Yes, you read that right. The idea that Sony could make a PC shooter that is this good, let alone this groundbreaking in scale, might seem like a sign of the coming apocalypse (which, if you’re reading this, means it obviously isn’t), but Sony Online Entertainment has pulled it off.
PlanetSide2 is really, really good.
The premise to the game’s epically-scaled competitive multiplayer is simple: Earth is long lost to three future factions of humanity, and they now squabble over the resources of a single alien world. Each faction is about as diametrically opposed to the others as you can get, so this war without end is pretty bitter. The Terran Republic is kind of politely facist in a bland futuristic way, the Vanu Sovereignty has enshrined technology as a new God, and the New Conglomerate is basically the Rebel Alliance by any other name – they just want to get along, without worrying about dictators or frothing techno-lovers.
The backstory is interesting, but it’s mere window-dressing to the game’s key strengths – giant, no-holds-barred futuristic warfare at a huge scale.
Free as in... no, actually free
So PlanetSide2 is just the latest of a long line of free-to-play games. If you’re unfamiliar with the way these work, they’re quite literally free to download and play, and you often get a lot of game for your non-buck. The developer makes money from micro-transactions for in-game items, or memberships that deliver more in-game XP or similar. PS2 has these systems, but they don’t seem to over-balance the game at all. In a couple of weeks’ play time we’ve not felt at all out-matched by players aiming to pay-to-win. Rather, dropping money on the game speeds up progression, or unlocks different items faster.
But even dropping nothing has seen us progress – albeit slower than, say, a similar game like Black Ops 2. Otherwise, the unlocking of weapon attachments, new gear, and other items is pretty simple. It also helps that the base game alone, and the loadouts of the base classes, are already well-defined.
There are three continents to fight over, and each is basically made of a hex-map of territories. These are large, and can handle up to 2000 players... we cannot overstate how it feels to log into a firefight, and watch a clash between a dozen tanks, an equal number of aircraft, and hundreds more infantry, and know that it is just one of a half-dozen such fights happening all over the map. Speaking of which, the map is very important, as it shows territory held by each faction, ongoing ‘missions’ (some auto-generated, others generated by PS2’s equivalent of guilds), and other important details.
The map also shows the resources and control points you need to secure, ranging from simple vehicle spawning stations to large, multistory constructions complete with forcefield generators, respawn points, weapon mounts, and more. To control locations like these, teamwork is essential – you’ll need to make sure air, armour, and infantry are all working together to take this larger points of interest.
But even on the most basic infantry-level of conflict there’s a lot to enjoy. The basic classes are pretty simple, but offer just enough futuristic spin to make the game feel right, such as the Infiltrator’s cloaking field, or the Light Infantry’s jetpack. The ballistics are a little loose, but with 2000 players it can be forgiven – the game pushes netcode to the limits! That said, it’s still largely satisfying, and with critical headshots gunplay can be very fast and lethal.
Finally, the game looks good, too. View distances are very impressive, and the mix of weapon types, from explosive tank rounds to the distinctive Vanu beam weapons, make for amazing lightshows when more than a few dozen combatants gather in one spot. At key locations, like the infamous Crown, it’s never boring.
There’s even an Australian server, which is a true dream come true, guaranteeing a good server pop at our peak times. For what you’re paying – or choosing not to, as the case may be – PlanetSide2 is one of the surprise shooters of the year.