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Review: PlanetSide

PlanetSide
Developer: Sony Online
Publisher: Sony Online
Genre: Sci-Fi / First Person Shooter (MMO)
Released: 05/20/03

Review: PlanetSide - Div Devlin (08-25-03)

Killing enemies inside their base!
Background:
“In existence for over a thousand years, the 'Terran Republic' is the sole governing body with an intergalactic reign which maintains absolute authority until an expeditionary force is sent through a wormhole to colonize a newly discovered world named 'Auraxis.' To expedite the colonization, three main bases are established on the planets surface, with numerous outposts following across the continents, when remnants of an alien race are discovered known as the 'Vanu.' No traces of the Vanu fate were found, but elements of their technology is, most notably 'rebirthing tubes.'

Mixing the Vanu technology with Human technology, humans learn how to store their genetic patterns allowing them to come back to life whenever someone dies. When the wormhole that brought the colonists to Auraxis collapses, the Terran Republic becomes stranded from the main empire. Tensions grow between the three main bases until they escalate and divide into three Empires. The Terran Republic and two new ones - the New Conglomerate and the Vanu Sovereignty who each engage themselves in a world- war for control of the planet in a war without permanent death on the PlanetSide.”

The Game:
PlanetSide is the First Person Shooter (FPS) that combines Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMO) from Sony Online Entertainment (EverQuest) that engages thousands of players per server in faction battles of “Capture the Flag” in an endless and evolving conflict. Divided between three realms, The Terran Republic, the original colonists of the planet Auraxis who hold out that they will remain loyal to death and that the upstart empires will be dismantled; the New Conglomerate who remember the history of oppression of the Terran Empire and wish to live free by tearing the tyranny down and starting over; and the Vanu Sovereignty who believe that the human species is tilted towards ruin, unless they lead the human race towards enlightenment.

For those of you who are MMO vets and may be familiar with the Faction vs. Faction system of “Ultima Online,” or the Realms vs. Realms combat of “Dark Age of Camelot,” picture this but in a sci-fi setting of “Half-Life.” Each of the three governments within PlanetSide is vying over control of the continents for command of the world in varied roles of ground-pounder, heavy tanks or in the air via combat. Starting at their Main Base, they travel to each continent attempting to gain control of the outposts and facilities in all out massively multiplayer player versus player combat (PvP) and it works.

Ground Control, Mini Tanks!
Character Generation:
Creating an avatar to carry on the battles for the planet Auraxis is simplistic and fulfilling. As you create your account you choose one of the three factions that you are going to be part of during your stay within game. Options are extremely limited as the basis of the game is all about fighting. Choose your gender, a face, name yourself and the style of voice you will use for in game sound macros.

Once your character is created you can either go into a training scenario or right into the game at your sanctuary, which will be your starting base whenever you enter game. We spent too much time on the training scenario until we figured out it was horribly broken. Do not bother wasting time in the offline training game. It does not work. Once inside game, you can go to a “training facility” within the sanctuary where you can practice with the varied weapons and vehicles. Doing so will earn a player experience points which can be used later for character advancement.

Game Play:
Game Play is all about combat. It is your empires job to wipe out the opposing empires and capture their bases. At this point game-play becomes so varied and engrossing that there will be something for everyone. Not only do players need to siege the bases though firefight's with weapons, but team play and coordinated efforts are needed as you work with heavy weapon platforms, ground vehicles, and air support.

Solo players can find a rewarding experience as forward scouts, snipers or pilots dealing death from above in one manned quick assault fighters. Healers are needed for reviving fallen comrades on the battlefields, as well as combat engineer's to repair damaged vehicles or the very needed starring player, “The Hacker” whose job it is to take control of an enemy factions computers and convert the base or outpost to their empires side.

Dropping in on the Enemey!
Bases and outposts are scattered across several continents all connected to your main sanctuary. Travel to each of the enemy locations are done through interconnected “planetary warp gates” which transport players to opposite connected warp gates. While travel to a location can take several minutes, Sony made it easy by adding two other options to get to a location. The “Shuttle” which is a drop ship firing a trooper inside a “Pod” to a chosen location or through an “Instant Action” command that will randomly take a player to a combat “Hot Spot” that their empire is battling for.

The Instant Action feature has to be one of the best features to be implemented into a MMO game, as players do not need to wait for others, which can take upwards of several minutes just to decide where to meet, where to go, and travel to a location. Instant Action can take you right into the middle of the fray.

Advancement:
PlanetSide is all about blowing stuff up, killing other players and taking places over. To reflect that, characters advance in levels for the more they accomplish of the above goals. For killing players, taking things over, and blowing stuff up, repeatedly players will gain experience, which will gain them levels. As a player's character progresses in levels, they will attain “Certification Points” which will allow them to learn how to use new equipment, weapons, vehicles, or advance upon basic skills.

Unlike other level based games where you are a hamster in a leveling treadmill, most times you find yourself paying little attention to your progression until you gain a level and find yourself eligible for a new training certificate. As you attain Training Points, you can invest them into skills. As you gain higher levels you also become eligible for “Cybernetic Implants” which further improve your character.

One of the better parts of the skill system from the start of the game, is if you find yourself not enjoying being a 'Pilot” you can sell the training certificates back every twenty-four hours to reinvest in a different skill set. “Respec” is in the game, and players can fully round out their characters to the style of play they most enjoy.

Grief Players:
Being a PvP game, with a fast action packed game, can lead to the question of griefing. This is something Sony does a fair job of addressing. What's to stop some player from deciding to go on a rampage and kill or spy on opposing empires? While each player during character creation can have five slots to create characters for the varied roles they may wish to pursue in game, each server will only allow players to create characters of the same faction.

Formation Flying, Protect the Troops!
If you choose to be a member of the Vanu's on a particular server, than all characters upon that server will associate with the Vanu. If a player decides to go on a rampage and begin killing all players of the same Empire, they will attain grief points, a system which measures the number of attack's, and kills you afflict. When your points rise to certain levels you will be blocked from re-equipping items, advancing characters or eventually becoming banned. The point system works, as players will get hit by friendly fire during the course of combat, while degrading over time.

Graphics:
The graphics in PlanetSide do a good job. Due to the heavy system requirements it's not every player that will get to enjoy the stunning visual effects as explosions and bullets stream past you during hot and hard fire fights. But, on a lower end system the game looks great as well as plays good. While there are still some fixes that need to be implemented the frame rate does not drastically drop during a two-hour course of play that you can't compete due to graphics lag. After that on a low-end system reboot and take a break for munchies!

Final Thoughts:
I'm really having an enjoyable time within PlanetSide and became immediately drawn into the action when I logged in. I've found myself fully immersed within game and only noticing how late it was when the sun would rise the next morning. It's casual gamer friendly and PvP addictive. With the capture the flag set-up though, I imagine hard-core power gamers are going to burn out fast as it becomes repetitive. I also found the price for the monthly subscription rather expensive for a game that I'm only jumping into two or three times a week.

However, as a casual gamer in PlanetSide, I'm not finding myself forced to spend time in a leveling grind to compete against other players to win. I win if I had a good time, which is a personally rewarding experience for any player within any game that enjoys them self, and that's what should matter. Running the game on a low end PC did not detract overly from the enjoyment and lag was almost non-existent. If you have been considering playing this game and enjoy First Person Shooters, you have to try PlanetSide; it can also make the world of difference if you are running in a decent, well-organized clan. Shout outs to the folks from KAAOS whom I have been running with, they do this for sport.

PlanetSide is a fast action-packed and entertaining game that will become addicting, you really can't go wrong with it of you enjoy player versus player combat. As a player, I recommend trying it.

Discuss: Which side will you be?

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