takes place in, there are a few guarantees. The first guarantee is that somewhere there is always some form of huge battle being waged. Secondly, there are always the opportunities to start your own battles, and thirdly there is always going to be a base that is about to come under attack. The first guarantee should appeal to everyone, no matter what time of day they play there is always a war to be waged. The other two should appeal to players that are aggressive in finding new bases to conquer, and to those who want to hold back behind the front lines a ways and defend a facility that their side already owns.
By huge battle, I mean just that. Battles in PlanetSide can be so large scale that it is almost awe-inspiring. As lumbering Galaxy transports offload a small vehicle and a squad of soldiers, Reaver gunships dogfight overhead and take out ground targets, snipers take shots at the enemy from a distance, and hundreds of foot soldiers race across battlements inside the base and run from cover to cover outside it, exchanging fire as they go. Words cannot describe how much fun it is to be in one of these battles, knowing that every kill you make means your side advances that much further, that much closer to taking the base from the enemy and gaining one more foothold to launch future attacks from.
In essence PlanetSide is a lot like a game of Capture and Hold, although rather than holding a silly flag that serves no purpose you hold bases, all of which serve a very distinct purpose. There are many types of bases in PlanetSide, such as Tech Plants, Amp Stations, Dropship Centers, and Bio Laboratories. Each one serves a unique purpose; a dropship center is the only base that can construct the Galaxy dropship while a bio laboratory boosts the healing capabilities of the medical stations in every base on the continent that the faction controls. In this way, holding certain bases and defending one base more than others is sometimes a necessity and on the flip side there are some bases that you would want to release from enemy control more than others.
Bases don’t run off of an unlimited supply of resources however. Every time you get healed, “buy” items (There is no currency in the game, as long as you have the skill to use something it is free to purchase from a inventory station), or get a vehicle from a vehicle pad the base’s energy reserves drop slightly, which is stored in a silo. When the bases power levels drop to below 30% warning lights flash on the silo, and if a base runs out of power it becomes neutral. A neutral base does not function for any side and must be both re-supplied with power and recaptured to become useable again. To supply the base with more power a brave soul must take it upon himself to get in a Advanced Nanite Transport vehicle (ANT) and drive to the nearest warp gate bubble to collect energy, and then return. I say brave because in the heat of a battle that surrounds a base, the last thing a sane person would do is hop in an unarmed, lightly armored transport vehicle and baha through enemy territory. Coincidentally, its also an exhilarating experience, driving the small vehicle along roads, over hills, and through forests and swamps, trying to evade enemy fire to get a load of power to a base that is almost empty.
With battles being waged, won, and lost, somebody is going to be capturing some bases. To capture a base a soldier must firstly reach the base’s command console, the main computer of a base. Using a hacking kit the soldier must hack the console without getting shot in the process. Once a console is hacked base operation stops for all sides, but is still in the original owners hands until 15 minutes have passed. The fact that a base has been hacked is easily noticeable and a hacked base has to be the site of the most pitched battles in the game. Crouching near the console, taking cover and returning fire while enemy soldiers fight tooth and nail to get past you and unhack the console is another one of the games shining points.
When it is all said and done, with the enemy laying dead at your feet and the base under your faction’s control, it’s time to patch up and reinforce the base as even though the enemy isn’t there right then, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t regrouping to retake the base. People who have the medical skill can use a medical tool to heal both friendly soldiers and themselves, while engineers can not only repair body armor on themselves and others but can also plant mines, det packs, motion sensors, and turrets. This period of tranquility never lasts very long however, and before you know it the enemy is launching an attack on your facility and now rather than attacking it from the outside you are now defending it from the walls and courtyard.
One of the specialized roles in the game is the cloaker, a player that chooses the stealth suit skill so that they can turn near invisible. A stationary cloaker is impossible to spot, but the faster they move the easier they are to spot. While cloakers can infiltrate a base and recon it’s difficulty with ease, even killing a few solitary enemy soldiers using a knife, cloakers are far from being the ultimate soldier. Cloakers do not have any body armor, and an extremely small inventory space that’s just big enough for a hacking device and a couple other small items.
Some players however enjoy blasting the enemy to bits with high-powered weaponry more than sneaking around. Every faction has three types of Max suits, anti-air, anti-vehicle, and anti-personnel. Max suits are a sort of powered armor with over 5 times the armor of a standard soldier, but are less agile and can only use the gun that is mounted on the suit. Max units are far from invincible, but when used effectively a single Max unit can mow down a good amount of infantry. However, due to their lack of agility Max units are vulnerable to vehicles and anti-tank weapons, woe to the Max unit that is caught out in the open with rockets being fired at it.
Vehicles in PlanetSide are a diverse and large group. Everything from buggies to tanks, transport to assault, and small and nimble to large and lumbering can be used. For instance, the Lightning assault tank is a powerful weapon on the ground, while the big-rig-like Sunder can not only carry 10 soldiers inside it’s armored body but pave the way with its two massive cannons as well. The Mosquito reconnaissance craft can take down enemy infantry with its chaingun but is best suited as a recon only vehicle, while the Reaver gunship can use its chainguns and twin rocket launchers to mow down both ground and air targets. Vehicle control in PlanetSide is very arcade-like, with every vehicle controlled by only a handful of buttons. The hardcore simulation crowd may turn their noses up at this, but when you are trying to land a Galaxy transport in a small field flanked by trees while enemy rockets and gunfire are pounding the hull one handful of buttons is enough.
The graphics in PlanetSide cant compare to single player FPS games such as Unreal 2 but when compared to any other massively multiplayer online game PlanetSide blows anything else out of the water. The character and weapon models look very nice, especially with high-resolution textures turned on. The vehicles in the game not only look great but also look quite varied, when you see a Reaver in the distance you will know quite well that it is a Reaver and won’t mistake it for anything else. The weather effects in the game such as lightning, rainstorms, and blizzards not only serve as eye candy but also serve a purpose. On one occasion my convoy of assault craft and transport vehicles quite literally had to stop in the middle of a road due to a severe blizzard that limited visibility to something around 10 feet. The bases in the game are not only large and well crafted but also sport a good amount of detail. Signs inside the base show where various parts of the base are, various consoles blink and display various images, and corridors are laced with pipes and paneling. Even the general landscape in the game is diverse and natural; every continent is different in its overall look but also never look bland or repetitive.
Sound in the game is great overall. The voices of the characters are decent enough but the game really shines when it shows off its various sound effects, from a good distance away you will know it when you hear the distinct sound of a chaingun firing. Explosions in the game are also accompanied by a gratifying sound effect, and the sounds of a Galaxy creeping overhead are remarkable. PlanetSide also boasts a musical score with a level of quality unlike most others. The music played when not in combat, when in combat, and at various other times differs in theme depending on what faction you choose but no matter what your faction is the music always fits the mood and sets the tone for the game. The suspenseful music playing while you are defending a command console that is in the process of being captured and fighting off wave after wave of enemy soldiers is not just a part of the gameplay, but an experience in itself.
Simply put, if your computer can run it, and you like first person shooters, there is no logical reason why you won’t like PlanetSide. Gamers who just want action will love the instant action feature and can perform quite well alone, while the more social crowd will love the guild options and chat, while strategists and tacticians will have a hay day leading squads and planning attacks. For those who like to drive around and blow things up there has got to be a vehicle in PlanetSide suited to your tastes, while sneaky players will take to the stealth suit like a fish to water and support troops will enjoy playing as a medic or an engineer, or commandeering transports to ferry troops from place to place. To sum it all up, this is the game that gamers have been eagerly awaiting for years, and with its sheer scale and scope PlanetSide not only fills a niche that has been empty for so long but also stands to be one of the best massively multiplayer online games in years.
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