PlanetSide 2 (2012, PC)

By Akoo / April 2, 2017

War in PlanetSide 2 isn't exactly hell, though your very first experience of it might be. You create your sexy character and pick a neat faction. Then you're unceremoniously dropped, literally from space, right into the biggest battle the game can find, surrounded by enemies and tanks and pew pews and anything else that happens to be around, with a life expectancy measured in milliseconds.

   Somehow you beat the odds and things don't get better. You stagger from death upon death in a haze of confusion and unexplained icons, not as some ultimate soldier, but simply as one more fleck of a gristle in a planet-sized meat grinder that never-ever stops churning. At some point in time, you will even be run over by a tank... probably driven by someone on your team... named Kevin... *scoff*
   It's nothing personal, though. PlanetSide 2 is far too busy for that. In most shooters, 16 players counts as a party. More advanced ones might push the limit to 32, or 64. In Sony's epic F2P, you're dealing with up to 2000 players per continent! Thankfully not all on screen at once, but locked in a three-way tug of war that doesn't simply take cues from the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, but has a pretty damn good way of stealing their thunder. Those games ultimately win out in terms of controls and core combat feel, but PlanetSide 2 is a stunning achievement when compared to the standards of your average action MMO. It's easily one of the most ambitious online games ever, and setting aside some launch issues, one that lives up to its impossible promises.
   Fighting in an open world does feels strange — not as intimidating as you'd expect, but far more than just a salesman gimmick. For the most part, standard first-person shooter rules apply. Shooting is skill-based rather than reliant on stats. If you don't want to be shot, you get behind cover. Returning fire can be done easily from hip-fire, but you generally want to take advantage of weapon sights and sniper scopes to deal out more accurate shots and hit distant enemies. It's the basic rules of a shooter. The twist here is that, instead of existing as isolated maps, battlegrounds emerge organically as boundaries shift. Today, that bridge over a canyon is simply a handy route between outposts. Tomorrow, it might be a vast ocean of tanks, with infantry crawling all over the scenery like ants. Being in an open world, anyone who wants to take part can do exactly that. There is no loading screen, no arbitrary restrictions on numbers or how much you're allowed to bring into battle. An Instant Action button will spirit over anyone who requests a teleport, but you can just as easily spot something happening and head over under your own initiative. The longer fights go on, the more people will be drawn to them. Sunderers are brought in as mobile respawn points, fighters strafe the ground and battle for air superiority, tanks take up positions and all hell breaks loose until one side seizes victory. If you're outnumbered, too bad. Reinforcements may arrive, or not. War isn't always played fair, man.

Today we're taking back INDAR

   The sheer scale of the battles is stunning — to the point that, while it makes sense for PlanetSide to be a F2P game, it takes longer for that to fully sink in. Sony hasn't so much embraced the model as given it a back-breaking bear-hug, almost to the point of creating a hidden mini-game called "What's the Catch?" Without paying a single penny, you get *shocker* all five soldier classes and access to mech suits, full access to all continents, all of the vehicles, no equipment restrictions, as many pew pews as you want and the ability to join and start your own guilds (Outfits). Never are you made to feel like less of a player for not paying a subscription fee or for earning any equipment you need by saving up in-game currency. It's a similar system to League of Legends and Tribes: Ascend, only on an MMO scale and with less in the way of *sadly* boobs/jetpacks (though the games does have both).
   The most important purchases are, as ever, boosts that speed up your team's in-game resource generation and cooler-looking guns which are used to shoot people in the head in a shnazzy style for the crime of wearing the wrong colour armour. These are slightly expensive though, with newer guns costing around £4/$5 each.
   Your starting loadout IS respectable though, and while I'm sure it's not deliberate, any temptation to spend a fortune in the store is swiftly dampened by most of its gear being bland variations on stock themes like 'AR' and 'Pistol'. There's nothing as iconic as the Tribes spinfusor, and nothing particularly sexy if you're not into efficiency. In a nice touch, you're allowed to borrow any weapon for a half-hour+ field test before investing your cash/points, which is neat! In a straight fight between two players of equal skill and time played, it's true that the one who's paid will usually come out on top — if only because upgrades can only be bought with in-game credits, and outright buying a gun leaves many more of them to spend there. The sheer scale of the game's battles does a lot to prevent any slide into "P2W territory" though. Whatever your gear and however many upgrades you have, you're only one soldier in a rock-paper-scissors showdown — where paper and scissors are represented by the sniper over on that hill and his tank-driving friend.

Then the plane KAMIKAZEESS and kills everyone

   Whatever role you're playing, the action is very solid, and made a little stop-start by the way the game's body armour usually makes tissue paper look like a trimmed mithril armor set selling for 40k dipped in adamantium, but more than adequate. Its only significant failings are in accessibility and readability. There's a basic tutorial, a UI that comes across as a mess of unlabelled icons, blinking lights and labels apparently harbouring an active grudge against the colorblind. It's a staggeringly bad new player experience for a game that does have a tricky learning curve, but whose raw basics really aren't that complicated. The developers explained that ;(
   Oh, similar confusion also sneaks into the graphics. Textures are busy, which combined with the oddly muted faction colours can make it hard to spot enemies at even close-range, or to react fast enough to anything. The Vanu are particular offenders here, with their purple colours blending into much of the scenery, though the Terran Republic's combination of powerful red with murky grey comes a close second. (If you play Terran, they also earn bonus confusion points for internally using red to flag up enemies. Cognitive dissonance can kill!) I'd like to have seen PlanetSide 2 take a few more cues from the likes of Tribes: Ascend and even Team Fortress 2 in terms of its general readability, colour choice and silhouettes.
   Back to war itself, out in the field, combat unsurprisingly varies dramatically depending on your class — which you can change at will. Either at reload stations or between lives; if you get bored or your team needs something, be it. A Heavy Assault soldier's life is one of explosives and endless streams of hot lead. Infiltrators work under shadows and use sniper rifles. Light Assault troopers bop around on jetpacks going pew pew. The more points you put into a class and its gear, the more efficient you get with it, so it pays to focus. Do it for the pew pews man.
   Lone wolf players are likely out of luck; well, not entirely. It's possible to play solo. You can join groups as you travel, be added to squads at the touch of a key, and contribute to raids and defence along with everyone else. PlanetSide 2's epic-scale battles put tight limitations on what any individual can accomplish though, and being a cog in a silent machine is rarely a rewarding career. To make the most of the game, you really have to gather some friends over voice-chat and set your own goals on the vast battlefield. Good luck!