PlanetSide is one of those tough games to review. Why? Because it’s a first-person shooter set in a massively multiplayer online world. Is there a problem? It depends on whom you ask. If you ask the shooter fan who just wants to jump online and start playing on a even keel against others then there might be, since the advantage definitely lies with players who have dedicated more time to the game. On the other hand, if you talk to someone who has always wanted to play a FPS on a massively multiplayer scale, then you’re probably get a thumbs up since for the most part, PlanetSide delivers the goods in providing solid online action gameplay.To start a game, you have to choose one out of three different alliances – Terran Republic (authoritative regime), New Conglomerate (rebels), or Vanu Sovereignty (alien race). The main characteristics of each empire lies with the type of fighting equipment they possess. The Terran Republic utilizes more rapid firing weapons, along with more gunners per vehicle. The New Conglomerate has heavier but slower firing weapons and artillery, while the Vanu Sovereignty stresses faster and more mobile fighting gear. On an individual basis, each player has access to more than 30 combat specialties, including infantry, sniper, stealth commando, engineer, hacker, medic, pilot, driver, just to name some of the more popular ones.Playing in a squad, which is what the PlanetSide’s gameplay is geared towards, is essential to easing into the game since going at it alone can be a rather humbling experience. This is due to the fact that players who have spent more time in the game have the competitive advantage since they have more of an opportunity to earn battle experience points, which result in certification points. Certification points are needed to access better weapons, armor, and combat vehicles. Upgrades or leveling up is obviously the nature of any massively multiplayer game; and fortunately, PlanetSide is structured so the experience curve is not overly steep in terms of time needed to gain battle experience points.Regardless of how you want to go into battle – accessing better weapons, armor, and vehicles is what keeps you coming back to PlanetSide. That’s why it’s smart to join a squad since your potential for success increases and with it, the ability to earn battle experience points for certifications. Certifications can also be “unlearned” if you decide to change the weapons or vehicles that you’re currently using. This is helpful since certification points can take a fair amount of playing time to accumulate.One thing I would like to see is the ability to sell items since the looting of dead bodies is allowed. You can loot a body but the usability of these items is limited to your certification. You can still take the items and put them in your inventory but you can’t use them until you have the right certification. The funny thing is that once you gain a certification, all useable weapons can be freely acquired in an empire-controlled facility. So looting is really only useful if your inventory is low and you’re a long distance from a friendly facility. Think about the potential if you could sell looted items. Do you try to loot a dead player during a firefight and risk getting fragged? Maybe you should wait until the battlefield cools down; but then again, you might miss out on some booty since dead bodies vaporize over time. This would open up a unique element to battles as well as providing an added bonus to securing an area.Speaking of battles, the ones in PlanetSide are very intense and can be disorienting at times since there is a lot going on in relatively large fighting environments. The game features multiple ways of battling from aircraft to land-based means (foot soldiers, vehicles, and base turrets). Throw all of these items into a firefight and you’ll get your money’s worth in pyrotechnics. That’s why it’s so important to fight as a group, whether in a formal squad or at the very least, a group of allies. This is especially true when you start out in the game since the base weapons and armor are strictly Blue Light specials. Once you do link up with others, it’s a whole lot of fun to do damage as a group. It’s still no guarantee that you’ll be a Rambo since being a foot soldier in PlanetSide can be tough due to all of the heavy artillery. Upgrading your armor, which makes your character look like a nimble mech is the best route to take if you like going in with your guns a’ blazing. If you do opt for less armor, then you’ll need to be constantly on the move and utilize cover to stay alive. One neat feature to note with battles is the Instant Action option, which places you near a battle hot spot. This is good if you just want to get into the action and not have to worry picking an area and then getting there to fight.If you’re the driving or flying type, then you’re in for a treat since there is a large variety of ground-based vehicles and aircraft to choose from. The game boasts a selection of eighteen vehicles ranging from personal ATVs to full-fledged carrier-class dropships. Don’t expect to jump right into these machines since it will take some time to accumulate enough certification points to acquire them. But once you do, it’s well worth the wait since going into battle with a vehicle gives you some nice firepower. The only drawback is if you drive or fly into an area heavily populated with enemies since vehicles always draw loads of enemy fire.Are there any weaknesses with PlanetSide? Yep, the first is what most FPS fall prey to, which is a lack of depth when it comes to the storyline. The primary objective of all the empires is to capture and defend facilities, and that’s it. New objectives might be introduced as the game evolves but as it sits right now, this is one large-scale game featuring lots of King of the Mountain battles. You don’t get a sense that losing a facility is a big deal since there’s always another battle to fight. There needs to be more of a unifying story, which changes based on the performance of your particular empire. I know this is easier said than done but it’s what’s needed to elevate PlanetSide to elite status.The other glaring weakness is the sound of your own weapon, which is really strange since it’s just limited to your own weapon. There aren’t any issues with other sounds in the game except for the muted sound coming from your own weapon. I haven’t figured out whether this is a bug or not. It might be due to the fact there is voice support in PlanetSide, so having your weapon with a lower volume makes it easier to hear squad communication. Unfortunately, this takes away from one of the appeals of a first-person shooter, which is being able to hear the sound produced by your weapon. I’m investigating this and will report back if there are any new developments. (Note: One of the August updates took care of this sound problem and it’s no longer an issue).The graphics won’t bowl you over but they do succeed in providing the right environment for a futuristic shooter. The environments include deserts, ice continents, and terrain with heavy foliage. The only problem is that they’re rather barren when it comes to structures and population. There are no NPC’s so the continents can look rather desolate especially during non-peak playing times. Free-roaming creatures or maybe a fourth bot race would be a nice addition to help populate the environments.Sony has done an excellent job of keeping the game running smoothly since I encountered only one session where the game was acting up and wasn’t playable (unless quitting and then logging back in). Battlefields populated with a large number of foot soldiers and vehicles are affected by lag at times but fortunately, I haven’t encountered all that many slowdowns. This is rather impressive considering the number and variety of units that are present during any given battle.So this leads me
to the $64,000 question posed for any massively multiplayer online games. Is there enough variety and depth to justify paying a monthly fee? This is a usually a no-brainer with a typical MMORPG since they usually offer enough character classes and quests to satisfy the cravings of most online gamers. But what about a massively multiplayer, first-person shooter? The mission isn’t quite as easy, especially when you consider the number of excellent multiplayer FPS that don’t require a monthly fee (Battlefield 1942, Counterstrike, Day of Defeat, and the Tom Clancy titles, just to name a few). Throw in the two grand-daddies of online shooting, Quake and Unreal Tournament and it’s got to be a formidable task to grab a shooter fan’s attention, let alone their cash on a monthly basis.From what I have seen so far in my many hours of playing PlanetSide is that Sony/Verant has succeeded in sticking to the roots of first-person shooters by focusing and expanding upon what makes FPS fun, which is the action. PlanetSide incorporates a key feature of team-based action (character classes) and a strong lineup of weapons and user-controllable vehicles (ground and air); and pulls it all together on a grand scale. It’s by no means revolutionary but it’s hard to complain when you can’t stop playing and that’s what successful online games are all about. If you’re a FPS fan and have always wanted to jump into a massively multiplayer world, then landing on PlanetSide is a good way to start.