Planetside 2 Preview (@ZathUK at E3 2012)

planetside-2-logoIt’s been a while since Sony Online Entertainment released the original Planetside – nine years to be exact. It was a great idea, and an admirable one, but it was launched way before its time. Now Planetside 2 is well on its way to release, being shown for the first time at E3.

Most notably it’s free to play – this is going to be a red flag to people, especially fans of the original; but from what we’ve been told so far the pricing structure looks promising. Cosmetic changes make up the bulk of ‘Station Cash’ purchases, along with a few limited upgrades and weapons (which can also be bought with in-game resources). Obviously, getting the right balance here is absolutely critical, and success in this area is the difference between pay-to-win games that fall by the wayside and hugely popular games like Blacklight: Retribution or Tribes: Ascend.

The reason it’s so important the upgrades and new weapons are balanced precisely is that there’s such a preposterous volume of them, years worth we are told, that they form a very central part of day-to-day play in the game. Aside from the upgrades there are six classes from the infiltrator to the MAX (the only class to have a mechanized exo-suit) and everything in between, including medics and engineers. The setup and controls are standard FPS fare but in the context of a large battlefield filled with plenty of other players and vehicles, the world really comes alive. In fact the very sizeable facility we were battling in (large enough to use vehicles to get around) only constitutes 2% of the game world.

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It’s really easy to jump into combat and get into the swing of things. I tried out most classes and fell briefly in love with the light assault class that has some handy jets on his back making urban navigation a doddle. Yet despite being so easy to pick up, a quick flick through the sheets and sheets of different implants, customisations and vehicles upgrades confirm that PS2 is still offering a deep MMO-style experience. Moreover, playing with friends and Outfits (PS2’s version of guilds) and getting into the nitty-gritty of territory and sector control, in attempts to gain more resources, leaves the game with a wealth of content and structure to play within.

Most FPSs’ set opposite teams on completely identical footings, providing the same equipment and only presenting simple skin changes to differentiate teams. PS2, with its three warring factions seeks to really separate each side and provide different advantages and play-styles. The Vanu, for example have a heavy tank, just like their opponents, but thanks to their use of alien technology it’s a hover tank allowing for strafing manoeuvres, though its barrel is fixed. These sorts of unique features and technologies seem to play a large part in gameplay and it’ll be exciting to see how the different factions evolve and adapt around them.

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To tie in with the game, SOE have designed a iPad app – now I know what you’re thinking: Facebook connectivity and all that social spiel? Well I’m sure that’s probably in there, but more importantly, the app actually has useful features. Besides a territory control map with a live feed of information from the game, you’re going to be able to use VOIP directly from your iPad to talk to your friends and Outfit.

Planetside 2, especially in comparison with its aging predecessor looks graphically excellent, making use of bright colours and varied environments, all framed by my a slick and simple UI. This really is the only true MMOFPS (aside from the original), and fortunately it’s shaping up to be a brilliant experience and a showcase of what PC gaming is all about.

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