PlanetSide Review

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Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 1 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 64 MB video card, 3 GB HD space, internet connection (but plan on a much higher-end system)

The Terran Republic ruled an intergalactic empire for more than a thousand years, colonizing worlds and spreading humanity to the stars. When the habitable world of Auraxis was discovered on the other side of a wormhole, the Terran Republic began the colonization of Auraxis, creating three main settlements, spread evenly around the newly discovered orb. Auraxis, however, turned out to be no ordinary settlement. The remains of an ancient race (dubbed the Vanu) and its ancient technology were found. These findings have made technological wonders possible that enable humanity to better their lives, or wage even more effective war.

As the colony became self-sufficient and facilities had been constructed throughout the planet, the wormhole collapsed, stranding the colonists in a distant corner of space. Without the might and resources of the Terran Republic, the world has splintered into three warring factions: those who seek to maintain the ways of the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate (which seeks to impose a new order on humanity), and the Vanu Sovereignty which wants to improve humanity through the legacy of the Vanu. Vanu technology has granted the warring factions the ability to recreate fallen warriors, so Auraxis faces a war without attrition and a conflict without end as the three sides vie for supremacy.

Kyle Ackerman

When battle rages in PlanetSide, conflicts with hundreds of players are a common spectacle to behold. Scores of infantry will charge from the hills, flanked by warriors in the specialized and powerful Mechanized Assault Exo-Suits (MAX). All the while, support and assault vehicles mill about on both sides, defenders man stationary turrets, and both sides bring air support to bear against the opposing forces. All of this takes place with the controls perspective of a first-person shooter, but is set in a persistent world with a character advancement system that will be more familiar to role-playing game fans, especially of the massively multiplayer variety.

In PlanetSide, the three major forces are in constant conflict over the facilities that dot the landscape of Auraxis' ten "battle continents." Expanding outward from the safety of the three original colonization sites, which are now the three armies' Sanctuaries, all sides use a network of warp gates, derived from Vanu technology, to travel from continent to continent. The warp gates and all the facilities on the planet are linked by a complex network. Each type of facility in the network provides certain benefits, and by hacking into enemy (or neutral) facilities, your side can expand its network, leapfrogging from facility to facility, even controlling entire continents. The fact that you can only control facilities linked to your network means that battle on Auraxis is ruled by fluid, but clearly defined fronts, making it practical to devise complex strategies and attempt to predict enemy actions.

There are also myriad towers dotting the landscape. Towers can be controlled by anyone, at anytime, and serve as convenient rally points for forces, so even a seemingly peaceful continent may have multiple, secluded towers under enemy control. Vanu technology enables the embattled citizens of Auraxis to be recreated nearly instantly, so death is never permanent. Facilities, towers, and even vehicles called Advanced Mobile Stations can be used to respawn fallen troops, making battle a constant reality, not something that can be won or lost by eliminating the opposition. Facilities, if controlled, can also be used to create vehicles or as fallback fortifications, replete with fixed defenses, so gaining a toehold in enemy territory can be challenging.

Infantry and vehicles swarm about the planet, but a novice can't use everything at first. PlanetSide has a character system in which you gain experience points to improve your abilities. Battle Experience (BXP) is mostly gained through eliminating the enemy, and grants you certification points that you can use to access more powerful equipment, including vehicles, armor and special items like medical or engineering kits. Players with lots of BXP can gain access to implants, which can supplement a warrior's talents, granting abilities such as the ability to see cloaked foes or better survive extended physical punishment. Command Experience (CEP) comes from commanding a squad and emerging victorious over foes, be they individuals or entire facilities. Experienced commanders have access to special command communication channels, can create waypoints for their squad with notations on the world map, and ultimately even more powerful abilities.

The experience system does lead to one of the problems in PlanetSide – it can be hard to begin. The experience structure creates a system of positive feedback in which better players (or folks who play longer) have better stuff, but are still facing off against the greenest of newbie troops. By the time a player has reached Battle Rank Six, that soldier probably has enough certification points to configure a useful, competitive player. An experienced soldier will still have a considerable advantage, but starting out can be daunting. This leaves most players with the need to figure out how to pass the first few levels quickly. PlanetSide has a robust, offline tutorial system to orient new players, and then a virtual reality system in each side's Sanctuary that can orient you to weapons and vehicles, as well as help you achieve Battle Rank Three before engaging the enemy. After that, players may need to rely on squadmates, non-combat roles, or both.

The experience system is geared toward combat and taking facilities. You can gain experience by being part of a successful capture, but your best bet is to join a squad. Experience gained from any kill or action is spread around the squad. If you want to be a medic, or repair armor and vehicles as an engineer, you will help your squad survive, but will need to rely on other squad members to gain experience. The main reliable solo technique for a low-level character to gain experience is through ANT runs. The Advanced Nanite Transport carries energy from warp gates to facilities whose supplies need to be constantly replenished. Doing so is worth experience, but has all the excitement of cross-country trucking in a non-combat zone. Battlefield ANT runs can be dramatic, but often result in destruction and no experience gain. The experience system also rewards massive battles, but discourages small tactical actions. There is no experience reward for a lone hacker taking a strategic tower behind enemy lines, just as there is no reward for reclaiming such a tower. This encourages everyone to amass at the same facility siege, making for impressive, large-scale combats.

Powering the ANT on a mediocre system...
Groups are key to enjoyment and survival in PlanetSide, as with many other persistent-world games. Having a squad usually means constant experience progression, and joining an outfit (a massive organization like a guild), opens up a special chat channel and simplifies the process of squad formation. Another way in which PlanetSide is much like the extant persistent world games (such as Dark Age of Camelot) is travel. The large world offers tremendous strategic options, but can also require traversing vast distances to converge on a foe. Wisely, Sony Online Entertainment included an instant action option, that instantaneously transports you to a hotspot of combat, so you can always find a fight if you need it. But it can take time to gather a squad or larger force, acquire the appropriate vehicles and move everything in an orderly fashion to your target. Be prepared for a bit of transit time if you want to properly plan assaults.

...Powering the ANT on a better system.
To really enjoy PlanetSide, you need a hefty machine with components such as a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, as much RAM as you can piece together (at least 1 GB would be handy) and at least a GeForce 4 class card with 128 MB of video RAM. The game can be played on a lesser machine, all the way down to the minimum system requirements listed at the top of the page, but only at a significant disadvantage, and without all the fancy graphics of which PlanetSide is capable. At the recommended system requirements, by turning off the pretty sky and many of the graphical bells and whistles, you can remain competitive with other citizens of Auraxis, and will usually only suffer problems with your frame rate in really large-scale battles. Play with the minimum system requirements and you won't even be able to see whoever killed you most of the time, and you'll be stuck in support roles for small battles or making ANT runs. Also, if you aren't a networking guru and have a home network, be prepared for some extra labor – networks aren't officially supported. On the bright side, the servers seem very robust, so if you experience a choppy game, it's more likely to be your system's resources than latency.

Ultimately, you need to enjoy FPS-style action, be it on foot, in the air or in a ground vehicle, but for those who do, and have a powerful PC, PlanetSide will offer countless hours of action and entertainment. Players can jump in for a few minutes of instant action, or join an outfit and capture an entire continent, facility by facility. If you have a rig powerful enough to run the game, stick it out past the first few battle ranks, and you can wage an intense war that, thanks to Vanu technology, can continue forever.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 2, 2003 8:02 PM.

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