April 2, 2009

1237 words 6 mins read

Review: Planetside

The original Planetside box art.

Every serious video gamer has a game that is truly their favorite. Not just a game they enjoy, but a game that they get completely engrossed in. Even though they’ve played the game a ton of times previously, they’ll go back to it sooner or later and be as addicted to it as the first time they played. For me that favorite, that game to which I’m completely addicted, is Planetside. It is an MMOFPS (Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter), one of the first of its kind. We’re not talking some namby pansy 64 player Unreal Tournament death match, we’re talking about three sides with literally hundreds of players on each side, fighting in the same battle. The fight isn’t on some singular battle field or base, the fight rages across a handful of continents with a dozen or so bases on each. I started my Planetside addiction on June 9, 2003 and while I have discontinued my account on a number of occasions over the last 5+ years, I’ve kept coming back.

Setting

Planetside is set in the somewhat distant future. Human explorers go through a wormhole, find a new planet with alien technology and start exploring. Unfortunately the wormhole closed on these explorers, leaving them stranded. They broke into three groups. The Terran Republic (TR), still loyal to their home planet and ways; the New Conglomerate (NC), who want to start a new system of government; and the Vanu Sovereignty (VS), who fully embraced the alien technology. So these three opposing sides fight for control of the planet. Much like the back story of any game, it really isn’t that important. It does provide a semi-interesting reasoning behind why there are three different sides with three different sets of weapons/vehicles, along with a common pool of weapons/vehicles (IE: the developers are lazy and don’t want to make a bunch of vehicles are almost identical but not exactly — and I can’t blame them for that).

Gameplay

In Planetside there is the typical assortment of ways to kill people on the ground. Shotguns, grenades, pistols, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, guided missiles, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers and knives. Being set in the future also leads to many new and creative ways to kill people, like radiation based weapons, one that is best described as the ability to shoot lighting and suits of power armor known as “MAX’s”. While it is a First Person Shooter, you do have other options than just being a grunt on the ground. Planetside introduced an entire range of possibilities, including many that have absolutely nothing to do with killing (which is what really attracted me to the game in the first place). The first and foremost option is to drive/pilot vehicles. Unlike Halo where you can hoof it if you want to, that really isn’t advisable for Planetside in many cases. The continents are roughly 5 kilometers in length/width and are not fun to run all the way across. Some of the vehicles are one person cars or planes, generally with offensive capabilities. Of course there is the usual plethora of tanks. Some are much larger, such as a the “Galaxy Dropship” (I presume named after the USAF C-5 Galaxy) which caries a pilot, 8 infantry, 2 suits of power armor, and 1 small vehicle (such as a light tank).

This is my area of expertise. I fly, I love to fly. I’ve gotten to the point in the game that if it has wings, afterburners, levitates or is in anyway capably of controlled flight — I can pilot it. I consider myself to be a very good pilot too, at least when it comes to getting around. I’m no expert in dog fighting, but I can hold my own (or at least run away so I can eject and hide).

Other options for non-violent game play include: Combat Engineering, yes that means laying down mines and turrets and just laughing as your enemy kills themselves. Hacking: in order to capture a base you need a hacker; you can also upload viruses to enemy bases and vehicles to disrupt them. Medic: the infantry man’s best friend is the squad doctor, especially since he can revive the dead, which is obviously quite useful when trying to hold a room in an enemy base.

Leveling Up

A screen shot during one of my infiltrations to a busy enemy base.

Every recent first person shooter has SOME point to the killing. Some more direct than others. For example in multiplayer of Halo 3, if you win, you get experience that eventually gives you rank. For example, I am a Gunnery Sergeant, Grade 2. Planetside has a slightly more direct system of leveling, one that actually proves to be more directly useful to the player, much more so than just a title. The main series of levels is known as your Battle Rank. The more people you kill (or assist to kill for support players), the more Battle Experience Points (BEP) you get. Eventually you “level up”. Most levels give you a certification point, a few (BR 6, 12, and 18) give you implants. Implants are simply enhancements that make your life easier, such as darklight (ability to see cloaked enemies), health regeneration or personal shield. Certification Points on the other hand give you the ability to “Certify” in different weapon/skill sets. Each type of certification costs a different number of points. For example it costs 6 points to certify for all 3 of the “MAX” (Power armor) suits, whereas the ability to fly a scout aircraft costs 3 points. When you first start out in the game (Battle Rank 1) you get 7 certification points to spend, which means you can’t have a lot of versatility. That being said your weapons are just as good as someone who has reached the maximum level, Battle Rank 25. Once you’ve gotten to the higher levels, you simply have more versatility to do different jobs or drive different vehicles. As I noted earlier, I have the ability to fly any aircraft.

Conclusion

Planetside was released May of 2003, which means it is coming up on 6 years old. When it first came out, you had to turn down all the graphics and pray it worked. Now on full quality my work laptop runs it crazy fast (IE 170FPS outdoors). The game is still fun. It also has been fascinating to me to keep seeing the same “old” names every time I login. Even when I drop the game for 6 months or a year, I come back and find people I used to know. I remember them, they remember me, and I pick up back in the outfit (Guild) just like I never left. The fact that you can “Forget” a certification every 6 hours means you can drop something and pick up something new to play, every day. If you are tired of ground pounding, you can get into combat engineering. If you are tired of CE, you can start flying. The possibilities are endless. You can generally always find something to do that you enjoy, as long as you enjoy the fights. I know that I will put down Planetside again at some point in time (one can only have constant battles for so long), but I certainly hope to keep coming back to it for years to come.