Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Review: Planetside 2 (Steam PC)

As I have said in the past games like MMO's and free to play shooters are a tough genre to review.  Unlike many games which are built to a certain level of quality for consumption, these kinds of games are made to be upgraded and tweaked constantly as new content is completed and imbalances are addressed.  So here with planetside 2 I will not be handing it a score or rating out of 10, instead I will go over what works and what doesn't and give you the reader (hopefully) a better idea of whether or not you would want to play Planetside 2.

Planetside 2 is a massively multiplayer first person shooter.  Imagine a game like Battlefield 3 but with thousands of players running around three huge maps at the same time in a never ending battle for supremacy.  Players pick a server and then create a soldier which can be male or female, (a nice touch in this pretty much male dominated genre) and then choose one of the three playable factions.

The Terran Republic are the fascist dictatorship faction who use red as their colour.  The New Conglomerate are like the freedom fighter rebel types wearing blue.  Finally the Vanu Consortium are the high tech enlightened faction who have purple as their colour.  Characters are locked to the server you are playing so if you want to switch server you will have to delete your old character and start all over again, which trust me can be a lot of game time lost.

The maps play over three continents ranging from all the expected terrain types with snowy tundra, rocky deserts, rolling hills the lot.  It's not the most original setup for a battlefield but it stays varied enough that you probably won't notice anyway.  Like I said earlier the maps are huge, filled with multiple bases, facilities, manufacturing plants and more.  Since all three factions battle on the same map it basically becomes a massive game of risk, as each territory has a resource value attached to it.

Resources are important for a few reasons, the biggest being the ability to spawn vehicles and equip your soldier with nifty add on weapons like grenades.  The longer your faction holds any territory the more resources you acquire meaning you can keep pumping out those heavy tanks and attack gunships to keep the momentum going. 

Attacking some bases is a simple case of holding a holographic display long enough to reduce the enemy control bar and then filling your bar up.  Large facilities though requires a much more tactical approach.  Large bases and when I say large I mean bigger than some battlefield maps large, require attackers to disable generators to allow friendly armour into the base to provide fire support.  Other generators can lower the enemies main control room shields so you can begin to capture the entire facility.  Of course the defending team will be trying to repair these generators and push out of the base so a constant tug of war begins between what could be a relatively small number of players, but this can quickly escalate as more players spawn there, eventually creating a huge battle that can rage for several hours at times before a winner is decided.

Games like these are all about persistence.  Getting kills, repairing, healing, resupplying, defending generators, destroying generators, capturing bases, defending bases, basically everything you do in Planetside 2 earns you Certs.  Certs is short for certificates which act as a form of in game currency used to augment your chosen class, or improve that favourite vehicle.  New guns, better shields, weapon attachments and more can be acquired with certs.  They are slow to acquire but then in a free to play game that isn't a surprise.

Fortunately the shooting is generally good.  Weapons feel weighty and responsive each having their own benefits and drawbacks.  Although it's a sci-fi setting the weapon selection is still very 21st century.  Assault rifles, shotguns, sub machine guns, pistols, rocket launchers the usual gang are all here, just with a more sci-fi feel.  Even the alien looking Vanu weapons still function like a standard assault rifle just with green ammo instead.  I guess I would have liked more advanced or interesting weapons that maybe reflected the different factions core approach to weapons, but this is something that can be altered or added to as time goes on. 

This isn't to say I dislike the weapons, they all seem to do good damage and you will likely find one that is your favourite and stick to it since every weapon has a particular playstyle.  Grenades are incredibly powerful to say the least.  If you manage to get a grenade in the right place you can easily rack up kills in the double figures.  My biggest problem is getting grenades into the general area I want let alone actually in the sweet spot.  Grenades have a tendency to act like Borderlands rubberised grenades, bouncing around randomly, or sometimes bouncing off scenery you are nowhere near.  They are a frustrating but very powerful tool in the right hands.

Since Planetside 2 is a massive shooter we need massive shooter classes.  And Planetside 2 doesn't let you down.  There are 5 playable classes in the game shared by all factions: 

The nimble and default starter class "light assault" is equipped with a jetpack and assault rifle, capable of reaching hard to reach areas of a facility to prepare surprise attacks and flank opponents during particularly gruelling battles.

The "Medic" is your standard healing and resurrecting class also armed with a rifle.  He can upgrade to deploy healing grenades and mass resurrection abilities later on.

The "Engineer" repairs friendly MAX units and vehicles.  He can deploy manned turrets for that extra punch of defensive fire.  Engineers also drop ammo making them one of the most important classes in the game.

"Heavy Assault" troopers wield light machine guns and come equipped with an overshield to give them more staying power.  Basically they act like a light assault trooper with more health and shields, but no jetpack and wielding a bigger a gun.

Finally the "MAX" which is a soldier in a set of powered armour.  Equipped with a minigun and grenade launcher these are the main thrust of an infantry assault on enemy bases.  They can be revived by medics but can only be healed by engineers.  It should also be pointed out that MAX units can only spawn when the player spends resources.

Spending certs on your favourite class can unlock new weapons, weapon attachments such as scopes, laser sights and the like, while new abilities can be unlocked such as adrenaline for the heavy assault class.  It can take quite a while to accumulate the number required for a single unlock so be very sure that what you are unlocking is something you will actually use.

Certs is where SOE or Sony online entertainment intend to make their money on this game.  Station cash can be used to purchase hundreds of certs at a time making the game a lot easier for some players who want to go this route.  Station cash can also unlock new camo schemes so you stand out more on the field along with new helmets and other cosmetic additions for your vehicles and solider.  There is a tad imbalance to this when a player who has clearly spent a small fortune on unlocking everything strides over a hill firing his new max level assault cannon while taking direct fire from several players who don't have an assault cannon and unique paint scheme on their helmet, but as the argument goes, "if they didn't pay, you wouldn't be able to play" but fuck 'em they cheated as far as us non paying players are concerned.

Vehicles are a mixed bag at times also.  Ground vehicles come in the usual variety of fast transports or APC's called Sunderers while tanks roll in two distinct flavours, light and heavy.  All factions share the Sunderer, ATV and Lightning light tank but in their colour scheme while the heavy tank is unique for each faction.  The main problem is that vehicles weapons can feel very underpowered at times.  Multiple rounds from a lighting can heavily damage a Sunderer but it won't even scratch the paint of a soldier at times.  Sunderer mounted weapons are incredibly fiddly when it comes to aiming, making you constantly adjust your sights to hit a single infantrymen even though that is what the gun is for.  Vehicle armour also feels thin and may in fact be made of paper as heavy machine guns chew through tank armour in seconds, but high explosive armour piercing rounds only do minor damage to Sunderers, it's baffling to say the least.  When multiple tanks are working together the effect is diminished but still noticeable, making infantry combat the preferred method of conflict.

Air vehicles suffer the same way really only having the advantage of being able to quickly zip away from ground fire when things get hairy.  Air vehicles don't have the same dominance as they do on games like Battlefield where ordnance dropped in the right area will hold up attacks for an entire map, but they can be very useful here in Planetside as distractions and quick hit and run attacks on bases.

Handily Planetside 2 has built in voice support for squads, outfits (read clans) and even for the general area around you.  Although only the most coordinated squads use voice chat to organise and plan, but it's a nice addition and an important one for such a big game.  Another cool feature is a built in youtube function which allows players to record their gameplay and upload directly to their accounts.  This works well for catching cheats and reporting bugs, but also for showing off how badass you are. Or how much fail you engage in.

The game isn't exactly perfect though.  As you can imagine with any game this ambitious, lag can be an issue at times and it may take you a few servers before you find the one that works best for you, or at least has less latency.  The biggest and most irksome part of Planetside 2 though is the friendly fire.  When fights get pretty hectic and players are jostling for a good firing position, friendly fire becomes a fact.  Being able to pass through allied soldiers while they fire causes an endless stream of blue on blue situations.  The all powerful grenades can accidentally frag allies due to the wonky throwing mechanics.  I hope SOE decide to alter the friendly fire by either turning it off or tweaking it so you don't damage your allies but yourself.  It's a massive annoyance in the tight confines of bases and sometimes ruins the fun entirely.

Graphically Planetside 2 isn't the most eye poppingly amazing game, but it still looks decent.  If you are used to the sharp graphics of Battlefield then you will be a little disappointed, but keep in mind this game is running 100X more players than any Battlefield server and offering more in scale also.  The terrain isn't massively detailed, but vehicle and soldier textures are good enough.  Metal reflects and shines as the day and night cycle roll around.  Tracer fire illuminates the sky and ambient lighting and shadows add to the experience as you fight in the shadow of a massive bio lab or tech plant.

There is little dialogue to speak of (Ha!...Sorry) other than the general grunts and screams of soldiers as they are hit and die.  Spotting targets has a few call outs but all male and female soldiers have a single voice each.  Weapons sound powerful though and really add weight to the big guns of this sci-fi universe.  Tanks sound pretty generic but aircraft at least whizz past with high speed engines screeching overhead. 

So it comes down to a personal preference.  If you have been waiting for a battlefield style shooter with massive maps and thousands of players then look no further, this is the game you have been waiting for.  It's not perfect by any means and the pay 2 win setup can be a little frustrating for those who haven't or cannot afford to, but it's a fun free game and that is nothing to turn your nose up at.

If SOE can add more vehicle variety and give the factions more unique variants of the existing vehicle types then I would say that is a step in the right direction, and no doubt SOE are already looking into new ways to further monetise Planetside 2.  Give it a go now since it isn't costing you anything to try a full game.


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