Thursday, December 27, 2012

Planetside 2

SOE is a very rich company. While this is good in theory because it ensures the initial server support which a virtual world badly needs, extensive in-house testing and the ad-campaign to draw players in, it also ensures a paralyzing fear of innovation and experimentation. The more established a creator is, as a general rule in human affairs, the less creative it is, be it individual or committee. PS2 was obviously created by some very, very established people. Even if it were a good game, it would become worthless eventually because of its legitimized cheating, each new weapon and vehicle meant to be purchased with real-world money, but it won't even get to that stage because it has nothing to offer.

The first Planetside is memorable as the MMOFPS game and one of the few reasonably persistent worlds ever created. PS2's creators seem to have forgotten however that in itself, this made Planetside innovative. It was the first, it was the largest. It blended various elements of existing FPS games and made liberal use of others, like multi-occupant vehicles, which even smaller games were afraid to implement. It did all this in gigantic battle lines shifting slowly across the face of continents, allowing players to help their faction grow or defend its shrinking territory through offensives which could last whole days.

While PS1 had many, many problems, most of them stemming from the outsourced expansion pack and PS2 addressed many of them, it overcompensates and oversimplifies the gameplay. Everything from the cluttered scenery and large damage-to-health ratios which reward twitch-reflexes over planning to the lack of focus on faction advancement reek of catering to the idiotic instant gratification culture.

Take base captures, for instance, which have been one of the worst issues with both iterations of the game. In PS1, players had to wait at a base for up to 15 minutes in order to get credit for capturing it. This amounted to a great deal of boredom. Bases were also linked together in a 'lattice' so that players followed a fairly predictable route from one base to the next, usually having two or three choices as to how to proceed, with smaller objectives along the way. Another criticism was that base design included many long corridors which created long stand-offs, and this supposedly didn't sit well with the instant-gratification culture. Not when they're also too cowardly (in a virtual environment, really?) to suicide-charge a reinforced position.
PS2 removed all AI-controlled base defenses, removed auto-targeting player turrets and uses base designs with easily scalable walls and many small buildings with large numbers of entrances. Even a ten-foot by ten-foot cube will always have two, and bases are littered with cubes. This makes defense much more difficult, which wouldn't be a horrible idea in itself. It is a big issue when combined with the fact that bases can be made vulnerable by having adjancency to any enemy territory, and the map layout ensures that every base links to several others. It is an even bigger issue when combined with the much shorter capture timers, usually only a couple of minutes long.
The entire base layout and capture system creates a strong incentive for players to simply attack undefended bases and not even bother defending what they have. There is always something to attack, it's easy, it's fast, and it's guaranteed experience. There is no cooldown timer after a base has been captured so you're free to just keep re-capturing instead of moving forward. The main bulk of players on all three factions, instead of fighting, simply circle each other constantly re-capturing the same bases. The glorious, crawling sweep across the face of the world has been replaced with a toilet-bowl swirl of players getting rewarded for taking the easy way out.

Moving on. Let's talk guns. Let's talk vehicles. Let's talk about what you can actually do as a player. How many ways can you shoot and move? PS2 is painfully uncreative. Of all the main weapons a player can have as any of the infantry classes, dozens of them, there is exactly one that isn't just a shotgun or rifle. The differences between them are so minute as to make them almost indistinguishable. Even the fancy-shootin' staples of FPS games are conspicuously missing. There are rocket launchers, but that's about it. No flamethrowers, no lasers, no grenade launchers, no rail guns, no actively-guided projectiles, no disabling (meaning, no flashbangs or EMP) and almost no speed modifiers. Many of these are actually steps down in complexity from PS1.
It's the same story with the vehicles. Each and every vehicle is basically just a tank or a plane. There's no more Router, one of the best base-assault gimmicks (it could teleport infantry past the enemy lines) PS1 created, no more Lodestar ferrying crucial vehicles through the air, no more giant mechs with jump jets. Even if there were more than one hovertank now, there would be little point to them since all three continents of PS2 so far have no water whatsoever. Nothing bigger than a kiddie wading pool. There isn't even any real artillery or carpet-bombing, no interdiction or siege-breaking.

The whole feel of the game seems to have been re-focused on emulating today's military. It's great for all the NRA nuts who want to shout the army chatter they've heard in the movies while shooting rifles and riding around in tanks, for the macho cretins who think it's all supposed to be one glorious victory after another, capturing uncontested bases. It's not so great if you've got the three IQ points necessary to realize it's all been done before.

Planetside 2 is simply dull. It doesn't matter what weapon you choose. It doesn't matter where you go. It doesn't matter if you capture something, since it'll be recaptured five minutes later. It's all just a petty scramble for personal gain. You roll into a base along with fifty other players and scramble to get an 'assist' on one of the half-dozen defenders then sit there for two minutes all so you can get some points to buy yourself a new gun which turns out to be the same one you have but with a slightly better rate of fire. Even a match of Team Fortress 2 has more depth.

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