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Planetside Review
game: Planetside
four star
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Aug 10th, 2003
last revision: 07:44 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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PlanetSide greeted me with one of the best musical scores I\'ve ever heard in a game, and in an instant I knew it was something unique. From the sound, to the graphics, to the atmosphere, I knew that Planetside was something special. This was it. This game ? this ingenious, beautiful game ? was going to be my first five star rating. Nearly four years of drawing lines between good and bad, and this would be the first time I was going to hard out a best of the best rating. I could feel it. I could feel it during the start of the tutorial; I could feel it as I took control of my first airborne vehicle. I could feel it as I swooped across the game\'s massive universe in search of combat, a rich battle lust in my veins that reminded me of Halo. This game was meant for me, this was my destiny. I called my friends, and to the weird ones who seem to enjoy watching me play games instead of playing them personally, I said, \"Come over quick. I\'ve got my first five star review.\" To those who might have grown bored watching me play and wanted to play themselves, I said, \"There\'s been a gas leak at my house,\" and \"Don\'t call me. I\'ll call you.\"

Then I found combat, and my system hiccupped. There was a momentary flash of red as I spotted an enemy, there was gunfire from both my own teammates and the opposing forces, and then there was a long pause. As soon as I encountered enemies, the connection lagged. After a ten second stretch of watching the motionless screen, vainly shaking my mouse in hopes of extracting some sign of life, it informed me that I was dead, and, due to the frequency of my deaths, would take five seconds longer than before to return to life (If I get to heaven and God says, \"That\'s five deaths in 200 years, Aaron. Twenty year penalty for you,\" I\'ll think of this game).

PlanetSide is a brilliantly designed game, with strong environmental elements, a gigantic universe, excellent team combat, and one of the most versatile weapons and vehicle use systems I\'ve ever seen in a game ? yet you\'ll notice that this is not a five star review. In the core of its design, PlanetSide carries itself with a sense of majesty, plays with grace, and is one of the best massively multiplayer experiences around, but it is not a perfect game. Unfortunately, some of the best moments are hindered by lag time between players, drawn out moments where the system tries to keep up with the action, and at times, instant deaths after those moments without ever even having a chance to see an enemy.

Once into the game, it quickly becomes evident that the story is virtually irrelevant. Three sides battle it out in what amounts to a massive and never ending game of Capture the Flag. Soldiers spend their time island hoping from one location to another, banning together with those of similar political colors, and marching, flying, or driving off to assault one base after another. For all its complexity, Planetside is a fast paced game with fortunes that turn to and fro in a blazingly rapid tempo. It\'s not uncommon to succeed in overrunning an enemy outpost only to discover that the base you came from, the one you sacked not thirty minutes before, has been lost to an opposing army. The speed lends itself to a constantly changing landscape. Signing on in the morning to discover that the island you spent all night capturing is now in the complete control of someone else can be downright depressing. Luckily, it\'s the recapturing of those islands that\'s most of the fun.

At your disposal during combat are a variety of weapons and vehicles ? aircraft, cars, tanks ? all of them make an appearance. From the little one man four-wheelers to the massive airborne troop transports, each and every one can be learned, purchased, and manned by the players. Using a skill system that allows you to learn and unlearn abilities, such as your pilot\'s license, Planetside resists the temptation of keeping the fun toys out of the newcomer\'s hands. Instead, if one so desires, you can be in the air or carrying some rather hefty weaponry within minutes of starting the game. As you gain experience, you are able to learn to use even more advanced weaponry, special skills, and better armor. After learning the basic controls, the feeling you have as you take to the battlefield for the first time is nothing short of epic. It is magnificently done.

Sadly, technical limitations serve as the weak spot in the heel. It took three installations on three separate computers before I had a single fully functional program. On one, the system consistently locked up fifteen minutes into the game. On the second, the tutorial wouldn\'t complete ? how many times can a man learn to drive a vehicle before the computer allows him to move on? Whatever automatic switches were supposed to turn over when they detected I had completed one section of the tutorial, thus moving me on to the next, simply dropped the ball. Therefore, having to bypass the truly excellent tutorial, I was thrust into a world beyond my understanding. I was subsequently crushed like a bug.

Of the technical issues, though, the most significant is one that isn\'t really an error, and which unfortunately every player will have to deal with at one point or another. It\'s lag time. Unlike many other massively multiplayer games on the market, combat is not made up of a point system, turning the details of who lives and dies over to the computer to be calculated out like my taxes. Being a first person shooter, life and death, who kills who, is derived from skill. Did I shoot you before you shot me, and is my gun bigger than yours is? Because your success is determined by how well you can aim, lag significantly hinders any operation in the game. How can you be expected to combat efficiently when each small motion of your mouse moves you a foot to the left and takes three seconds to do so?

Part of the great disappointment is that the problem is nonexistent most of the time. When you first step out the door into your team\'s sanctuary, you are greeted with a smooth and beautiful world. Get into your aircraft and you\'ll be able to soar the skies without a glitch; but as soon as you encounter enemies in great numbers, expect your system to hang miserably. First you\'ll be hit by a bullet, and you\'ll turn to see where it\'s coming from. Your screen will pause, then jump to try to keep up, you\'ll overshoot, try to correct, and ultimately find yourself putting holes in your feet. Since lag is the result of information getting lost between computers, and since more information tends to get lost when there is a great deal of it, lag tends to strike when there are numerous players in your vicinity; exactly the time when you can\'t afford to be searching for toe jam. Often you\'ll be dead without ever seeing, or having a chance to see, your enemy.

Point and case. I had just acquired a Mosquito (an air unit) and spent several minutes finding a good battle. My team and another were facing off over a water channel, with the bridge being the focus of combat. We were making progress, but were taking heavy casualties; the bodies of the dead and destroyed scattered the bridge from one end to the other. Bullets were flying from both shores. From above, I could see that the enemy held a ridge overlooking the bridge, and were using it to rain chaos on our approaching troops. What we needed was someone to blanket the enemy position, to clear out the entrenched with a hail of bullets. I was in the perfect position for the job. As I approached, my aircraft was peppered with ammunition. Red lights appeared on my dashboard. I turned my cannons on a nearby enemy, lining up my guns and accelerating for a pass-by. But no, my system lagged. My controls were disabled, I could no longer pull up, let alone adequately aim. The best I could do was pick a crash site and try to take out an enemy as I came down. I have no idea if I landed on the little trooper I was aiming for; it was far to hard to see moving in leaps and bounds every three seconds. However, I did earn my next battle rank during the crash, and so I assume he\'s jelly by now.

Lag was a significant problem on every system I tried, and my office is wired with both a commercial grade wireless broadband connection, and two separate wired DSL connections. Encountering problems on a system far above recommended specs, I can only imagine what the average 56k user can look forward to.

Though like most massively multiplayer games Planetside requires a bit of time to truly get used to, its design and execution are impeccable. If not for technical issues, Planetside truly would have been a five star product, but since those technical difficulties affect the very fundamental aspects of what makes Planetside fun, it\'s difficult to overlook. We can only hope that subsequent patches help smooth over what currently brings down a masterpiece. So while the game itself offers a grandiose feel, and extraordinary potential, we\'re still waiting for the perfect game.