The trailers and screenshots made PlanetSide 2 looks like my kind of game, a typical sci-fi shooter with a heavy focus on PvP combat. As a fan of Killzone and Destiny I signed up for the beta, ready to delve in to a brave new world of shooting people in the face and at last that beta has arrived in Europe having been available in North America for quite some time. Would this new(ish) offering from Daybreak – formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment – drag me away from Destiny’s Crucible?
After loading it up, the first thing you must do pick a faction and it is here that PlanetSide 2 stumbles for the first time: it is severely lacking in-game documentation and instruction. None of the factions are named but each has it’s own theme; there is Tron-esque faction which has a theme that sounds like Daft Punk doing the Gladiator soundtrack, a Red Bad Guy faction with an imperial style theme, and Space Marine faction with an obligatory rock soundtrack. Then you choose a server and your gender, which does little beyond narrowing your character’s shoulders, pick one of four very ugly faces and, finally, name your character.
It turns out that I had bungled my way into Terran faction and was heading to Koltyr, a training area for new recruits. After a slightly length loading time the screen reveals what looks like, well, a PlayStation 2 game. Koltyr is a huge, mostly textureless map, the character animations are terrible and if there are any lighting of special effects, I didn’t notice them, probably because I was squinting so that I wasn’t blinded by the sub-par visuals. The upside of low polygon count and featureless expanses is that the frame rate zips along and I would guess it was near 60fps in the open areas. That said, some areas on Esamir (one of four maps you can battle one) almost come up to the standards you would expect and the game does look pretty at night when glowing ships streak across the sky.
The first job on Koltyr, which as you may recall is the training area, is left very vague. Again, there are no instructions, no obvious way points and the map seems to be completely empty. PC owners are but a click away from browser page full of documentation and story, but PlayStation 4 owners are going to have to have a second screen handy whilst they acclimatise to the game.
After a little wandering about I found some terminals which allowed me to change class and summon a vehicle. Though trial and error I manage to select a small buggy and start to race across the vast map, before I found myself dead in a matter of seconds through ploughing head first into the first enemy that I come across. They were in a tank.
Rather than wander around the empty training area once again, I decided to head to the battle areas and at last found some team mates to play with. I also located a screen with the controls on, but to be honest it wasn’t much help as the controls are not very intuitive – press R1 and L1 to throw a grenade, for example. I did eventually work out how to place turrets and heal my team mates so that I could be some use in the battle.
As with most games, adding human team mates brings PlanetSide 2 to life and within moments of spawning I was gunning down the enemy from a turret on a dropship which was transporting troops on their way to attack the enemy. Below us, a convoy of tanks and support vehicles raced across the landscape, while the turrets of our base blasted out support fire in support. All that was missing was having “Ride of the Valkyries” thumping out of the speaker, as it did feel like we were one team rolling out to engage the enemy.
Ten or so troops hurriedly disembarked as we landed a little way from an enemy control point, but they were quickly cut down by defensive fire. Thankfully you can then respawn at a support vehicle rather than back at home base – Sunderers are armoured personnel carriers that also serve the dual purpose of portable Infantry Terminals. With such huge maps, it would take over five minutes to run to the action without a vehicle, but tapping triangle for “instant action” drops you into a battle somewhere on the map.
Over the course of a few hours I experimented with various classes which include the usual medic, sniper and assault types. There is also the “Max” variant which places your character in a small mech suit with a chain gun and is all sorts of fun, but you do need to spend credits to unlock the suit.
The vehicles range from annoying and difficult to control tanks, to aircraft that are incredibly easy to crash into a cliff. Again, an informative and engaging tutorial would help to no end, but even then, the pitch controls in the aircraft but they don’t seem to do much and the craft only banked sporadically. Playing as infantry can be frustrating too; there is no health regeneration (unless a medic is nearby) and before a few shots, you are dead. The weapons seems like pop guns compared to the thunderous racket that emits from the weapons of Destiny, and the grenades are similarly feeble. Everything just feels a little weak and underpowered, though that didn’t stop me dying many, many times.
The battles naturally centre around the built up areas of the map which contain the capture nodes, and once captured, it’s your team’s job to defend them from enemy attack and push forward to capture further nodes. However, after three days in the beta, it does seem to me that the battles don’t seem to have much effect. At no point was there an “endgame” situation where a team won and that can be rather demoralising.
Destiny, Killzone and the like have a finite end to PvP, you have a goal to reach, here the maps are so huge and the battles so endless you could play for a week and probably not make much of a difference. What actually happens is that by capturing various buildings and generators, you increase the resources available to your faction, with more resources meaning that you can spawn more vehicles. Yet within the endless churn of warfare, it’s practically imperceptible.
PlanetSide 2 comes alive when you add friends, but that could be said for any situation, game or not, so I wonder if that’s a good enough excuse these days. In terms of graphics, sound and gameplay it really does feel like a PC game from 2012, which may put off PS4 gamers. I am aware this is a beta, but the PC version already looks pretty basic by today’s standards, so I doubt the PS4 version will be much improved as it heads to a final release.
The lack of instructions can severely hamper progress (the PC version has also been criticised for it’s steep learning curve) and navigating the menus is overwhelming, but persevere and find some people to play with and it’s fun for a few hours. However, after playing the game for about eight hours by myself I don’t have any urge to play the game any further, which is a real shame.