Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Games: Planetside 2 and the Dangers of Nostalgia

I was really excited when Sony Online Entertainment announced they were making Planetside 2. I was even more excited when it because clear it was going to be a free-to-play game. And then I got a Beta Key, and it was even more exciting! 

And then I got to play, and it was like being slapped with my own broken Nostalgia Filters. 

Here's the thing - I loved Planetside. For those of you who didn't play it, PS was a persistent world shooter with three factions fighting over a series of continents populated with bases that you captured to get access to vehicles and so on. There was no computer controlled "mobs", no quests, nothing but endless battles involving infantry, power armour (MAX Suits), tanks and aircraft. It was a daunting game to learn and understand but at it's best it was - and still is - a unique gaming experience. The online shooter genre really went the way of the Battlefields of this world; simpler, session and objective based games, faster paced and smaller scale, and Planetside struggled with falling populations and some badly implemented expansions and additions. 

But the thing was, it was a great game. Each faction had different faction-specific weapons and vehicles, which was a balancing nightmare, and on the battlefield itself specific counters were needed to specific threats, so combined arms, not lone-wolf glory, was needed for victory. And for me personally, it had the great boon that I could contribute to my team, despite not actually being that great at it, because the utility of support roles like medics and engineers meant that tactics made a huge difference. 

But I've bounced off Planetside 2

At first I thought it was just me hitting the learning curve like any newbie. As a beta, it's terribly light on documentation and there are no training sections even though one is promised for launch. Loadouts are now preset, which is a big improvement, as is the ability to get into a squad and a fight. But after playing a few sessions now; some on my own, some with other Planetside vets, I think there are more underlying problems with it. 

Firstly, lets talk about target recognition. One of the key things on any game is recognizing threats in order to be able to respond to them, and PS2 has gone for a more "realistic" camouflaged look for their infantry, which makes them much harder to pick up against the more detailed background. Friendly targets tend to have a HUD marker above them, so you need to learn to first pick out the figure, and then shoot at "unmarked" targets, which is hard to train the eyes to do. Also, the Time-To-Kill (TTK) of the most of the weapons is pretty quick, so essentially who spots who first wins. It can be pretty be pretty brutal and unforgiving. 

Secondly, there seems to be a huge lack of utility in the support roles. You can't be a decent engineer or medic "out of the box", so you need some time to improve your cert points to buy decent stuff to make you useful. Early on, the higher TTK also means most people are either unhurt or dead, so sitting around waiting to find people with damaged armour is a fruitless endevour, at least in my experience. 

Both of these are, in some respect, not them, but me. I am not a twitch gamer, and never have been, and what feels like a move to a more Call of Duty/Battlefield/etc gameplay style was always going to leave me behind. In many ways, sitting in a Warp Gate watching tanks and transport planes roll out into battle, it feels massively like Planetside reborn, like that game I loved and never saw replicated, but underneath that it feels like something very different. I wish it well, but it's not for me.