Planetside 2 launched last Tuesday, just in time for the Thanksgiving Weekend in the US. In the interest of full disclosure, I was in the beta for the game but did not play it much. What follows is my personal take on the game: The Ugly, The Bad, and The Good.
What game’s abbreviation and graphics are the same as a PlayStation 2? Planetside 2! Okay, that may be a bit unfair. In combat, the graphics are good. However, if you take an up close and personal look at the decals on the side of your Liberator (an aircraft best described as the love child of the AC-130 Gunship and an V-22 Osprey), you’ll find a horrible mess of pixels the likes of which you thought died at the turn of the century.
Similarly, character creation is somewhat lacking in the looks department. Male or female? White, Asian, Hispanic or African? Name? And... done. That’s it. The character selection screen displays a very rough around the edges character with little to no personality. Female characters are basically male models with a little depth in the chest and width in the hips. The list of ugliness in Planetside 2 is not a short one, but when it comes down to what matters (the battles), the sacrifices made in resolution of skins, decals and player models starts to make sense. This is a truly massive FPS, with aircraft, tanks, ATVs, rockets and of course many bullets dancing across your screen at any time.
In terms of Planetside 2’s method of generating income - namely, microtransactions - if you download PS2 and use it via Steam, the process of actually buying Station Cash can be a little clunky. Going to the cash shop will in turn redirect you to Steam, where you will have to add funds. After that, you are returned to the ‘Buy Station Cash’ screen to click a button, then returned back to the shop to start using your newly acquired SC. It isn’t a terrible ordeal, but seems like it could (and should) be made easier, especially with something as vital as PS2’s main method of generating revenue.
Launch week was not without its particular bugs, prominent among them the G37 error which made it impossible to complete the login process. Sony has, however, been on top of any reported issues both with responses (@Planetside2 has been both very active and very helpful) and actual fixes. However, it became apparent to me that the game probably could have used another few weeks of testing as I fell through the earth for the third time under a particularly buggy bridge on the Indar continent.
Most issues to date have been relatively minor, with the possible exception of what I have come to call ‘gravity wells.’ When flying an aircraft, there appears to be an inexplicable attractive force between said vehicles and large objects. No, I’m not speaking in code for ‘I can’t fly and keep crashing’ - quite literally, there appears at times to be a gravity well surrounding certain objects (and sometimes other aircraft) that will suck you in and leave you stuck. You can see this strange effect most often at your home warpgate, where Galaxies (the 12 seater buses of the skies) can be seen apparently doing the tango in midair. Usually this ends in destruction for one (or both) parties, but occasionally you’ll see a good pilot pull away from the magnetic force and get on with playing.
There are also some small balance issues to consider which likely could have been ironed out in an extended beta environment. However, considering that the game is free to play, there isn’t a ton of downside to the somewhat premature release.
Oh man, where to start. For all of its imperfections - the low graphical detail, the bugs and server errors - Planetside 2 is an amazingly fun game. Not only are heavy combat areas easily identified using the map, but it is also incredibly easy to get to those flashpoints - every major fight will generate a ‘deploy’ button which, when pressed, will transport you via rocket pod from space to the site. (Here’s a hint I didn’t know - those pods from space are actually somewhat steerable. Aim for aircraft for maximum hilarity.)
The classes themselves all feel good to play while still being unique from each other. The division of ‘utility’ abilities (such as repairing, healing, ammo resupply, etc) is a little different from, say, Battlefield 3, but still easy to grasp. The Lightning is a little lackluster without significant upgrades, but the main battle tank for each of the three factions is serviceable right off the bat, as is the Liberator.
Combat is well paced - that is to say, frenetic - but not overwhelming. There seems to always be another objective over the next rise or through the next valley. The time it takes to successfully cap a piece of the map seems a tad long, especially considering the huge amounts of people in play, but the downtime can serve as a useful breather after that last fight where you killed eight dudes with a grenade or faced down another guy in a MAX suit.
What really matters at the end of the day, however, is whether the game itself is good. And it is. It got me through a weekend at the in-laws in a euphoric haze of virtual gunsmoke. There are few individual things you can put your finger on to explain why the game is so good. It is one of those things that, like every really well done piece of entertainment, it just is.
Planetside 2 is obviously a lovingly crafted entry into the MMO space - one which for the low price of free is a must-play. However, it is ultimately another FPS, meaning if you aren’t the type to enjoy some shooting and fragging, you will probably save yourself some hard drive space by giving this a pass. Otherwise - what are you waiting for? It's free. You can get Planetside 2 on Steam or direct from the Planetside 2 website.