In Planetside, players begin with selecting which group they wish to associate themselves with -- Terran Republic, New Conglomerate or the Vanu Sovereignty -- and your enemies throughout your career are the two that remain. Each group employs slightly different tactics based upon the available technology and the stated political goals. Once a character has been fleshed out with a name, gender and avatar appearance, you are placed in a "safe zone" and allowed to investigate different objects in the game by way of "real-world" use as well as an in-game "virtual reality" center. After a general proficiency it attained, the player can either find some transportation into a battle (generally with a squad though "soloing" is not unheard of) or to select "instant action" and be transported directly to some fight, somewhere.
Prowess on the battlefield earns the player "experience points" which, in turn, earn the player "certification points" as well as "implant slots." Cert points can be spent on access to a small set of vehicles, weapons and skills such as hacking (to break into enemy equipment terminals and facilitate the "jacking" of enemy vehicles), engineering (which allow the repair of armor on individuals and vehicles as well as the placement of offensive and defensive static weaponry) and medical (offering the under-utilized capacity to heal and even revive the dead). Implants are skills you can swap in and out of your character at will at certain terminals throughout the game such as the ability to see cloaked players, the power to regenerate your own health in the field and (my favorite) even run at superhuman speeds.
The selection of vehicles and weaponry is impressive and diverse. Do you want to take a stealth approach? You can, but you can carry very little and provides no armor so you'd better be good at it. If the big gun approach is more your style, load up with heavy armor, extra equipment slots and pick up some heavy weapon certifications to bring down armored foes. Once you go to the other end of the spectrum you're now in a mech suit (MAX) with one of three stated functionalities: anti-air (AA), anti-vehicle (AV) or anti-infantry (AI).
Is it more your style to rumble in with both guns blazing? Pick up a tank certification. If flying is more your style then the light Mosquito or the heavier Reaver are an option. Did you choose the stealth approach? A stealthing quad called a "Wraith" will get you to your destination as fast as just about anything in the game. Lots of options here.
The Good | I don't get impressed by games easily and this game, if anything, looked impressive. It promised something players had never seen before yet long itched for; several hundred people at a time engaged in futuristic battle. It sought to create an even blend of action, strategy, tactics and visuals that are hard to nail in this sort of medium. Maybe Unreal was too much twitch for you and America's Army was too little. Perhaps you like the idea of commanding a large number of players but the artificial intelligence available to date proved unrealistic and UN-challenging. This could be the game for you.
I pre-ordered my copy from Electronics Boutique and arrived at the store first thing on the morning of the release, went home, installed it and prepared to be impressed. If there was anyone willing to overlook a few blemishes it was me. This was the game I'd waited for since watching Buck Rogers as a kid.
The game, as I touched on above, offers a somewhat high degree of personalization based on style. Not everyone goes in with guns blazing. The developers seem to have taken a very keen interest in making the game as balanced as possible although you know they're not going to please everyone. Recently they "nerfed" a weapon of one particular group and everyone plus their dog has an opinion about whether too much was taken away or too little. I'm not going to get into that little mess here. The vehicles range from the serious (tank) to the fun (buggies, whee!).
The "grief system" -- a mechanism intended to dissuade team-killing -- has worked spectacularly. It is particularly harsh on people who carry heavy weaponry into crowded areas but it certainly has stopped the intentional, rampant player-killing sprees.
Finally, the graphics are quite amazing. Although it is the slowest method of transportation, running provides a great view of things as discrete as surrounding flora to the far-off mountaintops. If your hardware can handle it, sandstorms, rain and fog are implemented. These are done so well I always leave them on during battle just to experience them even though I know there is probably some sniper 1,000m away who can see me just fine. They may have turned this off because their hardware can't handle it or perhaps they want the competitive edge. Me, I play to be impressed by the game, not rack up a number someplace. And this game definitely impresses in the visuals department.
But read on, gentle reader, because this game has not one but a bevy of critical flaws. Despite all its bright spots, it comes up empty in its stated goals more often than a weapons inspection team in post-war Iraq.
The Bad | When I say "critically broken" I'm not being bombastic. A month of game-play has proved Planetside to be so far removed from being worthy of a retail release that you are forced to wonder what exactly took place behind the scenes. At a fairly steep monthly subscription price of $12.99/mo, this game is broken so fundamentally that many people are wondering how long it'll survive much less prosper. My prognosis isn't quite as dire as theirs but yesterday I decided to abandon a very high-level character (BR18/CR3) simply because it wasn't fun. This after less than 30 days of playing. I still play GTA3 and Splinter Cell. Heck, I'll probably go back to Army Operations.
The bug list is impressive and can be experienced for oneself by simply reading a day's worth of forum posts. Planetside is not even close to being ready for retail much less a month into the release. Sony has, in effect, forced its paying customers to be "beta testers." Examples that I have encountered personally include invisibility suits that are visible by the enemy when they shouldn't be (which will get you shot in a New York minute), weapons that make firing sounds but don't actually fire any ammunition, the inability to access your character at all, random crashes to the desktop with no error or dump to assist them in figuring out what caused it (they apparently don't care), keyboard and in-game settings that change on their own or simply disappear and a voice communication system that is nothing short of laughable ("He" .... "y g" .... "uys I" ....... "nee" .... "d som" .... "help" .... BLAM!). This results in a lot of people trying to convey things 5x which, in turn, creates a lot of dying and aggravation. Typing is actually more productive than their in-game voice chat.
The lag can be game-stopping at times. They've managed to eliminate the 5-to-30-second lag but in large battles (precisely the sort of thing that Sony bills this title as being designed for) the lag can easily reduce your frames-per-second to unbearable levels and cause you to perform actions on things and people that are no longer there, miss your target (because it is not really there), hit friendlies (because they are there) and if you're driving, slam your vehicle into the Petrified Shrubbery of Death. If you have played multi-player games before you know that this sort of experience can bring an enjoyable game to its knees instantly. And boy, does it. If you are going to play this game, be prepared to either shift your work schedule so it does not fall in the 8PM-1AM slot or simply resign yourself to the problem.
A public bug list doesn't exist. No-place is there a centralized list of what bugs exist and remain to be fixed. Anyplace. If such a list were made public people would be even more frustrated with the game than they are right now. But at least we'd know things were getting better.
Because the experience system is based around being in or around a base that is about to be taken, the game is one massive display of "musical bases." You'll take base A, then B, then C only to find that while you're doing it another empire is taking A. There is no functional incentive for people to stick around and defend. In fact there is a serious dis-incentive from defending because right now there is some hoard of xp-hungry people heading your way and they will overrun you the same way you will overrun the next base if you join everyone who just left. And if you happen to be romping on a whole continent you can expect that another continent of yours is being romped on.
The game has many features proudly displayed on the box and in the manual that are either seriously broken or simply not in the game. An example of the former is "instant action." This option is supposed to bring you to a battle-zone. Unfortunately, it is just as likely to bring you to a place where the lone enemy that defined this as a "hot spot" got killed a minute ago and you arrive to find nothing whatsoever to do except run around for a few hundred meters, realize there is actually nothing going on and then try clicking on "instant action" again. An example of the latter are the benefits conveyed upon players who achieve the 4th and 5th command rank levels; orbital strikes. Theoretically this is the ability to launch some sort of attack from space. It isn't in the game. At all. I'm not joking.
The so-called "support" team is MIA. Bugs are reported and far, FAR more often than not ignored wholesale. Even when the development team works on a bug they almost always do not actually say they are working on it. I say "almost" because the 30-second lag was acknowledged. As of this writing, several of the bugs cited above have messages posted on the forums and dozens of players acknowledging they too have experienced these bugs and the simple request that the development team simply say "we know." No such luck.
The development team has been outright deceptive regarding game changes. Changes to weapons in the game, for example, have been described as "aesthetic" in nature but once introduced into the game have proven to be anything but. For example, the animation for one gun was supposed to have "aesthetic" changes made to it in order to line up the animation with the actual functionality of the weapon. A very non-aesthetic delay was introduced with no known commentary or explanation regarding the discrepancy.
Fixes for problems proposed by the producer have bordered on downright dangerous to the health of your computer. For example, during the massive lag problems experienced during the first few weeks of the retail release, players experiencing lag were told to disable their virus protection software. In reality the problem was not only known by the development team but a fix was being worked on (a rarity). Instead of doing the honorable thing and saying "yes, we're aware of the issue and working on a solution for you," they opted to suggest it was a problem possibly associated with the player's computer anti-virus software in order to stall and misdirect. They actually suggested turning it off to facilitate playing the game. Disabling the software that protects your computer from malicious code while on a broadband connection is positively asinine. I actually asked the support staff making this claim if Sony would pay for machines damaged by such a reckless "solution." No reply.
Steps are taken to actively discourage canceling your account. I posted a simple request in the Technical Support forum asking what steps I needed to take in order to cancel my account. The message was deleted without comment within 10 minutes of it being posted. I've posted the request again. My account, as of this writing, remains uncancelled.
There is actually no way to win or even make any tangible progress. Your outfit or squad will take a dozen bases today and tomorrow you'll re-take them. And then the next day. And the next. And the day after that. Lather, rinse, repeat. To be fair, the flip-side of this is that there isn't this oft-lamented "treadmill" whereby you play to simply attain the next level. Regardless, some sort of medium is not attempted, the scale is simply tipped fully in the opposite direction. Every weapon, vehicle and skill is available to anyone with the certificates you begin with plus those earned by playing for two hours, maximum.
Physics can get really bizarre. I have seen normal, unarmored player avatars "toss" 3-ton vehicles dozens of feet, air vehicles parked upside down, vehicles launch several hundred feet in the air and manned vehicles stacked hundreds of feet in the air. Tree leaves will stop your 65km/h-moving 3-ton vehicle in its tracks.
The system being used to play-test Planetside is an AMD 1900+ (1.7Ghz), 1GB RAM and a 128MB GeForce4 Ti4200 Ultra. DirectX 9.
It should be noted that the above criticism leveled at Planetside is distinct from my personal hardware. When I have found shortcomings in my gaming experience and that fault lay with my hardware, I have simply discarded that criticism.
I'd recommend this game only to those who have truly acclimated themselves to the horrors of MMORPG developer apathy or those well-heeled enough to not balk at blowing $50 on a game they might very well not be playing in a month. The only reason I don't give it a D is because it has potential.
There is a somewhat nebulous-yet-acknowledged line drawn between the axiom of "all software has bugs" and "don't force paying customers to be your bug testers." I don't think SOE (Sony Online Entertainment) ever heard of this distinction but instead chose to take the position of "let's make a product that 80% of the paying community will simply tolerate, make our money and leave well enough alone. The remaining 20% of potential customers aren't worth the extra 400% of effort we'd have to put in to make this game live up to the hype, so why bother? We're here to make money, not break new gaming territory." In fairness, graphical MMORPGs are notoriously hard to pull off. Unfortunately, Sony doesn't seem to have learned from its previous forays into this field.
To provide a comparison most of you may be familiar with, the movie The Phantom Menace was noted for a flat story-line. Some tradewar breaks out. So what? Who cares? This game quickly reaches the same ho-hum status and it does so without warning. One day you're having fun despite the bugs when you suddenly think, "Why am I driving to this base for the 20th time this week? Oh, right. Because we have to save it from the..." Well, don't worry because you'll be back in an hour.
If I wanted that I'd play Unreal.