By Bucky with special thanks to DarkJester
Planetside (PS) is a much anticipated FPS currently in final stages of Beta testing at the Sony Station. It is not, contrary to what many believe, the first persistent MMOFPS, that distinction belongs to World War 2 Online. The difference between the two games is that WW2OL intends to be an historical simulation, while PS is a no-holds-barred FPS in the style of Tribes.
I'm not going to bore you with the 'background' nonsense, suffice to say that it is a thinly veiled excuse for three similar groups (empires in this case) to be fighting over something. The something in question is a planet made up of several island continents, each of which has a unique look supplied by its fauna and terrain. The three empires are the Terran Republic (The oppressive Imperial types), the New Conglomerate (the polar opposite of TR), and the Vanu Sovereignty (the wierd alien technology guys that everybody else hates). Each group (of course) has distinctive characteristics and weapons. If this breakdown sounds a bit overused to you, then we are in agreement.
As far as the weapons go, they follow the time-honored tradition of rock-paper-scissor: Anti-infantry, anti-armor, and anti-air. Most of the weapons are common to all of the empires, while there are also some empire specific weapons that are characterized by the empire's specialty. The TR weapons lean toward high rate-of-fire weaponry (think mini-gun), the NC like magnetic stuff (Gauss rifle) and the VS are into energy weapons.
There are several vehicles available including wheeled, tracked and flying. They serve a wide variety of purposes: the standard run and gun stuff, mobile respawners, troop transports and of course, massive firepower. There are also the highly prized MAX suits, which (surprise, surprise) comes in anti-infantry, anti-air and anti-armor variants. These suits are very mobile and pack a tremendous offensive punch.
Now you can't just spawn a new character and run out and suit up a MAX. You will have to earn the privilege of using the more powerful weapons and vehicles. Certifications (or certs) are earned through spending Battlefield Experience Points (BEP). BEPs are earned through killing other guys and capturing facilities.
One of the most innovative aspects of the game is the squad structure. Squads are short-term teams formed for the convenience of joining into a single vehicle and gaining experience point bonuses. Capture bonuses to a squad that captures a base can be quite massive. If you really enjoy the company of your squadmates, you can form an outfit, which is a group that has a private chat channel allowing you to get into contact with your buddies, wherever they are. Outifts really open up a myriad of possibilities, because an outfit can consist of multiple squads. High enough ranked outfit commanders can set waypoints on your map, allowing for the potential of coordinated multi-pronged attacks! The chat interface is also structured to allow this to work smoothly.
You will find yourself doing some stuff in PS that has a very high coolness factor in my book. Things like boarding a shuttle, going up into orbit, then dropping in an assault pod on the location of your choice. The best, though, is boarding a Galaxy (aerial troop transport) with a full 10 man squad and making a full assault on a base. The galaxy flies over the base, and your squad bails out over it. If you are lucky, the base is defended, so you end up with a fast and furious fight. Securing the facility requires hacking the command center, to turn it over to you control. The feeling you get after making an air-assault like this, then shooting your way down three levels to hack the command center and standing off waves of counterattacks to get the capture is quite unique, and exhilerating (to say the least!) There are enough variations on the capture rules to write an entire guide about, so I'll just say that there are a lot of possible strategies.
While I'm talking about coolness factor, let me tell you about one of my experiences. I was doing a little cross-country run between bases on a lark, and see movement in the distance as I am coming over a hill. I zoomed in with my scope, and see a full assault unit, including a "popper" (mobile respawner), MAX, troop transport and and air gunship. I was near a tower that had a turret on it, so I dropped below the ridge line (so I am out of sight) and run to the tower and up eight flights of stairs and hop in the turret. Amazingly, these guys didn't even look at the tower and the turret that was tracking them. I had a terrific time shooting them up, and killed the gunship, MAX and a load of infantry. They finally got me when I ran down the stairs to make sure they weren't hacking my tower, and of course they were waiting for me to do that.
Not so Cool Stuff
As the game is still in beta phase, I am not going to complain about imbalances or bugs, which are still being worked out. There is one gripe that I do have, and I hope that they can work out a way around it. The world of Planetside (Auraxis) is a very richly detailed world, yet, you will see very little of it. By far, most of your time will be spent inside of bases, either attacking or defending, leading to the feeling that you are playing Team Fortress.
If you have followed some of my observations in the GamersHell.com forums, you will know that I am very enthusiastic about this game. I have had a blast playing it, and look forward to what the developers, who are a hard-working and friendly crew (you gotta love guys who put a file named uber.ubr in the game), will do with it in the future. I am particularly excited about getting into a good sized outfit to take part in a large scale action. If you get onto Dalton server, give a shout to Geronimo.