PlanetSide is a bit unique among massively multiplayer online games. Instead of role-playing a character, the game is all about battle.
And on battle, it has plenty. Set on a futuristic world, the plot of the game is that humans from the Terran Republic have set down on a new world bristling with alien technology. They are connected to their empire only by a wormhole. But when the wormhole collapses, the humans begin to fight.
One group decides it wants to remain loyal to the republic. One group generally likes the laws of the republic but wants a bit more freedom, so they form the New Conglomerate. And one group wants nothing to do with the republic and decides to use the alien technology to fight off everyone else. They form the Vanu Sovereignty.
Oh, there is one little other thing about this planet. Using the alien technology, people have their DNA profile stored at a friendly base. When they die, they are simply reconstructed and never permanently die. So there you have the formula for perpetual war.
The game at first reminded me a bit of Shattered Galaxy, which was a persistent real-time strategy game of perpetual war. But PlanetSide is mostly played in first person, though you can play in third person when flying in a vehicle if you like.
There is an excellent training setup for new players. You can play with all the vehicles and shoot all the weapons to decide which ones you like best. In the live game, you need to purchase certifications in each weapon group or vehicle you would like to use. Weapons, ammo, suits of armor and the like are all freely dispensed from friendly computer terminals, but you need to have the certification first. Starting players are given the medium assault certification which gives you access to basic armor and weapons. I’ve used them and they work fine.
The world itself is divided into a series of islands. You can ride a drop ship and pop in on any of the islands, or walk to a warp gate from your factions home (and completely safe) sanctuary. On each island are a series of bases with walls, gun turrets and terminals for creating weapons and vehicles. One of the specifications you can learn is hacking, which is used to turn an enemy base to your color. Once you perform the hack, you need to defend the computer room for 15 minutes while the systems change over. This is how you capture bases and expand your home territory throughout the islands.
If you are good at first person shooters, you will probably shine here. Most of the combat will probably take place on foot, and all of the combat inside a building will be this way. Outside you can drive around in tanks, dune buggies, armored personnel carriers and a variety of vehicles that are slightly different depending on what faction you have joined.
You don’t have to be an up-front combat character either, though this is probably what the game intends. You can also don a stealth suit and sneak around hacking enemy facilities. That’s what I did for a long time and had a pretty good run. When you move in the stealth suit you warble slightly and the enemy can see you, but if you stand still you are basically completely invisible. I loved watching enemy troops pass by me inside their own bases and then step out to shoot them in the back. It was not very sporting I guess, but it was effective most of the time.
There are a few other non-combat specialties too like medics being able to heal other players, or engineers that can build turrets and plant mines for defensive purposes.
There are also a lot of air battles going on over most of the islands. There are several flying vehicles like the Mosquito scout plane and the Reaver gunship. Flying takes a little getting used too, but with practice you will be strafing ground targets and hitting other flyers in no time.
Ground combat is fun as well, and most vehicles have space for extra gunners. Since you don’t need a certification to be a gunner, there are often lots of volunteers to jump into your vehicle and help you out when you roll by.
Recently, the game has added voice capability, which in my opinion really makes it shine. When you can talk to your squad mates over the radio, it makes for a more realistic experience. Hearing a ground marine with a deep southern accent requesting support at the south tower because he is getting hammered and then hearing a British pilot respond that he is inbound to help is a real treat, especially when they are real people.
The music and sound effects for the game are awesome. Vehicles and guns sound as they should and the musical score is deep and haunting, very much like you would expect from a futuristic game world.
Graphically, the game does its best to change things up a bit with different climates and weather patterns, but do tend to get a bit monotonous after a while. The utilitarian bases themselves all tend to look the same. They all follow the military architecture perfectly, but I guess it would be nice if there were some differences once in a while.
In the end the game is a fun and compelling massive battle. Playing in a huge ongoing war with real people is a lot of fun, especially as you learn new skills and find a job in the game that you really like. At first I got killed all the time, but now just being smart about combat has allowed me to defend entire bases all by myself against incredible odds. I’ve become quite accustom to combat, and every game is fun, rewarding and different from the last. PlanetSide earns a perfect 5 GiN Gems for showing the world how a persistent virtual battle is done right.