Planetside 2 Hands-on

Developer: SOE / Publisher: SOE / Release Date: TBD / Platforms: PC, Mac / ESRB: Teen [Violence]

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I’m old enough and ugly enough to go back to the original release of Planetside. In fact, as Editor-in-Chief of PC Gamer, I put the game on the cover of our prestigious December issue in a year I’m a little embarrassed to admit. On the back of EverQuest’s industry-shaking success the equation made so much sense: (most popular genre) x (craving for incremental, RPG-like progression) + persistence = $ka-ching$. Or to put it more simply: FPS x MMO = sure-fire winner. You can’t argue (in that timeframe) with the logic.

However, Planetside never cracked the EverCrack formula, and though it fumbled and progressed, it was always doomed to mediocrity. Not as an idea, but one that probably couldn’t be fully realized in the existing market.

Now, however, is that time, and Planetside 2 has already wowed crowds at trade events, and after our hands-on time in the beta, it’s easy to see why the idea is still sound but the execution so much more fluid.

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At first blush, Planetside 2 is a first-person shooter set in a sci-fi universe, and while not displaying jaw-dropping instant visuals, at least instantly suggests a ton of options in how you fight. Now, most action gamers have seen broad-scope battles as Battlefield and Medal of Honor have moved into the territory of shifting combat locations to create an illusion of progression and accomplishment. Thing is, in Planetside 2, this is no illusion. Regions are battled over across the planet Auraxis in a dynamic, ongoing fight.

Even in my beta version tour I discovered experts ready to pounce when they whiff the sweet smell of n00b. I was torn: that’s either a dramatic show of force against an inferior-armed opponent, or witness to a broad swathe of combatants ready to fill this planet with soldiers battling for every map hex. But it’s necessary to dive in to find out.

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I took a tour of duty with the Vanu Sovereignty and handily had my ass handed to me in 80% of the encounters with the enemy. Shockingly, 80% was better than I imagined, since between learning how the functions worked, and equipping myself with loadouts or vehicles to take the battle across enemy lines the functions of this global battle showed themselves pretty quickly.

At face value, Planetside 2 is a sci-fi shooter delivered across a broad plain contested by three warring factions. On the battlefield, it’s a nip-and-tuck shoot-fest fought on the ground, in vehicles, in the air that evidently requires organization among the troops. So what happens if you jump in alone? You can find a fight (and a squad) immediately with one button, teaming you up with similarly lonely combatants. Once together, any group can also jump—via the Instant Action option—to a sector where the fight is worth fighting. It saves everyone coordinating in the passenger-carrying vehicles, or flying there in what initially feel like experimental aircraft, until you get the hang and start Top Gun-ning on those bombarding the battlefield.

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It saves navigating the roads in low-rent ATVs or lumbering tanks. It also lets you get into the action at a pace that should suit the COD and Battlefield fighter, but provide them the option of a truly persistent contribution to world domination.

Yeah, that sounds overblown, since it’s unclear how the later-game events unfold. But the truth is in the battle… and this is large-scale battle executed with a variety of come-back opportunities. You’re killed, you respawn at a checkpoint controlled by your team, and if you need a vehicle to travel from that location to the front, so be it. It makes lone-wolf soldiers find camaraderie among squads that will provide support and revival.

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It might take a while to pilot some of the aerial craft, but maybe a gunner’s seat is available. The large troop transporters need to be managed so that enough fighters are on board on the trek to the front. Speedy ATVs may allow a key cog in your squad wheel to catch up.

Beyond that, your personal loadout can affect your experience, depending where you end up and the make-up of your squad. You don’t necessarily need medics (but they help), but engineers can make a huge difference in fixing your vehicles. Other classes, like the light or heavy armor, should focus themselves on manning guns, and being the bad-ass frontline fighters they think they are (right until they meet that high-level douche just hanging out, armed with his certifications, easily capable of showing you why you should commit more time to building your character resources.)

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Frankly, this is all perception of a small-scale experience in Planetside 2. But the high points are high (strafing across a marauding infantry assault, seemingly taking down folks like I was a Fokker fighter at Dunkirk), and the low points are low (miss-managing the controls and slamming, fatally, into a nearby mountain).

While all this can sound like a Battlefield stand-off, it barely touches on the long-term roles these fighters can enjoy. The certification program helps specialize your role (allegedly, it was never in my sights to achieve a level that could allow advancement). It’s all a suggestion that Planetside 2 is big, bold, and baffling. That last element speaks to the size of the task at hand, whichever of the three factions you choose to adopt. But this is an MMO where you want to find the fight, and win or lose, that’s better than slashing rats and chopping trees for hours on end, right? Right?

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