Wednesday, 1 January 2003

Archive Review: Planetside

(PC review)

When I first heard about this game I was not massively excited, it sounded to me like some sort of “doomed to failure” project that Sony Online were destined to stab themselves with. My fears of “lag”, “monthly fees”, and the dreaded “high system specs” all came true upon the initial launch. I laughed smugly and went back to battlefield 1942. But then I saw a screenshot that made my jaw drop… wow I said to myself.

It was of a huge battle from Planetside in a dense forest with many players and vehicles involved in a huge gunfight. I decided that the game may require my attention so researched into it, a day later it was installed on my hard drive.


Planetside is a MMOFPS (massively multiplayer online first person shooter). The only other game out there in this category is World War 2 Online. This is a game that plays like any conventional FPS but it’s online but not just online, massively online. In other words, there are thousands of other players fighting alongside and against you, and the world you all inhabit is a huge map filled with things to, well, shoot at. In Planetside there is a wide range of weapons to select from, roles to play as, and vehicles to command. You join one of three rivalling empires. I’m not going to go into the story, it’s tedious and quite honestly not worth reading about. The story is plausible, however. The three empires consist of a group of power freaks, who have got their hands on some alien technology, and the more conventional “Empire” side (evil, all powerful) and the “Rebels” who are surprisingly not your typical good guys who want to overthrow the baddies. They are basically just an alternative power base, who want power for themselves.

So I joined the Rebels. Why not? They needed more players according to the population info for the server I selected (Werner, European) on the games main screen and I liked their colour scheme! The games interface is very simple and clear. You can either select your char and server via the game menu which requires loading, or opt for the launch screen to preload your desired selection and take you straight into game, a nice touch. Your character can be customised but only to very simple levels. You select a voice set, ranging from deep manly man to the obviously retarded frog man voice. You select your sex, wow, and then your face template. The choice here is staggering. The short black hair, goatee, white skin look… or you simply select anything else and look stupid or maimed.

So my char was made, my empire selected. Now it was time to enter the World and get some trigger time!

Into the Breach!

Phonesis, my intergalactic bad man, entered the New Conglomerate Sanctuary. This is like a home town for your empire, you’re safe from enemy fire and it tends to be an area players build up squads, outfits etc in order to get a good force ready to fight. Let me briefly explain the squad system. The idea in PS is to form a ten man, sorry, “person”, squad, with a squad leader giving out the orders and the rest of the squad following. You communicate via the talk bar on a squad channel or via microphones which is a nice touch which helps a lot when you can make out other players voices! Once a squad is formed you either travel to the action via the HART which is basically public transport that allows you to drop down where ever you want on the map. The other way is to get one of your squad members to fly a Galaxy which is a huge transport ship that can fly anywhere and drop your squad down on the enemy. This is the bread and butter of PS: Galaxy drops.

The Gal can also carry a vehicle which helps when in the action. Your squad can get armoured support and this really does mean a lot in PS. My character was a sniper; I selected this Certificate due to my liking for sniping in most FPS games. When you create a char in PS you are given four cert points which you can spend on learning skills which you want to learn. A neat feature is the ability to forget what you learn, you have to wait 24 hours however, and then get your cert point(s) back. IF only certain MMORPG’s were this forgiving!

As you gain EXP, in a system very much like the previous Sony Online hit Everquest, you gain Battle rank which in turn gives you yet more cert points to spend on skills, ranging from assault abilities to being able to fly a Gal or drive a Tank. Eventually, after reaching battle rank 6, you gain implant points which you spend in an implant terminal. These allow you to modify your own personal skills and you can gain stuff like better night vision, a personal shield, and faster running speeds. Each empire has its own weaponry/vehicles the others don’t but they are all as good as each other, just different. A lot of players in the community love to flame on the official forums about the fact empire x has a much better gun than empire z etc but I am quite sure Sony did good in their play testing phase and evened the weapons out just fine.

Anyway, back to the action. I ran around aimlessly after doing some training in a training terminal that lets you test all the guns in the game against automated targets. You also gain exp for this. I discovered the ability to piss players off by running up to them and acting out a series of physical emotes, like the bog standard “Hail” with a waving hand gesture. I did my fair share of strafe running, bunny hoping, and 360 spinning until, finally, a player simply called “Bruce3” invited me to join his squad. It consisted of 10 players, a full squad, and I was instructed to meet them at their Gal. I found it, hopped in, and off we went, apparently to “Solsar” – It meant nothing to me.

There is no internal view in vehicles in PS. You get a third person view of the craft as it speeds its way along alien terrain. My mind went back to Operation Flashpoint as I watched the barren landscape pass us by. I looked back on the days where I would sit in the back of a rusty old truck with a team of other soldiers and watch as the one opposite me would seem to be smiling at me intriguingly whilst rubbing his M-16 rifle. Ah yes, the good old days, but no, I am in PS now, with my elite squad of rebel punks.

We suddenly hit our target, some big base in a desert. In PS the idea is to capture buildings or bases. To do this you must hack the computer which takes 15 minutes and requires a player with the hacking skill. The battles get very intense when you and your squad desperately defend the control room whilst it’s being hacked as swarms of the enemy try to stop the hack! It really is quite nerve racking when you know you have 2 minutes to go… but no more ammo left to shoot with! The problem PS has is that these bases all look the same, there are about 6 templates of building and that’s it. Seen a few base hacks, you seen them all since the layout of the base will repeat itself so as to seem to you that you are constantly going back to the same base to do a hack, when its actually somewhere entirely different. Sony has said they will bring out new base designs… but when? We all hot dropped from the GAL and after about ten minutes the enemy appeared as we hacked the base and I saw my first action in PS. It was fun but arcade-ish. I drilled enemy units and they drilled me. There are no headshots so you tend not to aim at body parts, just drill the chest, where ever – who cares! I was disappointed at this lack of a damage model. It felt like going back to the old days somewhat – shoot them in the foot until they die!

We all died by the way. The enemy empire, the Vanu Sovereignty, swarmed us and we all spawned in a near by tower we owned and geared up. I enjoyed the encounter but as I sniped from the hill I felt like I was shooting bb’s or something. I hit the enemy but they did not die, until I hit them again, and again, then they died! But PS is not meant to be a realistic game! It is the complete opposite of this and in the context of this the gun fight I found myself in was fun, sheer fun.

Graphics and Sound

PS has great graphics. Hills roll into the horizon as the sun sets. Player models look good as do vehicles and the particle and physics engines are both impressive. It feels a lot like Halo in this respect, although not quite as good as Halo in any of these categories. On a side note PS probably has the best bullet hole effects I have ever seen. Drilling a concrete wall with your Punisher or other sinister firearm is great due to the fact the bullet holes are huge and really vary. But this is a minor thing, just a nice detail to note. Planetside requires a beast of a PC to run it. The minimum system spec is a joke and I am amazed Sony can sleep at night knowing the words “minimum ram: 256mb” exist on the back of the box! I had 256mb of ram and laughed all my way to the bank, in order to draw out the cash to go buy 1024mb DDR! In this respect, the game is a rich mans toy. It really “does” need a good pc to play it, unless you like 4 frames per second in large battles and long load times. When your in a Galaxy with other player its bizarre when you pass a warp gate and enter a continent due to the way you can see each players differing load times for that continent. Once our pilot took so much longer to load than us that we all just sat in mid air until the Gal appeared, it was strange.

PS has a thing called Flora. This is basically the addition of having actual grass and bushes etc on the ground, like in Soldier of Fortune 2, and it is very neat indeed. It really has an effect on performance though, so do not use it unless you have a good pc. And no a good pc is not an 800 MHz, 32 mb card with 512 sd ram. A good pc, in the PS world at least, is a 2 GHz + processor with a 64mb + card and 512mb ddr as a minimum in order to achieve good performance.

Sound is PS is acceptable although a weak point. EAX 1.0 seems to have a bug in the game where you can’t hear gun sound effects when you fire them, yet EAX 3.0 works fine even on cards that only support 1.0! My gripe with PS sound is the way a passing space ship will hover by on my 5.1 speaker set up and I will hear it hum past nicely only for the sound to simply stop once it reaches a certain distance, as opposed to fading out into silence. I really cant help but notice this – but for most it really is not a big deal.

On another note Planetside is strictly a broadband affair. Even on the European server a player in the UK on 56k will feel the pain of his low bandwidth and again, Sony really should not have stated 56k was a minimum speed for this game.


To begin with I really liked this game, it was so ground breaking and I was in awe at the size of battles and the sheer numbers of players who fought and died alongside you. Running up a ledge only to see literally 100’s of enemy troops charging up the other side was such an experience the first time it happened I just sat on my chair in total amazement (whilst getting killed like a bitch). But, and this is a big but, the novelty wore off. Suddenly, like a kick in the genitals, it hit me: is this really worth £9.99 a month? I felt conned somehow. The game is great but it does not have the depth to be worthy of such monthly fees. A lot of people are more than happy to pay for it though, but I just did not see it as being worth the price.

I got bored of the style of the gunfights. It is all based on who has the biggest gun and the strongest armour. Skill plays a part but only in the respect that unless you are up against a complete idiot who has trouble understanding the concept of using a mouse and keyboard whilst looking at the screen, the guy with the biggest gun will win. So this means that everyone has big guns… to make it even, but no! Because then the guys in the skies will win, or the bloke in the tank. So everyone becomes a tank driver and pilot… hmm, yeah, but that sucks after a while. War is hell, but in PS war is a broken down exercise in meat grinding put into five simple steps: big guns, lots of players with big guns, small confined bases, lots of vehicles with bigger guns, and lag! It is too hectic! Small battles are fine, but they suffer from the same problem, it just feels so much like quake or unreal you just end up saying… hey I refuse to pay monthly for this when I can go back to those games, for free!

World War 2 online created the first true virtual battle field, and it is truly just that. PS has nothing of the sort, the battlefield consists of bases that change hands so often it gets tedious and you can’t lock down a base, or set up defences for it. You just hack it and run - there is no defending, just rival attacking. In ww2 online some of the best aspects are based on the defence of your ground, the supplying of your front line positions, like real war, and PS just seems like nothing in comparison, sorry.



Great fun, great graphics, huge battles, literally 100’s of players in single gunfights, all sorts of roles to play as and gear to play with.


Monthly fees that seem very expensive, some lag issues, lack of true depth, primitive player damage models.


A good game not worth its own price.

by The Critical Alien
© 2003