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PlanetSide

[ Review Comments | Screenshots ]

PlanetSide Review

 

Game Info:

Category : Action
Publisher : Sony Online Entertainment
Developer : Sony Online Entertainment
Release : 5/20/2003
MSRP (US): $49.99
ESRB: Teen

Minimum Requirements:

System: PIII 1GHz or equivalent
RAM: 256 MB RAM
CD-ROM: 4X CD-ROM
Video Memory: 64 MB VRAM
Hard Drive Space: 3000 MB
DirectX: 8.1
Multiplayer: Yes

Screenshots - Homepage - Forums

Background/Summary:

To quote Michael Lustenberger, Sony Online Entertainment's director of product marketing, "PlanetSide provides an awesome action-filled adrenaline rush as players experience the game's vast online world and deep gameplay that is unlike anything ever seen before." No one could've said it so accurately. The first of its kind, PlanetSide breaks through an old barrier in the world of gaming-the ability to combine the spice and action of a first-person shooter with the profound feeling of immersion found in a massively multiplayer online game. Appropriately dubbed the first MMOFPS, it blurs the line between role-playing and action that was so clearly present before, effectively making this game a hit with both types of players.

PlanetSide begins to take shape when a colonizing force is sent by the powerful Terran Republic to the planet Auraxis through a wormhole. Suddenly, before the colonization process is complete, the wormhole closes, thus cutting off all forms of communication to the home planet. Seizing the opportunity, two new factions arise from the dust in an attempt to take over the planet and crush the long-standing Terran rule, each with their own motives and intentions. The first of the two is the New Conglomerate, a group whose mind set is to achieve a freer society, one that escapes the shackles of the Republic's "archaic" form of government. Then, there is the Vanu Sovereignty. The Sovereignty seeks to preserve and monopolize the artifacts and technology of the previous alien inhabitants (nicknamed the "Vanu"), in effect protecting them from the foolish. Thus, from the closing of the wormhole comes a seemingly endless struggle that continues day and night, night and day, and on into eternity.

Gameplay:

The basis of PlanetSide, as stated above, is a 24-hour war for domination of the planet Auraxis. A "pay-to-play" service, the game includes a free 30-day trial subscription out of the box. After the 30 days expire, a
$12.99 USD monthly fee is charged, should the player decide to continue taking part in the action. The price may seem steep, but for all the goodies promised after the initial release of the game, it's quite modest for those who are able to afford it. That brings up another point-far and away, PlanetSide packs the most new and innovative features this reviewer has seen in any game, ever. With a slew of weapons, unique environments, and paths for the player to take (not to mention the ungodly amount of post-release plans), it's no wonder the game is catching on so well with gamers worldwide.

When the game loads up for the first time, the player is asked to create an account with Sony's Station.com. Soon after, upon joining a server, the player is asked to create a character and a faction to side with. That
decision is permanent for that character. However, the player can create another character if he or she decides to, up to a certain limit. During the character creation process, the player can choose the type of voice desired, the face of the character, and, of course, the name of the character. As a general rule when creating your first character, the New Conglomerate focuses on hard-hitting weapons (with less emphasis on speed), while the Terran Republic is vice versa, trying to get as much matter out of their weapons in the shortest amount of time. The Vanu Sovereignty is more or less a balance between the other two.

Auraxis consists of ten continents (not including the sanctuaries, which we'll get to in a bit), each possessing its own distinctive characteristics, not to mention strategic advantages and disadvantages. Among the different "worlds" are frosty winter wonderlands (read: tactical combat arenas), desert basins, and humid rainforests. Painstakingly detailed, they span vast areas without even the slightest sign of repetition. The best thing about all this diversity has to be the "too good to be true" loading times. It takes only a matter of seconds to load the entire landmass, and that's the only time that players have to wait for mind numbing load sequences.

In addition to the ten "open" continents are three sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are the small base continents that are home to each respective faction fighting for control of Auraxis. Sanctuaries are protected areas where weapons cannot be used and only members of the appropriate side are allowed in/out. When players join the game for the first time or recall themselves, this is where they go. It is the player's first combat preparation resource, the staging area for squads before they journey into combat, and the training area for cadet soldiers. More typically, sanctuaries are the link to the rest of Auraxis for the three clans.

The leveling protocol in the game is actually quite simple and very close to those used in other games. Using a ranking system, players are judged on battle and command experience. For example, if Player A terminates Player B, Player A gains a certain amount of battle experience points, based on a few variables (i.e. "uniqueness" of the kill, location, combat conditions at the time). Moving on, if Player A is commander of a squad (to be discussed later) and his squad captures a structure, Player A gains command experience, and eventually command rank. It is much more difficult to increase in command rank than with battle rank, but the benefits are much greater. The only thing wrong with the whole leveling scheme at the moment is the ceiling set by the developers, which was set to a mere twenty-much too low for many tastes. This is supposedly on the developers' "to-do list."

One of the many new features in PlanetSide is the certification system. Other games before it had similar forms of certifications, but none more organized and logical than this. Basically, all players begin the game with four certification points. These can be spent on (you guessed it) certifications, or "licenses," to use certain types of equipment. That equipment can include weaponry, armor, vehicles, and specialties. Once the player has run out or no longer has enough certification points to buy another certification, he must wait until he goes up another battle rank, when another point will be awarded him. Players may also choose to accumulate their certification points in an effort to get something more valuable.

Now, there's only one other thing special on the leveling scene besides certification points: the idea of implants. No, these aren't the implants
that you hear about on television all the time. The kinds of implants in the game are combat ability enhancers. Think of them as special tricks that soldiers can do to give themselves an edge on the battlefield. Among many others, they include Advanced Targeting and Advanced Regeneration. When a player achieves Battle Ranks 6, 12, and 18, another implant slot becomes available (starting with the first, at BR6).

If weapons were meals, PlanetSide would be serving up seven courses. Actually, it'd be closer to 29, but who's counting? All things considered, the developers made sure of the fact that trigger-happy players are satisfied for quite some time. However, to describe and explain them all would result in an extremely long-winded review, so all but the most important will be omitted.

More or less utility tools, there are three that fit in the class of importance. Not packing any firepower whatsoever, they are used to complete more practical tasks, such as maintenance and outer defense construction. First comes the Remote Electronics Kit. The REK, as it's usually called, is used to hack enemy consoles for temporary friendly use in the war effort. It is more commonly used to infiltrate and capture enemy structures. There's also the Advanced Combat Engineering (ACE) Device. It's used by engineers to do many things, among which are planting explosives and motion detectors. For soldiers of Command Rank 2 and above, the Command Uplink Device becomes available, enabling the use of resources found hovering high above Auraxis in the form of defensive satellites. One of the most convenient tools a player will find in the heat of battle is the medical applicator. Those with the Medic certification can use it to heal wounded friendlies when there is no other means to do so.

Like some other titles released in the past (think Tribes), PlanetSide players will find more than a few different types of armor to defend their vital organs against barrages of ammunition. The standard-issue ExoSuit is the basic protection for soldiers. After re-spawning, this is the type of armor the player wears. One step up from that is the Agile ExoSuit (deceivingly named), which sacrifices a small amount of speed for increased protection. The best armor money can buy without moving into a completely different category of soldier, the Reinforced ExoSuit, is slow but very sturdy against enemy attack. This type of armor is the most common among field grunts. There's one last type of "regular" armor: the Infiltration Suit. Akin to wearing a coating of thermal undergarments to ward off the onslaught of an army, this setup boasts absolutely no armor protection, but allows the user to become completely invisible when not moving, and still relatively cloaked even when mobile.

Deserving of its own paragraph is the MAX armor configuration. Essentially a tank's worth of steel and Kevlar to boot, this is the king of defensive (not to mention offensive) capabilities. Perfect for protecting friendly hackers and mission-critical points, the only vice to this suit is the fact that it's completely worthless when standing up to armor-piercing fire. Each faction possesses at least two types of MAX's: anti-infantry and anti-vehicular. Of course, like almost everything else in PlanetSide, each different MAX requires a certification to use.

Now that we know about all this butt-kickin' hardware, where do we get it? There's basically a terminal for everything you need. Weaponry and armor can be changed (and can even be saved as favorites) via the Equipment Terminals; to heal during long fights, use the Medical Terminal; to fetch a vehicle, use the obviously-named Vehicle Terminal (there are two separate terminals for air and land vehicles); manage implants in the Implant Terminal; and finally, take care of Certifications at the Certification Terminals. There are also two special types of terminals that serve more important purposes. There are door terminals, which guard against enemy entry (unless they are hacked), and Control Consoles, which determine the side that a facility is aligned with.

To help ease and quicken transports across entire continents, the development team put in a plethora of vehicles, from one-person buggies to heavy tanks. Once again, there are too many vehicles and not enough time to write about them all. Consider this a "surprise" for if you go out and buy the game. After all, there has to be some suspense left in the review...

Also worth a very honorable mention is the phenomenal implementation of squad tactics and warfare. The game includes an integrated squad system, where up to ten players can join together and share experience points gained in battle equally, thus making it easier to move up in rank, and get things done in general. An extension to the system adds even more value to the game-outfits. Outfits are really just glorified squads, but can have many more members, and stay organized even after players leave the server. This feature works wonders when attempting to construct a group of committed players (a clan). In addition, outfits get a bonus when the leader is of Command Rank 2 or greater. Through the use of the Command Uplink Device, outfit leaders can harness resources hovering in orbit over Auraxis to deliver an advantage to their side.

Most clans and player associations, especially here at GameClubCentral, use a form of voice communication to better enable the players to coordinate plans of action. It can make worlds of difference, especially when typing a few letters can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Many times, though, typing just won't cut it-that's why the developers of PlanetSide were so nice as to include an integrated voice chat system. This comes as a huge blow (and most likely a challenge) to the gaming market, which has seen very little of this in the recent past. A large percentage of player organizations will be sure to thank the genius that came up with that little idea. On a related note, the voice chat technology used in PlanetSide is actually the newest incarnation of the popular program, TeamSound.

It seems the only blemish on the record of PlanetSide is a slight problem with latency in crowded areas. Early after the release, the game became clearly unplayable. Since then, it has been resolved for the most part, but those on a dial-up connection are advised to use a very high-quality modem. In times to come, the issue will most likely be perfected even more, but it cuts the mustard fairly well for now.

Graphics/Sound:

A game with infinite replay value but low-quality graphics or aesthetic qualities is virtually dead in the water in today's times. That being the case, PlanetSide is most definitely alive and kicking. With ingenious and creative texturing and modeling, the game is likely to trigger a drool reaction in the eyes of most-at least those who have current-generation or relatively recent video cards. One thing is for sure, and it's that the game is extremely RAM intensive. Even though the minimum requirements list 256 MB, it is HIGHLY recommended that players use 512 MB or greater to reduce the use of the hard drive's swap file. In fact, most hardcore players suggest at least 1024 MB of RAM for nominal play conditions. Likewise, it is helpful to have a processor and an operating system that can handle such extremes without netting a detriment in performance.

If the user has a good enough system configuration, there's almost no limit to the graphic quality of PlanetSide. Nearly all the textures are high-resolution, and the cinematics (few in number as they are) just can't be beat. Don't get all tied up in a knot, though, if you don't have the dough to dish out for top-notch equipment. The game can just as easily suit mainstream casual players, albeit at a loss in visual goodies.

As if the good stuff just doesn't stop coming, the sounds of PlanetSide are simply breathtaking. From the quiet background noise of the environment to the whiz of bullets around the battlefield, it can't be beat. And finally, when it seemed like the best had already been reached, the developers put the icing on the cake by including EAX support. How much better could it get?

Wrap-Up:

All in all, PlanetSide will probably make it to live among the ranks of EverQuest, Half-Life: Counter-Strike, and other runaway successes of recent past. Sony has published one hell of a game, and kudos to the people behind the magic. There are still a few things to be worked on, of course, but after all, time heals all wounds. This game is catching on like wildfire around the world, and nobody is even thinking of putting it out. It's just that good.

Screenshots - Homepage - Forums

Matt Slix Gawarecki - June 22, 2003

Screenshots: 0
Author: Matt Gawarecki
Review Score: 6.6

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