Thursday, 9 May 2013

Review: Planetside 2 (PC)

I'm not going to deny that I'm an unrepentant snob when it comes to FPS games.

I like them on my PC, I like them pretty, and I like them 'splodey in all the right ways.  A well made shooter is almost a thing of beauty.

In terms of pure design, I hold Unreal Tournament as the apex of what a shooter should attempt to attain.  MMOFPS games have to do double duty, since they not only have to work as an FPS but they also have to properly convey the persistent world of an MMO.  I didn't have an opportunity to try Sony's original Planetside, but to correct that oversight, I did get the chance to go through Planetside 2.  I can't really speak to its value as a sequel, but on its value as an MMOFPS, the first half seems to be fairly well executed at the expense of the second.

Planetside 2 is a feast for the eyes.  Even at the Medium detail level, it looks lovely.  Structures are varied and feel like they have a purpose other than just places to shoot up or shoot from.  Many of the vehicle models are uniform across the three factions of the game, but there are unique vehicles for each faction which help break up the monotony.  In the same vein, weapon models and character uniforms are similar in some respects and very different in others.  Effects like smoke, force fields, and others are equally well done.  Even the map is genuinely useful and reflects the terrain in good detail.  If there's any complaint that I have, it's that the visuals can impact gameplay more than they should.  Turn things up too high, and you're likely to experience lag, even if the indicator shows good ping.  The minimum and recommended specs just don't quite reflect the reality.

The sounds of Planetside 2 are serviceable, but nothing to write home about.  There's plenty of the usual battle sounds, and they're done well enough, but they're not the highlight of the game.  There's not a whole lot of music in the game, which is sort of to be expected.  The audio experience isn't disappointing, just not very exciting, either.

I've already mentioned the impact of graphics on gameplay from a technical perspective, but moving past that, the gameplay in Planetside 2 is very good at the basic shooter mechanics.

It's getting into the more RPG-like aspects such as experience, upgrading equipment, and such that borders on the arcane.  The run-and-gun is pretty good, though traveling on foot across large open chunks of map is a hassle.  The best action is usually when your faction is trying to take control of a major facility, usually a depot of some sort which you can respawn and order vehicles.  This isn't the bottled up chaos of Call of Duty or Battlefield multiplayer match.  It's uncontrolled and it's everywhere.  The first time I got dropped into a zone, I landed on an outcropping of rock overlooking an unremarkable area of real estate, and I immediately get capped by somebody with a pistol.  Not exactly an auspicious start, but certainly a strong indicator that one has to keep their wits about them at all times.

The advancement through the classes is difficult, even if you're joining up with a large knot of players to attack or defend a facility.  Considering that it is an MMOFPS, as opposed to a more structured MMORPG like World of WarCraft or Guild Wars 2, the starting player needs to accept they are going to get shot and killed unceremoniously a lot, which can dampen the enthusiasm somewhat.

Moreover, the game's Certification Point system, while not tied to specific classes, makes it difficult to properly kit yourself out as a different class if the situation demands it.  There are common certifications across classes, and Certification Points can also be used on vehicles, but there are others which are class specific.  There's a distinct strain of “pay to win” since gear can also be unlocked with Sony StationCash instead of Certification Points, so people who try to grind out the requisite Certification Points are at a decided disadvantage from those who just blow stupid amounts of money.

And that is probably the biggest letdown in Planetside 2.  The fact that the game doesn't have a properly developed incentive for the F2P masses.  The shooter fundamentals are all there.  The visuals are great but the progression just doesn't seem to deliver any payoff for players outside of the hardcore.  It's not quite as much of a shameless cash grab as something out of Zynga, but it definitely sours the experience.

- Axel Cushing

The Good:
- Looks great
- Shooter fundamentals are all there
- Free

The Bad:
- Minimum and recommended specs just don't quite reflect reality
- Distinct strain of “pay to win”

Score: 7.5 / 10