It’s difficult to understand exactly how ambitious Planetside 2’s player count is until you see it in action.While Battlefield 4 on the next generation of consoles is rightly praised for upping the cannon fodder to a maximum of 64 players per game, in reality that number already looks pretty tame when you consider the hundreds of space cadets regularly populating battles over continent-sized maps in SoE’s free-to-play sci-fi shooter.
Sometimes ordered, sometimes not.On enlisting, you create your own infantry grunt belonging to one of three sci-fi factions looking to dominate the risk-style battle map by taking control of specific locations, reinforcing their defences and moving on to the next. If you can imagine a Battlefield-style game of conquest populated by space marines and vehicles with a Halo-tinged colour palette, then pull the camera back and realise you’re fighting over one installation on a slab of terrain that hosts close to a hundred other areas of the same size; that’s Planetside 2.
Enlist and serve
And despite a quick tutorial that covers the basics of movement, special abilities and combat for each of the different classes, nothing quite prepares you for the sight of that first battle.
The scope is overwhelming. When I first landed on top of a tower and surveyed the scene for a moment (“Instant Action” drops you from space into the busiest flashpoint), Planetside 2 smacked of a game that just shouldn’t work. Six enemy tanks hovered on the side of a hill peppering our base with sporadic gunfire, whilst dozens of infantry ran their way towards a bridge that acted as a chokepoint for the carnage. Seven or eight of our own tanks were advancing beneath my position to meet them, with other troops scurrying to their side on ATVs or boosting their way to advantageous positions with a jetpack. Aircraft circled the tower, engaging in their own dogfights and occasionally breaking free to pick off enemy troops on the ground.
Planetside 2 is a uniquely rewarding experience. But where do you even start?Some days later, when our territory was pushed back and only a few sectors remained, the focus changed dramatically to that of a last stand. Groups of us spawned gallantly in the remaining bases, cheerily popping out and dispatching one or two volleys towards the enemy before being inevitably cut down by their overwhelming numbers and hastily falling back. It was a battle I knew could not be won, and yet still we tried, eventually pushing south and regaining a sector we lost hours before. Relief, if only for a moment.
When Planetside 2 is in full flow and the battles are building mini-narratives of their own, it’s a uniquely rewarding experience. But where do you even start?
Shock and aweThat initial difficulty curve is a problem that SoE has evidently spent a huge amount of time getting right. Jumping straight to the front lines of a battle is as easy as pushing a letter on the keyboard and aiming your drop pod towards a landing zone, and from that point you can choose to spawn at friendly bases, around APC vehicles or into a squad as you see fit. Popping up the map and simply observing troop movements is enough to get you started, and if you’ve played any modern shooter, the control layout will be immediately familiar. Objectives are clearly marked, and it isn’t difficult to jump in and feel like you’re making a difference.
There’s depth here though, oodles of it. Mastering the nuances of control and utility for each land or air-based vehicle is an art that some players dedicate themselves solely towards, and the pay-to-play structure is clever enough to reward people that want to specialise with quicker access to better - but rarely overpowered - equipment. Purchasable XP boosts are a welcome addition for those that need to quickly work their way through currency and level caps to unlock the next tier of kit in a short period of time, but there’s always more to explore, and the majority of it is achievable for free given enough dedication.
And if you have friends or you’re willing to be sociable, after those initial phases Planetside 2 transforms itself into a squad-based challenge. Whilst lower-level players are earning their stripes on the front lines and throwing themselves at objectives, there’s ample room for groups of like-minded players to come up with battlefield tactics that truly swing the advantage to their side. Surgical strikes with aircraft; tank platoons providing a distraction for a squad of cloaked assassins; a crack team of snipers covering a base from every angle. The scale of the terrain affords opportunities like few other shooters out there.
Field engineeringDespite the scale, for the most part Planetside 2 functions as a surprisingly serviceable FPS.
Although each of the factions has a variety of esoteric weaponry as part of their base loadout and pay tiers, they all share the same set of classes that broadly echo those found elsewhere. It’s a good starting point to ground players coming in from other games, and it means that switching up characters and exploring the other factions is a welcoming experience. Special abilities are mapped to a recharging meter that ensures their usage has tactical value, and again those adhere to well-worn templates such as shields, invisibility and jetpacks.
And just like Battlefield, it’s best to stick to the on-foot action for the first few hours before tentatively working your way into vehicles. Although buggies and tanks are pretty easy to get to grips with, the various aircraft present a steep learning curve that will likely frustrate anybody unlucky enough to board as a passenger on those first few forays. Using a flight stick does help if you have the time and patience to remap controls and take a few test flights, but disappointing controller support curtails that experience for anybody wanting to do the same on a pad.
However, no matter your choice of transport, movement speed and combat are both responsive enough to make you forget this is essentially an MMO; although the spectre of lag does rear its head from time to time to cheapen that impression.
The scale of the terrain affords opportunities like few other shooters.
- Huge array of vehicles and equipment
- Wide-open tactical space
- Good shooter mechanics
- Ridiculous scale
- Occasionally laggy
- Can be unfocused
- Daunting for new players
Planetside 2 ReviewDespite the occasional hiccup and a crash here and there, Planetside 2’s engine rarely feels like it’s struggling to keep up, even with a huge number of combatants on screen at once. Whether that’s server-side smoke-and-mirrors or brilliant net code doesn’t really matter; it feels good, and that’s always the worry with a game that tries something this ambitious.
There will always be those that prefer the tight, focused feel of a Call of Duty or the more expansive arenas of a Battlefield, and Planetside’s huge scale doesn’t always work in its favour; but the beauty here is that you can simply go somewhere else on that map and find a different conflict or a warzone that caters to an entirely different skillset. Alternatively, you can band together with a group of like-minded players and simply force your own style.
That wide-open tactical space is a weird thing to wrap your head around at first, but given that Planetside 2 is free for the PC and upcoming PlayStation 4, there’s absolutely no reason not to try.
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