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  Reviewed by Erich Becker
July 13, 2003
Sony Online Entertainment
Sony Online Entertainment
Ever since I decided to give up Asheron's Call I had tried to stay away from subscription-based gaming, mainly due to my line of work. One week I could be battling zombies; the next I could be solving puzzles with marbles. Such a rapidly changing catalog of games prohibited me from sitting down with one for the long amount of time required in a subscription-based game.

PlanetSide is my return to a persistent online world, but for those hunting wizardry and massive golem monsters, you are in for a much-needed change. The entire game takes place on a series of continents where three distinct factions are vying for control of the many bases and technology. Each faction views the use of newly discovered alien technology differently: The Terran Republic's leadership caused dissent in the New Conglomerate and the Vanu Sovereignty. From the player creation screen, you choose which faction to align with, your appearance and voice, and then dive right into the world of PlanetSide.

The world itself isn't anything all that spectacular. Moderately high-res textures with a sparsely populated landscape composed of boulders, trees and a few lakes and streams; otherwise you have a very bland, very tame looking world. But it's what happens on this world that makes a difference.

The first thing you notice is PlanetSide plays as though you are a small fraction embedded in a larger equation. Whereas EverQuest, Asheron's Call and the number of clones on the market preoccupy you with raising your level and bettering your character, PlanetSide shows you that you are nothing but a small being in a much larger conflict. From the moment I logged on for the first time, I got the sense of brotherhood emanating from compatriots. One particular instance had me in a squad of nine other individuals. We transported to a base, re-secured it, held it for nearly 30 minutes, mined and booby trapped it, and then proceeded to a nearby location to join the frontlines. To describe it is to take our actions out of context but the teamwork everyone displayed was something I have yet to see in the harsh "l33t" climate you find in many non-subscription-based games such as Unreal Tournament 2003 or Quake III Arena.

The game itself gives you two different ways to join a bigger group. A squad is a group of 10 players, only for as long as you are logged on, that strives towards a certain goal. This relates to something bigger in an Outfit, which is like a much bigger part of the total army and works similar to the system instituted in the original Asheron's Call where you pledge allegiance to someone and the XP you receive flows upwards. This is where the sense of leadership some players emote comes into play as they organize squads within an outfit and acquire leadership points, and in return become better leaders.

Through the course of the game, you will be awarded certification when you raise your battle rank (equivalent to leveling up), which you can then use to open up new forms of armor, new vehicles to drive and new weapons to use. Unlike most RPGs where you travel to an NPC's (non-player character) store and buy items, PlanetSide uses terminals that you are able to use once you are reanimated. You then head up to the surface and jump in a vehicle, or board a massive Galaxy vessel and proceed to the warp gate and join the battle. The vehicles in PlanetSide range from small ATV-like rovers with a forward mounted gun to the aforementioned Galaxy, which can transport entire squads into battle with cargo space and manned machine guns on each side. Most of these vehicles have room for multiple occupants so one player drives while the others man the guns, further expanding on the teamwork aspect of the game.

Through a system of warp gates, you are able to jump around from continent to continent and expand your sphere of influence. Once you have captured all the bases on a certain continent, it falls under your rule and the map changes the landmass' color to represent that fact. The daily winning faction is displayed on PlanetSide's homepage, showing the percentage of influence your army has conquered.

PlanetSide suffers from some of the same problems as other online games. Graphical glitches and lag are the two biggest offenders. While playing you will see people clipping through walls, vehicles, trees or anything in the surrounding environment. Some of this could be caused by lag, but if you are on a decent cable connection you should never experience anything too bad. Several times while playing I was simply dropped from the game with no apparent reason or no notable explanation. I simply was thrown back to the lobby screen and wasn't able to join the world again for some odd reason.

Vehicle controls are also a bit wonky until you get the hang of it. The faster, smaller vehicles will have you all over the place; the optional third-person view does help out when driving vehicles, but is almost useless on foot.

While lag could plague you from time to time, the biggest problem you will run into is the nature of the game at such an early stage. The world is sparsely populated with players at the moment. Those dreaming of an epic struggle where a war rages on all continents all the time will be very disappointed. There will be times where you wander around complexes completely abandoned, and others when you will be able to find battle all over the world. Combine this with the sometimes long downtime in-between logging on and actually fighting, and you could find yourself reaching for a Game Boy while everyone else gets their act together.

The game obviously tries really hard to bring new life to both the first-person shooter and the massively multiplayer genre, which both have become very stale with the constant release of clones and remakes of old ideas. PlanetSide struggles in some parts to find its footing, mostly in stability, but does offer a rewarding online experience when you are able to sit down and enjoy it. Be prepared to spend upwards of half and hour to an hour looking, joining, and getting in gear with your squad but once all of the preliminary setup is completed and you find yourself in the heat of battle you like what get. Is purchasing a game for $50 and paying a monthly fee worth all those burgers you are flipping? Maybe. While the game offers a certain addiction that makes you want to keep playing again and again, the constant downtime due to a relatively new world could turn off some players and force them to return to games which can be played for free.

The good thing about an online-based game is that they are always changing with new features being added, problems being patched and player-inspired issues being addressed. Once the game is allowed to incubate and more and more players discover the high points, the lows will definitely be outweighed and PlanetSide will have evolved the formula solidified by Tribes 2 more than two years ago. You can't go wrong with the 30-day free trial if you are willing to lay down $50 for the game, but those looking for a cheaper alternative may want to stick with Unreal Tournament or Quake.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Windows® 98/2000/ME/XP; Pentium® III 1.0 GHz or greater; 256 MB RAM; Direct3D compliant video card with 32MB RAM; DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card; 56k + Internet connection; 4X speed CD-ROM; 3.25 GB hard drive space; DirectX 8.1 or greater.


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