Summary: It's not even remotely based on a movie, so we were expecting another massacre from the Chickster. Planetside. A massively multiplayer first-person shooter that demands an obscene $13 per month. If this isn't a classic setup for Tom to disembowel a game, I don't know what is.
Up and running
Perhaps the first thing worth noting about PlanetSide, Sony's bold new massively multiplayer online game, is that it works. And by 'works', I don't mean the sort of faint praise you extend to MMOs that don't crash. Considering some of the genre's disastrous launches and unimaginative retreads, our expectations can be pretty low. If servers stay up longer than George W. Bush Jr. on a Segway, we point and say, 'Hey, look, it works!'
But PlanetSide is different. When I say it works, I don't just mean the servers are stable, the code isn't buggy, and the feature set feels complete (all true, by the way). I mean it manages to achieve its own ambitious goals. Namely, it creates huge battles with hundreds of people fighting in a persistent world, using a varied system of combined arms. It doesn't do it in the fits and starts and half-measures of something like World War II Online. It does it all, right from the get-go, without compromise. This is Tribes taken to the next level and busted wide open for a thousand people at a time.
The Vanu that you do
The netcode is one of PlanetSide's most impressive achievements. It manages to tie together generally smooth performance with people on foot, in tanks, manning turrets, and flying around in aircraft, all in graphically rich environments that range from cluttered indoor areas to the wide-open outdoors. The visuals are simple enough that they're not wasting bandwidth with pointless geometry, but they're detailed enough to create evocative settings like swamps, blasted volcanic craters, snowy mountains, and desert canyons. The base architecture is bland, but it's repetitive enough that you don't have to learn new layouts every time you play. The design of the vehicles and weapons, as well as the unique outfits and hardware for each of the three factions, gives PlanetSide a healthy dollop of personality. The Terrans may have the coolest heavy armor, but no one can beat the Vanu for their stylish pulsing purple Tron outfits.
Where PlanetSide differs most from other MMOs is that it's an action game based on skill rather than an RPG based on how much time you've played. In EverQuest, the guy who's played for 40 hours is going to be ten times more powerful than the guy who's played for four hours. Not so in PlanetSide, where the guy who's played for 40 hours simply has a wider range of choices for his weapons and vehicles. The guy who's played for four hours might still be able to trump him based on their respective situations. For instance, no matter what he does, Mr. 40 Hours is still vulnerable to anti-infantry weapons when he's not wearing heavy armor or driving a tank. He doesn't mysteriously get extra hit points or a higher armor class. So if Mr. Four Hours gets a bead on him with a powerful gun, he'll get the kill. PlanetSide's balanced system of combined arms is more important than what level you've reached. This makes it uniquely satisfying for people who can't take on an MMO that requires you treat it like a part-time job with a 20-hour work week.
SIDEBAR: Tom might be enamored with Rise of Nations and PlanetSide right now, but Jakubís completely hooked on Enemy Territory.
Phased plasma rifle in the forty-watt range
Furthermore, PlanetSide doesn't exclude new players from its best content. In an MMO like EverQuest, there's a lot of the game you're not going to experience until you're a higher level. But in PlanetSide, the content is laid open to players of almost all skill levels. You can go into a training area to test all of the guns and vehicles. What's more, you can periodically re-spend the skill points you use to 'unlock' weapons and vehicles. You aren't shunted into one-way choices. If you don't like the gun you're using, or if you just want a change of pace, unspend the points and put them into something else. Trouble with commitment? PlanetSide's your game.
Which is not to say PlanetSide is easy to jump into. It's not. Some helpful tutorials explain the basics of the interface, and the virtual training area is great for familiarizing yourself with different hardware. But itís not easy to figure out how to fit into the action. Every now and then, youíll run across a lone figure jogging across the landscape in the middle of nowhere, miles from a friendly base or even a battle. You quickly kill him, of course, but you canít help but feel sorry for the poor sod who probably just jumped into the game and didnít know where to go. When youíre starting out, your best bet is to join a squad with someone you know. Barring that, just join a squad. Playing solo right off the bat is one of the quickest ways to give up in frustration.
Have you seen a war around here?
Then there are problems actually finding the action. You can chase battle symbols on the map, but that doesn't guarantee that you'll find an actual battle. The instant action option, which is supposed to instantly drop you into action, is hit or miss; you're just as liable to show up at the tail end of a tiny spat as a full-fledged fight. One of the most difficult parts of PlanetSide's learning curve is figuring out how to read the ebb and flow of combat, which is as much an art as a science. It's like chasing weather patterns.
But even after you've mastered the meteorology of melee, and even if you've fallen in with a cooperative squad, there's still a lot of downtime: waiting for hacks after defenders have long since given up a base, moving to the front after a respawn, queuing for a vehicle, holding for your Max to be available again, gathering your squad, and so forth. In PlanetSide, there's a lot of hang fire that you don't get with Tribes or Battlefield 1942. The fact that this isn't necessarily a flaw, but a facet of the design, might not matter to action gamers unused to a tactical wargame shell built around their first person shooters. It's not all shoot-shoot-shoot. More than any other action game, PlanetSide requires patience.
SIDEBAR: Since when is downtime a feature, Tom?
As an MMO, it's kind of misleading to call PlanetSide a persistent world. Granted, it tracks your stats and the servers are up 24/7. But there's nothing persistent about any given server, which is constantly in a state of flux. Just as you can never step into the same river twice, you can never log onto the same PlanetSide server twice. An hour ago, your faction had this continent locked up. Now the other two factions are fighting over it and your cohorts are nowhere to be seen. Thereís no sense of persistence to the geography, which consists of roiling patches of land changing hands willy-nilly.
Once you've earned a few battle ranks and have the points to try out enough different hardware to give yourself some variety, there's not much point in advancement. And no one ever wins or loses, which is a staple of online multiplayer action games that are played in discrete matches. There are no higher levels or better spells or improved weapons to chase. This is just war without end, at once bigger and more pointless than any other action game. You play PlanetSide as a series of short-term goals that ultimately don't amount to a hill of beans. And you pay $12.99 a month to do it.
But the trade-off is that PlanetSide puts you in situations you won't find in other games. There are all kinds of different warfare here: frontal assault, raids, supply runs through hostile territory, cloaked infiltration, battles of attrition, flankings, rooting resistance out of the mountains, bottling up reinforcements, ambushes, air-to-air battles, and so forth.
These are the reasons youíll play. Not to reach Battle Rank 10, not to control Hossin or Searhus, not to earn enough certification points to get Advanced Hacking, not to bring greater glory to the New Conglomerate in their struggle against the Vanu and Terrans, and certainly not to enjoy state-of-the-art graphics and AI. You play to plug yourself into these little vignettes. In this regard, PlanetSide is like no other game youíve ever played. And it works.
SIDEBAR: That last paragraph sounds like it was written by everyoneís favorite red-eye special, Ellen Feiss.
Climb that learning curve, soldier!
SIDEBAR: $12.99 is price-gouging, in my (Jakubís) opinion. $15.99 should be considered usury, even though it has nothing to do with lending, but at least it gives the Pope grounds for excommunication.
|<% print_image("26"); %>||<% print_image("27"); %>|
|<% print_image("28"); %>||<% print_image("29"); %>||<% print_image("30"); %>|
84% for a game that requires a $13/mo payment? Thatís just like Tribes with a few skills that only limit your ability to do what you want, and throw a thousand players together across entire islands? Has Tom taken too many shots to the head from the feedback to The Firing Line #1? Was Brettís rebuttal in The Firing Line #2 a little traumatic? Or are those gigantic battles full of aircraft, tanks, exo-suits and infantry truly so thrilling? Has PlanetSide succeeded against all odds? Sound Off! and let us know!
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|