Role playing games and first person shooters aren’t usually talked about in the same sentence. They are two exponentially different genres whose paths normally do not cross. PlanetSide aims to change that by tossing the idiosyncracies of an RPG and a FPS into a blender and hitting puree. The end result is a solid, if complex, mix of RPG and FPS gameplay. You’ll frag opposing forces using the vast array of weapons and vehicles at your disposal, gain experience points, gain certifications to upgrade your character, take over expansive enemy bases, and see entire continents all the while. PlanetSide is a very ambitious title - can it pull off what it has set out to achieve, or will it crumble under its own weight?
We’ve all experienced deep, sprawling RPGs, taken down waves of enemies to earn precious experience points so we could gain enough levels to use the next big weapons to defeat our foes. We’ve experienced hours and hours of twitch gameplay, outmaneuvering enemies to get the perfect headshot and claim ultimate victory in FPS games. Have you ever thought of what it would be like to combine the two genres? Twitch gameplay that rewards teamwork and execution of goals with valuable experience points that can be used to gain “certifications” for your character, allowing them to pilot new vehicles and holster better weapons of destruction? What about having the ability to choose implants that will give you the upper hand on the battlefield? Want to be a sniper with the ability to jump high and regenerate health? Or, do you want to be a warrior on the battlefield with your own personal shield and the ability to surge forth with super human speed? All of these options are real choices in PlanetSide that you must decide upon.
PlanetSide is a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter. There is no single player story mode, so besides training offline, all your time with PlanetSide will be spent online. If you’re looking for a FPS with continuity, a story, or levels to blast through on your way to an ultimate goal, PlanetSide isn’t your game, as t his is strictly a multiplayer event. Everything in PlanetSide is structured around teamwork, whether it be joining a squad or outfit (I’ll explain these later) or coordinating a takeover of an enemy base (which you’ll be doing a lot of). Along with being team-based, PlanetSide is no slouch when it comes to complexity. There is a lot to learn, and I mean a lot. You haven’t seen a game like this before.
The first thing you’ll be presented with is the creation of your character. This step is very basic. Choose an empire to join, face and voice type, your name and which server you want your character to be saved to. There are three empires to choose from. The Terran Republic, New Conglomerate, and Vanu Sovereignty. The Terran Republic leans towards guns that pack a good punch and fire tons of lead in the shortest amount of time, and their vehicles can carry two gunners, as opposed to one for the New Conglomerate and Vanu Sovereignty. The New Conglomerate is all about raw power, but slower firing. The Vanu Sovereignty likes speed and mobility over punch and power, and their vehicles can travel over water.
After you create your character, you can choose to jump straight into the action (remember, you’ve just created your character, which at this point is very weak), or you can go to your empire’s sanctuary. This is a safe haven where no weapons can be used, and you can outfit your character with weapons, train, or find a squad to join and prepare for the battle ahead. You can enter virtual training zones which allow you to use every weapon or vehicle available to your empire even if, under normal circumstances, you don’t have enough experience to use them. This helps you to get a feel for how you will develop your character. There are equipment terminals to stock up on weapons before you leave, certification and implant terminals to learn new weapon sets or vehicles, vehicle terminals to create any vehicle for which you have attained the certification, and ultimately, the HART, or High Altitude Rapid Transport, which docks every 10-15 minutes and can transport you to any continent on Auraxis, the planet for which the three empires are fighting.
After familiarizing yourself with your sanctuary and the buildings and terminals, you should enter the virtual weapon or vehicle training, or head offline to the more in-depth training, which covers everything from selecting weapons to hacking bases and joining a squad. Everything you do in PlanetSide counts towards experience points, so while you're in training, you won’t be wasting any time. When you finish any training, you’ll know more about the inner workings of the game, and your battle rank will have increased, which opens up the ability to learn certifications or give your character special implants. PlanetSide substitutes levels with battle and command ranks. Gaining battle ranks nets you certification points and implant slots, which are used to specialize your character. Command points are earned by capturing an enemy facility and give you certain command benefits, such as being able to broadcast chat to everyone in your empire or squad or set waypoints on the world map. There is a ton of stuff to do in PlanetSide, and this is just the tip of a very large and steep iceberg.
“Spare me the details, on with the gameplay!” you say. Okay, you’ve got a basic understanding of how vast and complex PlanetSide is and what awaits you, but how does this come together as an FPS? Well, it can go from extremely boring to extremely exciting. The fun factor in PlanetSide really rests on you joining a squad or outfit. Going at it alone will get you the minimum expreience, and you’ll most likely die quickly and be stuck waiting to respawn for about 30 seconds. Squads are groups of players that share experience points and fight together. When you are in a squad, if one player kills someone, hacks a base, destroys a vehicle or is around someone else that does it, everyone in the squad shares the experience. This is the best way to gain experience quickly and advance in battle rank and open up new weapon sets and vehicles. An outfit is PlanetSide’s version of a guild. It is a persistent squad of players, no matter where you are on the planet at anytime.
The FPS part of PlanetSide is done pretty well. They tried a lot with this game, so naturally when you mix genres together to make a new type of experience, some elements suffer. At some points, it feels like you are playing an average FPS. There are lots of weapons, but we’ve seen them all before in other games. Guns, grenades, rocket launchers, plasma weapons ... standard FPS fare here. If you have any experience with FPS, this part shouldn’t be hard for you to figure out. Get a big weapon, grab some ammo, and rack up splash damage and kills. The armor you have equipped dictates how large your inventory is. The better the armor, the more guns, ammo, grenades, and health packs you can take with you. Since there are so many weapons and supplies to choose from, you can save about 20 favorites with a preset inventory and armor. When you respawn, simply head to an equipment terminal, double-click on a favorite, and all of the items are loaded in your inventory. This is a great way to keep up the pace of the game and let the player focus on the action aspects instead of micromanagement.
One part that stands out though, is the wide selection of vehicles. There are tanks, buggies, dropships, transports, and scout vehicles. More are available through game patches and downloads (these are automatic when you start the game, so everyone has the same stuff to choose from). If you are in a squad that has experienced players who have vehicle certifications and you’re fighting an enemy that doesn’t know many, you’ll have a clear advantage. Vehicles can make or break a battle. You’ll want to make sure your team has several AMS (Advanced Mobile Stations) situated around where you’re fighting. An AMS allows you to respawn in the field instead of going back to your sanctuary and having to work your way back. You can also stock up on supplies here anytime. Other vehicles, like tanks and planes, let you transport your buddies or wreak lots of havoc wherever you go. If you don’t want your teammates stealing your vehicles, you can lock them when you get out on foot. This assures that only you will be able to hop back in when you feel like doing so. You can also store supplies in the trunk of most vehicles.
Battles in PlanetSide are massive. Massive. There are literally hundreds of players at any one time battling it out for control of a continent and its buildings. Bodies are everywhere. Destroyed tanks litter the battlefield. This is a war without permanent death. It’s truly an amazing thing to witness when a swarm of players in your empire rushes towards an enemy base and smacks head on into waves of enemies. There is so much going on. Vehicles driving all over, planes dropping bombs, people trying to hack the enemy base (to take over a base, you hack it with a Remote Electronics Kit, or REK). General all-out mayhem! It’s very enjoyable when you successfully capture a base and destroy all resistance in the area. The experience you get doesn’t hurt either!
The graphics in PlanetSide won’t blow you away, but as we say, they get the job done. You’d expect continents to be huge, with trees, roads, foliage and rocks scattered about, and that’s what you get with PlanetSide. Continents range from forest-like places, where you can see green forever, snowy mountainsides, or a scorched desert. All convey a great sense of space. If you had to describe PlanetSide in one word, it would be expansive. You could spent 10 minutes walking around just trying to get to an enemy base to join a battle. Player models look a little sparse when you get up close, but you can easily see their armor or what weapons they have. Some armor makes players look like a small mech or tank, a certifiable killing machine. Grass and trees add to the detail of the worlds and look pretty good. There are no animals or anything else that inhabits Auraxis, so at times, it can feel lonely with just you, the trees, and the rolling hills. Vehicles are detailed and look really good. The huge ships like the Galaxy give you the feeling you really are piloting a huge ship into battle.
Even though the graphics aren’t top quality, PlanetSide will chug down the best rigs out there. I’m running it on an Athlon 2200 XP+, 512MB RAM, and a GeForce 4 ti 4200 128MB video card. When there are lots of players in the same area, usually inside buildings, the game will chug. Many times this can cause lag deaths, and you’ll be sitting there for 30 seconds or so waiting to respawn. It sucks, but it happens. Unless you have an up-to-date system, don’t try to run this game. I’d say a minimum of 512MB RAM is needed to get it going smooth 80% of the time.
Sounds are plentiful, but not amazing. There are the standard weapon fire sounds for guns, rockets, grenades, plasma weapons, bullets ricocheting off of different surfaces, vehicle engine noises, and all your grunts, huffs, and puffs when you die. Nothing groundbreaking. The music is pretty bare and doesn’t overwhelm you, but you won’t be focusing on it anyways during a heated battle. Overall, sound is average, and it doesn’t really hurt PlanetSide.
When it comes down to it, is PlanetSide worth your $15 a month? That’s right, this puppy costs $15 a month to play online. It comes with a free 30 day trial, so that gives you plenty of time to test the waters and see if an RPG/FPS hybrid is your next online addiction. It isn’t the best FPS out there, and if you want straight-up trigger finger action, play something else that doesn’t give you the other stuff to worry about. If you want a game that lets you specialize your character, be a part of a huge squad, take over bases and do it all over again, PlanetSide may be for you. I’d suggest taking your time and using the 30 day trial to figure out things and see how you like it. If you try to jump right into the game, it can be overwhelming when you start.
Bottom line, don’t buy PlanetSide if your system isn’t a gaming rig, and avoid it if you want a FPS in the vein of Unreal Championship or Medal of Honor. If you like all the numerous features PlanetSide offers you, check it out.
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