Thursday, November 29, 2012

Broke Video Gamer: Review of Planetside 2

PlanetSide 2 was a frustrating game to get started with. The “briefing” you receive when you enter the game is spent entirely in a drop pod heading for the warzone. Of course, you’d have no idea how everyone on the ground can see exactly where this pod is headed. In my first spawn, I was unceremoniously plunged into the middle of a firefight. The half-second of life I had was not at all enjoyable and it almost caused the rage-uninstall of this game. I didn’t do so well on the next few respawns I had, either. Thoughts of how this game was not for me started permeating my brain-meats and it took me several hours to fire it up again after my initial rage-quit. I’m quite glad I started it up again...and again.

PlanetSide 2 is an MMOFPS and was launched on November 20, 2012 by Sony Online Entertainment. It utilizes the lucrative Free-to-Play model popular amongst its MMO contemporaries. It is available for free download on Steam.

Click for the full review after the jump.

It took a little while to get the hang of this game, which required watching tutorial videos on YouTube. The videos were published by Sony to help explain game mechanics to beginners. This really should’ve been built into the game. After a lengthy download and install process, I just wanted to click on Play and get lost into the game world. It took me straight out of the experience having to watch videos outside of the game. There were also some necessary mouse settings I wouldn’t have found out about if I hadn’t watched the tutorial videos. And granted, while I am a noob when it comes to the FPS genre (specifically twitch-reflex shooters), it certainly didn’t help my self-esteem any by having to learn how to play a game that way.

However, after going through the learning curve to get to know how the game works, it turns out to be really fun. Planetside 2 is like a game of Risk, with the player filling the role of a ground infantryman. You deploy to whichever part of the map you think you might be needed, then duke it out with two other factions. There are multiple servers available, each one a persistent universe spanning three continents. These land masses are covered with an insane number of explosions and gunshots coming from the gun barrels of vast arrays of weapon and vehicle options. While the appearance customization is a little lacking (only four racially separated faces to choose from for each gender), the class selection isn’t. There are six classes to choose from: Light and Heavy Assault (the former equipped with a jetpack, the latter with a rocket launcher), Medic, Engineer and Infiltrator (sniper). There’s also a Mechanized Assault Exo-Suit (MAX), which acts as a class, but is deployed as a vehicle to avoid its heavy use in blitz attacks. Each class is determined each time you spawn, so the player isn’t stuck playing a class he might not enjoy.

With three seamless and large continents to fight over, vehicles play an important role. In addition to the universally shared vehicle types, each faction has exclusive access to specialized ground and air units suited to their fighting styles. Players have the ability to redeploy to a different part of the map, which teleports soldiers and sorts out the issue of fast-travel rather elegantly. If it is more suited to the strategy, you can also travel via APC, packed with a dozen troopers, thundering down the desert towards an enemy-occupied area. These can be accompanied by tanks and overwhelming air superiority. This adds a level of versatility to the game and brings the standards of fighting up to that of the Battlefield series. One could exit a room after surviving a hectic close-quarters gun battle onto a balcony overlooking an open field playing host to a major tank battle. It is quite glorious.

This is a graphically demanding game. My dual-core laptop with its aging video card isn’t currently up to par, and I had to drop the video settings to low for it to be playable. Thankfully, even at the scaled down levels, the graphics came out great, not sacrificing any of the necessary details. At the highest settings, the imagery comes out marvelously. The game runs on SOE’s Forelight Engine with the nVidia PhysX API, which provides lots of detailed and realistic movement on the screen.

While it is completely free to play this game, several perks are provided once you sign up for a membership. This includes XP and resource bonuses along with a sizable amount of “Station Cash” which is real money. This can be used in exchange for more weapon and vehicle upgrades or cosmetic alterations like camouflage. The developers made clear their desire to keep the game balanced between payers and non-payers when they eliminated the pay-only “Resource Cap Increase” bonus. I’m still a little concerned with the ability to buy potentially better weapons more quickly if you do decide to open your wallet. However, this may not matter in the long run because nothing that alters stats or performance is made unavailable to the player, whether they pay or not.

Despite the rocky start, I ended up enjoying this game immensely. After a little while, you develop a sense of camaraderie while fighting alongside random people on the server. The shared experience of bringing your colors up for all of Auraxis to see is intoxicating. The ongoing threat of distinct rival player-controlled factions also quickly cultivate a strong sense of animosity towards the other groups. It is quite easy to get lost in this game and I ended up sinking a lot of hours into either defending a stronghold or joining the raid on the next one. This is where the game will hook people: There’s a vested interest in keeping this desolate piece of land from the hands of the dreadful purple-people. It’ll be hard to fight the urge to keep from logging into this one on a daily basis.

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