Sometimes there is merit in taking almost a decade in making a sequel. Unlike the yearly debacle that has become the Call of Duty series, Sony Online Entertainment have bided their time in releasing a follow up to the novel and critically acclaimed Planetside which was released in 2003. In gaming terms, although a nine year old release may be essentially pre-historic, Planetside was well ahead of it’s time and the developers did spectacularly well with the tools at their disposal. The sequel has the chance to take this to another level.
Planetside 2 is a first person shooter with a twist – it’s also a massively multiplayer game. To date no other game – excluding the original of course -has really existed that fits within this genre, and it’s not hard to see why; you’d need a persistent universe, well balanced teams and a way to manage constant logins. No mean feat. But their ambitions are high – it’s predicted there could be 2000 people battling on one server using aircraft, vehicles, a multitude of weaponry over a map size that reaches into dozens of square kilometres and has accurate day/night transitions. Oh and it’s going to be free-to-play.
The battles begin on a planet called Auraxis, set in the distant future. After a long and odd back story which is full of holes (not that it matters much), three factions have come to exist on the planet; the authoritarian Terran Republic, the rebel New Conglomerate and the technocratic Vanu Soverignity, which you lock into at the start of your playing time – so you better be damn sure about where your loyalties lie. Part of the genius of the game is that instead of the standard two factions that hate each other’s guts battling it out, three makes for very even, intense battles.
Planetside 2 uses a territorial control concept; continents are broken into territories which are then broken into sectors. All factions start off with a “safe zone” and the rest of the territories are free to take, much like many strategy games. Strategically, front lines are easier to take that those behind enemy lines, which makes sense, and this gives a slight advantage to the defending team, and ensures no sudden domination. Of course, having three enemies to deal with means two fronts, which makes the game play all the more tactical and exciting. Each sector has various control points that needs taking and from here you drop into a more familar FPS setting, inside the macroenvironment. But the seamless transition between the two scales, and the dedication to ensuring that the unmatched scope of the game (which will amaze anyone) actually works proves that this really can be a gamechanger.
The classes in Planetside 2 are a fairly standard mix, with options such as assault, medic, engineer and infiltrator – a sniper that can cloak. As to be expected, all classes have a great deal of customisation, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed with the choice. You have the opportunity to tailor your class to your game play style, and while there will be some unlockable features, they are planned to contribute only 15-20% to the overall difference. This means that skill and, crucially, teamwork is going to be the key determinant for victory.
Vehicles too can be customised. While there are a number of ‘common pool’ items, each faction also has their own vehicles which relate to their individual style – so for instance the Vanu Soverignity have a hover tank, but it’s not as strong. There are light and armoured aircraft, but due to the presence of various ground turrets and the ability of ground troops to viably take large chunks out of the health of the vehicles, they are in no way overpowered.
In truth, there is far too much to try and explain as I’m certain that at least something in Planetside 2 will make you marvel at how the development team have pulled this off. The maps strike you as highly detailed and realistic, the mechanics have been brilliantly mastered and the freedom is unrivalled. The best way to see the potential is through some of the video footage.
Currently the game is in an alpha stage, and you can view some footage from that here. While a beta is pencilled is set to start in the next few months, the release date is likely to come towards the turn of the year. And it is an event you do not want to miss.