E3 2014: PlanetSide 2 Preview: Free-to-play MMOFPS is fun and console-friendly

PS4 gamers eager for a taste of Sony Online Entertainment’s well-regarded PlanetSide 2, a massively multiplayer shooter, have had to wait quite a while now. The game, more akin to an MMO than a traditional shooter with its thousands of simultaneous players, has been simmering for months after a rumored launch window release, but though we’re well clear of “launch window” by my book, the time appears to have been worth it.

Sony Online Entertainment, purveyors of such PlayStation mainstays as EverQuest and DC Universe Online, has refused to make PlanetSide 2 a port job. From the ground up, its interface and feel have been built to play nice with console players and the comfortable experience of a controller, sitting back from the television. During hands-on time at E3 2014, I noted one major way this manifests. Rather than being relegated to the bottom-right or -left corners, your health and ammo counters appear as radial half-circles to the left and right of your aiming reticle. It’s an elegant way to keep that information front-and-center and keep players focused on the most important part of the screen. Other parts of the translation are still rough. Driving my ATV, in particular, was an exercise in frustration, as a two-stick control scheme that combos looking and steering was far from intuitive.

As one method by which you can traverse PlanetSide 2’s vast world, vehicle control sticks out as the otherwise impressive package’s ripped corner. The planet Auraxis, divided into three “countries” of sorts, is a colorful, vibrant world with diverse landscapes, vegetations, and structure. Within three “countries,” you fight for one of three factions (decided from the outset in character creation) to control as much territory as possible. From my perspective, that means lots of empty space to traverse between pockets of intense firefights–the in-game respawn map makes it easy to find places where the action is hot. A brief stint playing the PC version showed me that merely exploring its canyons and valleys can be a bit dull, though still visually impressive. It’s when you find conflicts to join and throw yourself into the already chaotic mix that you start to feel PlanetSide’s unique blend of tight FPS action and player-driven storytelling.

By my money, the FPS experience of PlanetSide 2–its moment-to-moment feel, response, and sensitivity–is dialed in just right. I always find myself treading water during my first couple hours in a new FPS, feeling out its unique interplay of movement and aiming, and the subtleties of aiming’s rules. In those formative moments, when I more or less decide whether the game will be worthy my time, I learn how much auto-assist is given, by what length I have to “lead” long-range shots, whether constant sprinting or normal running is more useful, and how weighty my character feels. PlanetSide 2 eased my entry and had me confidently competing in mere minutes with a mix of the above-mentioned conditions that feels just right. You have to lead your sniper rifle shots, but only by a smidge. Sprinting is great for covering large, wide-open distances, but less useful in tight quarters; unlike in Call of Duty, coming in and out of sprint in PlanetSide 2 takes long enough to be a death sentence against a competent foe.

The weightiness of movement, meanwhile, is dependent on the class you choose. I started with Light Assault, a somewhat standard infantry soldier with average movement speed and a satisfying assault rifle-plasma pistol combo. The Light Assault’s jump-jet gave me a burst of height and speed upon double jump, but I enjoyed the zippy agility of the Infiltrator more, whose cloaking device made escapes a little easier. My playing partner, PSU associate editor Will Robinson, opted for Heavy Assault at first (allure of a futuristic LMG was too great), but settled in with Light Assault before long. The running theme here is how classes don’t just exist to diversify your role in combat. The Combat Medic and Engineer’s healing and repairing abilities are essential, sure, but your class choice will also depend on what blend of speed, weight, and responsiveness feels just right for your personal FPS preferences.

For its console sensibilities, tailoring to different FPS tastes, and free-to-play nature, PlanetSide 2 feels like the PS4 shooter any PlayStation fan could have a good time with–especially since PlayStation Plus isn’t required to jump in. With that in mind, given SOE’s storied history on PlayStation platforms, there’s little reason to doubt PlanetSide 2 will become as much a mainstay as the developer’s more RPG-centric efforts. If you can’t wait for the game’s imminent beta to find out how fun open warfare in Auraxia can be, get a taste of the action on PC and look forward to a version tailor-made for PS4 later this year.