Kropotkin On June 4, 2003 at 12:20 pm

Planetside is a brand new type of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game. Instead of the traditional Role Playing Game, Planetside takes on the First Person Shooter side of gaming by abandoning any kind of quest based gameplay in favour of tactical squad based combat against another set of similarly armed people. Many could argue that tactical combat online is hardly new and can be played online without the need to pay a monthly subscription fee. The main difference here is PS has a persistent environment within which a never ending war is being fought. Battles that players participate in have a direct effect on how the war in general is progressing. This is quite unlike any other FPS as they only concern themselves with the number of kills/points/flags/whatever players acquire during any game. The end result of the battle is carries no real weight whereas in PS the conquest of a key base can result in your chosen faction gaining control of an entire continent!

When 3 Tribes Go To War….
Before I head right on into describing the game proper I’d like to delve a little into its background story. The game is set in the far flung future on a planet by the name of Auraxis which was colonised by the Terran Republic. This republic has ruled over human space for over a 1000 years with an iron fist. Soon after the colonisation the wormhole that brought the colony ships to the plant collapsed leaving the colonists stranded, isolated from the government that sent them there in the first place. The colonists discover some ancient technology from a long since dead race who went by the name of the Vanu.

Soon after the collapse the colonists set up 3 main bases on the planet to create a new life for themselves while waiting for the wormhole to reappear. As time passed these 3 bases start to form their own ideas on how to progress. One wishes to remain within the Republic, keeping its values of law and order and unquestioning loyalty to government. They give themselves the title of Terran Republic. Another base has some rather different ideas on how to live. They no longer wished to be ruled under the iron grip of the republic and decided to adopt a more democratic outlook. They have titled themselves the New Conglomerate. The third base embraced the Vanu technology and declared that the human race does not have much of a future unless it learns from the Vanu. Absolute separatists they have titled themselves the Vanu Sovereignty.

Needless to say these opposing views result in a massive conflict between all three sides all hoping to gain complete control over the entire planet. Interestingly all three sides use the respawning technology invented by the long dead Vanu. This results in a never ending war where no one actually dies…

It’s got a bit of everything
This rather hackneyed setting does nonetheless form a good structure for a game that takes a bit of something from a lot of games that have graced many a PC screen as you’ll see from the description below. In summary we have bit of the much acclaimed Battlefield 1942 with it’s classed based combat, vehicle driving and check point based combat system. Then we have a smidgen Command and Conquer that requires teams of units to act with each other to destroy enemy units and take over their installations. Finally there is a dash of EverQuest with its subscription based fee structure and the levelling element which exists within PS also not to mention the ‘group/squad’ and ‘guild/outfit’ system in evidence.

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets and we shall fight on the servers with the lowest pings!

After installing the 3 Gb of data onto you HD and waited 25 minutes for all of the patches to be downloaded (that speed is based on a 512 dsl connection!) you’re presented with a login screen onto the Sony Station online games community and subscription service. This system includes the EverQuest franchise so any EQ players can use that same login to gain access to PS. Sony Station also handles billing for all of their online games and they have launched a special rate for people who have subscriptions for both EQ and PS.

After logging in you are then presented with a list of servers to join. All but one of these servers are based in the US with the odd one being in Europe. Being in the UK I chose this one to reduce lag as much as possible which can be the big killer in this game as I’ll explain later. Once you select the server with the lowest ping you are then presented with a faction selection screen. Its important to note that each faction has its own set of weapons, vehicles and armour. Listed below is each factions strengths and weaknesses:

Terran Republic: Following the rule that ‘more is better’. Their weapons don’t hit as hard as the other two factions but they do have a far higher fire rate. All of their weapons are projectile based.

New Conglomerate: You’ll know when you’ve been hit by an NC weapon as it’ll hurt like hell! Adopting the hard punch approach to weapons the rate of fire is low but has the most impact. Like the TR, NC weapons are projectile based.

Vanu Sovereignty: Speed and stealth is the name of the game with the forces who fight for the VS. Some of their MAX units have the ability to fly and their ground vehicles hover enabling them to travel across water with no hindrance. All of their weapons are energy based.

Once you select what faction you wish to fight for you are then presented with a character creation screen…

Choose your face!
The character selection screen, like EQ, gives you the choice of 8 characters to create. The difference between EQ and PS however starts here also as there are no ‘stats’ attributed to the character. This is a FPS after all, not an RPG!

Once you have created your character you then give him/her a name and a face which can be selected from a large ranges of portraits. Interestingly you rarely see these faces as they are normally covered with a visor of helmet of some sort so it’s a little pointless but its a nice touch none the less. After you have created a character you can then dive into the game proper.

You start off in the area known as the Sanctuary. This is a continent that cannot be entered by enemy forces and is therefore a safe zone. Because of this the Sanctuary is a haven for beleaguered troops where they regroup, recruit players into squads and reinforce themselves with weapons, vehicles and armour.

New players start off with a very poor selection of weapons and armour. Thankfully these can be replaced with far better equipment at the cryptically titled ‘Equipment Terminals’. These terminals let you exchange armour, weapons and ammunition within the limits of your certification. Certification is earned by gaining ‘Battle Ratings’ which is PS’s answer to EQ’s Levels. To gain BR’s you must gain experience which can only be gained out in the field of battle.

Every character starts off with a 4 certification points. These points can be spent to gain the ability to wear certain armour, drive vehicles, provide, fire weapons. Not to mention the ability to give medical assistance and repair armour, vehicles and items in base installations.

Death from above!
I’ve spoken a great deal about the initial set up of the game but haven’t really described the gameplay itself which is really the nub of this review. To do this I’m going to describe to you a snap shot of PS session I had recently. The names mentioned in this description are not the actual ones used by the players I encountered in the game to protect their anonymity.

Starting off in the New Conglomerate Sanctuary I broadcast my availability to join a squad via the text chat window. ‘Broadcast’ is the same as the ‘shout’ command in EQ in that is can be seen by everyone in the same continent/zone. I explained in my broadcast that I was an Engineer with a Battle Rating (BR) of 7 and certification to drive MAX powered armour. After a few minutes I was invited into a squad who was led by Needler. He ordered me to meet the rest of the squad near Way Point 1 (WP1) where a Galaxy Transport ship was waiting.

I made my where there via the transport pods that litter the Sanctuary continent and jumped into the ‘GAL’ as they are known. Soon after we lifted off and I asked for a ‘target’ from Needler. He explained we were heading for a base that went by the name of ‘Bitol’ that had been captured by TR forces. He went on to say we were ‘hot dropping’ onto the base and suggested I mount the gun position on the Enforcer Assault Buggy after dropping. We flew into the warp gate that takes us to the continent where Bitol was being fought over.

Soon after this chit chat one of the players fired up a built in voice comms system. Acting very much like Xbox live voice comms this helped matters greatly as we were able to co-ordinate attacks. Just as it this was set up the command was given for myself and the Enforcer driver to hot drop just outside the Bitol base. As I hit the ground I run over to the enforcer and jump into the gun position, Halo like.

As soon as I did the driver, Sten, drives off towards the base and I proceed to fire off missiles from the rear of the jeep at a variety of units. After a while the rest of the squad has managed to gain entrance to the base Command Console. This console needs to be hacked to change the base’s allegiance from the TR to NC. This can take up to 15 minutes to do during which time none of the facilities in the base can be used. So while everyone is waiting for the hack to complete they are fighting off the defending forces. While this was happening the enforcer I was on had taken heavy damage so I jumped out, repaired it and jumped back on it again. It’s always good to have an engineer on a mounted position of a ground vehicle, just like BF1942!

I’ve got a plan…it’s a little nuts bit it just might work!

As the battle continued the fuel the base was dropping to zero. Without fuel the hack will fail and all that the squad had achieved will be for nought. Needler hatched a risky plan that required a great deal of co-ordination. He ordered myself and the GAL pilot, Tullus, to recall back to the Sanctuary and pick up a Galaxy Transport (the one we arrived in was shot down) and an ANT vehicle to collect fuel from the warp gates so that the base can be resupplied with fuel. It was nuts but I agreed to it as we had little choice.

‘Ah sir….I’m a little scared!’

I recalled the Sanctuary (which you can do at any point during the game, anywhere in the game map) and met up with Tullus who then started to order up a Galaxy ship on the vehicle pad. Meanwhile I called up and ANT and drove it into the cargo bay of the GAL. As I did so Needler yelled into his mic that we only had 3 minutes left before the hack was complete! We took off towards the warp gate and flew at top speed to Bitol.

Tullus then informed me that the base was swarming with enemy aircraft. He decided to stay at high altitude and requested I drop from there down onto the base. I was more than a little anxious about this as we may miss or indeed squad a few of our squad. I voiced these concerns and Needler ordered some members of the squad to clear a landing zone near the refuelling pod. They did so and gave the all clear…with 30 seconds left on the clock I dropped from the GAL and slammed onto the floor of the base, right in front of the refuelling pod! Nice shot Tullus.

I engaged the ANT to supply the base with fuel and the base was secured by the NC force. I promptly received 4000+ experience points for my efforts as did Tullus for his piloting.

Taking Command
There is another type of rating that can be gained only by those that lead a squad. Called ‘Command Rating’ or CR it gives players the ability to lead squads and see how other squads are carrying out attacks on the continent map. By doing this they can co-ordinate their attacks with other squads to provide a rather devastating offence.

As an extension of this PS also has something called ‘Outfits’. Similar to EQ’s Guilds these outfits have their own logo’s showing on their armour and can work as a selection of squads for one common goal. It has been known for entire outfits to take on whole continents, taking out one base after another with the defending forces having little success against the highly co-ordinated attack.

So umm…is it any good?
Planetside is one of the most engrossing games I have ever played. The combination of being able to make a difference in the battle field and the excellent comms system makes for one of the most entertaining games of 2003.

Graphically its not quite up there with the likes of Unreal 2 but it does give BF1492 a run for its money. Sound wise the music in the background changes in tone depending on how the raging battle around you is progressing which is a nice touch. The weapons produce a satisfying sound that makes you feel that you are actually firing a whopping great missile at some poor unfortunate.

The downside to all of this is the cost and the PC you need to run the game. With a 3 Gb install size, 1 Ghz CPU as a minimum and 512 kb memory this game certainly needs a meaty PC to run. The monthly subscription fee is also a bit off putting but the difference between this game and every other FPS is that the same battle rages on even when you’re not online producing a persistent universe.

To sum up then I’d recommend this game to anyone with a passing interest in FPS games not to mention a PC that can play it.


A very compelling game that also happens to be fun!


Very detailed for a MMO game but it’s no Unreal 2


Music changes to match on screen action and weapons fire is very convincing


One of the best games of 2003, check it out…if you can afford the monthly fee

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