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PlanetSide

Developer: Verant
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Genre: Online First-Person Shooter / Role-Playing Game
Players: 1-N/A
Similar To: BattleField 1942
Rating: Teen
Published: 07 :21 : 03
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 7 = Good

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P3 1.0Ghz, Win 98/ME/2000/XP, 256MB RAM, Direct3D comp. video card w/ 32MB Ram, 4X CDROM, Win comp. sound card, 3.25GB hd, 56k+ internet connection
Reviewed On: P4 2.5Ghz, 256MB, GeForce 4 & 2ti, SB, Win XP Pro, Cable connection


Intro

After the Terran Republic discovered a wormhole, they sent forces through to colonize the seemingly inhabitable planet. Finding technology from the ancient alien race, the Vanu, the colonists were able to store a matrix of any of the people and allow them to live on after their initial body deceased. After the wormhole collapses, three factions begin to form as the stragglers are forced to make due with the bases they have built so that they may survive cut off from their powerful empire, and in such a dangerous environment. Itís now 10 years later and itís up to the gamer to decide whether they want to play as the traditional Terran Republic; the fighters for change, the New Conglomerate; or those that embraced the alien technology to the fullest, the Vanu Sovereignty. Take the role as a new recruit in one of the orders and tackle an online first-person shooter that dabbles in a little role-playing, and manages to overcome its lack of purpose to remain an enjoyable entry into the crowded online-only market.


Gameplay: 7.5/10
Picking a character in PlanetSide is relatively easy, since none of the factions are really all that different. In fact, the best way to pick which side to play as is by going which ideology that best fits the persona you wish to portray within the game. Me, Iím an empire kind of guy: I like marching through villages, setting fire to the fields, and letting the local ruffians know who is in charge. So my choice was pretty clear, the Terran Republic was the way to go. Donít worry, though, since each server hosts multiple characters and any faction can be tried out at the playerís leisure. Just be aware that, despite some items being renamed, a majority of the weapons and vehicles are the same for every group; the only real exception are the Vanu Sovereignty, who use alien technology, but even those are pretty tame and human-like. With that in mind, itís best to focus on one faction and throw yourself into that character.

Those just starting out might want to try a practice run, but the game isnít very different from most first-person shooters and vehicle action games (re: Recoil), but thatís always an option. I opted to jump right in and go for some in-game training, which is done in a very Holodeckíesque environment. From within the safety of the Sanctuary, the playerís home base, gamers can take shuttles to combat, attain weapons and vehicles, as well as use their certificate points, as well as train. Training is crucial because it gives players battlefield experience, and once the character gets enough, they go up a rank and earn a certificate; certificates are used to attain new abilities Ė such as access to new armor and weapons Ė as well as the permission to attain vehicles. Players will start off with a few points, but thatís not as good as it seems since they will have to sacrifice better firepower for armor, or something to get around in and lay down some destruction with. This is really why training is crucial since itíll allow enough experience to get certificates to cover all the basics; and remember, go through every weapon, item, and armor while in the firing range, experience builds up quickly at such an early level. Thereís also a driving range to test all the vehicles and gain even more experience; vehicles consist of recon units, transports, as well as medium and heavy assault vehicles for land and air, no sea. Donít skip out on this either, while both may get mundane, the information and experience received from them makes it all worthwhile.

When entering an online world, players will have to confront one of the most annoying and frustrating aspects of that kind of gaming, which is, of course, other players. Luckily, the Sanctuaries and Warp portals all have areas that turn weapons off, so thereís no need to worry about the game turning into Diablo-styled town massacres. Unfortunately, leaving these safe havens means the player will have to confront one of PlanetSideís most peculiar aspects Ė grief points. The point of the grief point system is that players who continue to harm others on their team will slowly accumulate points, and when a certain amount is reached, they will go to another level; however, if they behave, or avoid some of the Rambos out there, the points will gradually decrease. Eventually, players who reach Level 4 will have their account banned for an undetermined amount of time. This is so that the only people who will be banned are those who are intentionally trying to ruin the game for others. That sounds great on paper, but itís flawed in a way that Iím not sure is fixable. When playing with other people, itís essential to keep in mind that people are stupid. That means someone will readily run into your line of fire, run in front of your tank, or squeeze off a few rounds at your feet and attempt to goad you into a fight Ė or they just might shoot you, because, apparently, itís very hard to reach Level 4 and some people are well aware of that. Iíve been in conversations with players who claimed to have raked up hundreds of points because they were heavily armed and other players would simply run into the area they were shooting explosives at. I, myself, got quite a few whenever defending a base, since I like to take a corner and hold it, it seems as though seeing rounds come out of my rifle wasnít enough to deter some from jumping infront of it. In those cases, itís nice to not automatically be punished for something that isnít necessarily the playerís fault, or for a genuine mistake. Then there were times where players were just running in rooms and shooting away, knowing that the point system is pretty weighty and they were good to go for a few kills without any repercussion. The system is a nice attempt at keeping the morons in check, so I hope to see it fleshed out more over time.

If the new player manages to get invited to a squad, then they will be treated to shared experience and exemption from the grief point system. Verant made a good decision and went with the option that squads will govern themselves and decide when someone should be punished for their conduct, but the squad members will incur grief points for shooting fellow faction members who arenít a part of their party. Being in a squad will also give players a chance to gain command experience; this allows access to better and more thorough controls to give to current and future squadmates. Being in a squad is pretty fun and is a great way to gain quick experience, as it is with most online titles, but having a competent leader makes it so much more enjoyable. A good leader will have waypoints issued to the playerís map, give clear orders about who goes where, and will dictate who does what. A good example of this was when I was in a group of 5, the leader told three to assist in defending a fort, two being soldiers and one acting as a medic, while he and myself stayed to finish taking over a base so that we could get the experience. He having the ability to give players waypoints Ė which, by the way, are visible almost anywhere on the map and were implemented extremely well Ė is a key element in having a squad function as a cohesive force. Iíve seem some squads who blew my mind as they had assault tactics down to a science, and I could only stare and marvel as their ships cleared the outer defense walls and their dropships would rain assault infantry and MAX units (heavily armored killing machine); their precision, skill, and unity was amazing.

Those going solo will have a more difficult time, but itís entirely possible to do very well by going as a lone assassin. For those who want to go all the way, they can get infiltration suits and a similar four-wheeled vehicle, both of which make the player weak Ė with no weapons on the vehicle and the player only having one themselves Ė but nearly invisible, making them a stragglerís worst nightmare. Whatís great is that experience in taking a fort is shared with all those who took part in conquering it, so tagging along with a wave of other players is encouraged since taking bases is the main way of getting points. Itís also advisable to go along with others, because the bases can only be taken in a certain order, so while it may be cool to think of doubling-back and re-taking a base at the edge of an island, it wonít be possible. It isnít possible not only because it isnít the next in line to be hacked Ė which I think is a sound idea Ė but also because it would take so long to gain access into the base itself, find the flag room, and then hold off any enemies for the 15 minutes needed to acquire it. Since each base has resources that need to be replenished for players to continue getting items from equipment terminals and vehicles from launch pads, there also needs to be enough players to guard/take the energy terminal, replenish it, or hack them so that the enemy canít use them to re-arm themselves. However, it is possible to take any smaller forts, which are used as respawn and rearming posts and play key roles in a teamís strategy, in no particular order. But, thatís only if the player wants some serious experience, if not, they can go the tortoise route and pick off any threat to them and gain experience that way Ė which is a very, very long process as killing isnít all that rewarding point-wise.

After spending a good amount of time in the game, the player will gain access to implants. These little beauties are limited to 3 per character and become accessible once every 6th battle rank (re: PlanetSideís way of saying level); also, like certification points, implants can also be removed and utilized elsewhere, although they donít take 24 real-world hours to take effect like unlearning certificate abilities. The implants enhance the player by either making them fight better, regenerate health, or enhance their espionage abilities. When activated, all take away from the playerís stamina, and in cases of regeneration of hit points, it consumes stamina for hit points either as a ratio or whole. Itís best not to use the implants too much since itíll take a bit of downtime to build the stamina back up, but theyíre extremely handy in battle.

Experimenting with the implants and other goodies in PlanetSide is also a large part of its enjoyment. Despite weapons and vehicles being similar, players focusing on one faction wonít particularly notice this and will spend a good amount of time just getting enough certificates to try them all out. But, whatís missing isnít the gadgets or action, itís the purpose.

PlanetSide never felt like it had any real meaning. Now, the player knows they are fighting for their faction and that they need to win, but what for? Conquering a continent doesnít really have any benefits - as of now - and having more bases on one only gives slightly more experience Ė this is in percentages, if Vanu is winning, they might have 1% percentage increase in experience, while a losing Terran Republic might get the opposite. After spending a lot of hours taking tons of bases and forts, the only thing thatís left is to move on. Whereís the pageantry? All the player gets is a sound letting them know that their faction conquered a base and nothing but that, and experience, to reward them for digging in and fighting a battle that mightíve lasted hours. Where are the incredible benefits from achieving such a great accomplishment? Instead, the only thing left is that anyone on the continent of the winning faction will end up spending a ton of time wondering around Ė which happens a ton, so be sure to get at least one vehicle license at the start Ė and theyíll just wait until another faction invades. The only way to stop someone from getting to a continent is when a population lock is in place, but that only occurs in combat because of so many players. Itís also very disheartening to log off for a few hours and come back, only to find half the continent that was just won completely, has now been lost. It may be difficult, but why not make the enemy factions have to wait until thereís a large enough force to act as an invasion, and give the defenders time to prepare. I want to see my factionís banners hanging from every building, I want to see some automated defense bots traveling the skies, and I want others to know that when we conquered the continent, we just didnít send all their troops away, we stomped them down and rule it with an iron fist. Unfortunately, all I get is a revolving door of combat.

The continents themselves are also pretty uninteresting. The Vanu were supposed to be this technologically superior race, so where are the artifacts and ruins? I think Iíve seen a single rock formation that looked ancient, but other than that, thereís nothing there. The landscapes are either green, barren rock , or snowy and desolate. Bases and forts canít be the only thing that the people built over the 10 year period that built up to this point. There were no poor or outcasts who made shanty towns? There were none who wanted to be left alone and started their own bases? The only thing populating the continents are rocks, trees, small forts, and large bases, there isnít any wildlife to speak of. This world is supposed to be inhospitable, but not completely dead. The factions donít liven things up either. Aside from their slightly different clothing, and the accuracy and damage of their weapons, thereís just not enough distinction between the factions. These are all suppose to be people who are different and have their own ideals, they have to have something more to represent themselves. I would think that a group angry enough to war with another would do more to differentiate themselves from their foes. I would love to have seen each bring their own style to areas they conquer. If the New Conglomerate holds a base for a week, why not have the appearance change from that of its previous owners? Give players more benefits and variety, make the game feel alive and not just a makeshift battlefield.

For how barren the world is, PlanetSide requires a beast of a machine. Itís very hard to form a solid fighting force when at least one, but most likely more, players will have a death in combat because their system stopped to crunch numbers whenever they turned a corner. There are a lot of unused areas in the game, correction, a lot of bland and unused areas in the game, so why not shrink some of it up and put something in place to make the world seem more natural? Instead, thereís seemingly miles of rock and foliage, with bases and forts scattered around. Somehow, a screen of just grass can also take up quite a bit of system resources. Iíve played plenty of online titles, but PlanetSide is the only one that makes my computer scream Ďhow high?í when it says Ďjump!í - and that, friends, will be the only poor anecdote in the review. If there was some actual eye-candy to make it all worth it, I wouldnít mind, but there isnít. Hopefully some future patches will help to alleviate this. This definitely limits its potential when other online titles like Dark Age of Camelot and EverQuest will treat players to a much smoother experience. Not only that, but to an experience that feels richer.

Graphics: 6.5/10
Just about everything in the game has a very basic look to it. Character models are the same, just with different colors and armor types; I would think that after so long, each would have a more distinguishing style and presence. I did find that the aircraft fared better than the rest design-wise. There is something naturally impressive about gigantic landscapes and rolling hills, as were gigantic fire fights over bases and resources. Despite crushing my system and the performance stutters, planned assaults and all-out battles were a sight to behold with squads running around and laser fire being exchanged in every direction. So, while there isnít anything stunning to look at in general, seeing the massive armies and the carnage they bring is indeed an impressive sight. Nothing is really poor, there just seems to be a lack of imagination and a mundane world to hold it all.

Sound: 6.5/10
The music isnít bad and the in-game voices are about what one would expect, there are some nice sound effects though. Tanks and aircraft sound great, as do little things like getting in and out of vehicles. There are a nice handful of different voices the player can choose from, although I rarely heard those in the game. What I really missed where the ambient and environmental sounds; maybe grass rustling as a gust of wind blew, or rocks crumbling under the weight of a tank. Thereís definitely more that couldíve been done here; although, Iím not sure how much since it might have been far too much for most machines to handle.


Control: 7/10
For some reason, my mouse cursor never scrolled across the screen very smoothly and that had some serious repercussions while I was in combat. Trying to select a weapon with a jerking cursor wasnít fun, nor was it when info would pop up and bring the console to interface mode, requiring me to close all the windows before going back to mouse mode. I wasnít a fan of the menu system as a whole; I wouldíve preferred all info to have gone in the box above chatting, instead of in their own panels on the side. What I did like was the feature for players to save combinations of equipment, so all someone had to do was go to an equipment terminal and press 1 to load up their favorite armor, weapons, and extra goodies. I did find controlling some vehicles a bit of a pain, especially the faster aircraft, and the limited range of certain vehicles made them feel almost pointless. While practice will ease flying pains, it certainly wonít make the limited firing ranges of such vehicles, like light tanks, to make any more sense. Most land-based vehicles were also pretty stiff. I would say the controls of handling infantry, armor, and air, strikes a middle ground: it isnít as intuitive as BattleField 1942, but itís much more streamlined than Operation Flashpoint.

Overall: 7/10
What I enjoy about PlanetSide is that I actually got to do something. I donít simply click on an icon to attack and another to heal, instead, I have to practice and work with a team to really get the most out of the game. There isnít anything wrong with the other online titles, but itís so nice to know that my skill is what is making a difference and not necessarily how long I waited near a spawn point. JumpGate did this a while back, but was unjustly handled, hopefully with Verant and Sony behind the wheel, they can flesh out PlanetSide and fix its faults: give it some purpose, some variety, and some life. Make the player feel like they are in and living in another world, donít simply plunk them down and hope that all the toys will satisfy them. Everything is there, itís time to ante up and create something marvelous, give it some character and make it so that it isnít up to the players to pump others up and get them involved, simply adding new units here and there isnít going to cut it. While itís fun now, it could be phenomenal.

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