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E3 2012: Crashing and burning in PlanetSide 2

Jef Reahard

I used to think of myself as an OK pilot. Then I slid into the cockpit of a Terran Republic Mosquito at E3 yesterday and learned just how inapplicable real-world skill is in PlanetSide 2. In my defense, Sony Online Entertainment's demo stations suffered from a severe lack of joysticks, and the controls were also mapped to that goofy up-is-up and down-is-down standard that's, well, standard on every shooter ever made.

This is completely unnatural to my way of thinking, and so I'm going to blame it for the fact that my Mosquito lumbered around the skies of Auraxis like a drunken elephant, listing hard to starboard and eventually porpoising down for the ugliest landing in the history of ugly landings.

But hey, any one you walk away from's a good one, right?

E3 2012 Crashing and burning in PlanetSide 2
I did, in fact, walk away from it, and it's a good thing too because some New Conglomerate gunship pilot happened by just long enough to turn my poor bird into glowing metal shrapnel (after a deeply satisfying explosion, of course).

I ran for cover courtesy of some nearby rocks, then looked around for the nearest capture objective flashing on my HUD. Sprinting got me there in short order, and I had just enough time to fire off a few rounds before taking one in the teeth from an unseen assailant.

Frenetic? Yeah. Fun? Oh yeah.

Prior to my aerial embarrassment, I sat down with SOE producer Josh Hackney for a run-down on what's changed with PlanetSide 2 since its GDC unveiling. In a nutshell, the answer to that question is not a lot, at least to my untrained eye. And that's a compliment too because the game already looked like a million bucks last March. I didn't actually get to play it then, though, and yesterday's hands-on was definitely the highlight of E3 thus far.

We went through some of the game's early selection screens, and Hackney offered up some commentary on the store items (basically sidegrades) vs. what you'll obtain via gameplay. SOE's big thing is to "absolutely avoid pay-to-win" if I'm judging by the number of times I heard that repeated around the demo stations.

E3 2012 Crashing and burning in PlanetSide 2
Hackney also showed off the game's customization elements. We slapped some camo (and some zebra stripes) on my Mosquito, and there were a ton of checkboxes for things like window tint, decals, and various paint schemes. These options extend to the rest of game's vehicles as well as infantry avatars, so those of you wondering about the option to make your soldier and his equipment unique can rest easy.

PS2 is much tighter than the original PlanetSide, and by tighter I mean there are fewer vehicles. SOE has also scrapped the labyrinthine certification system from the original for a class-based approach (albeit one that features plenty of earnable certifications under the hood). It's a concession to modern, accessibility-driven game design, and it's one that may stick in the craws of hardcore PlanetSide fans.

I suspect that all will be forgiven, though, once they take their first steps onto a remade Auraxis. It's fine to watch gameplay clips on YouTube, and it's great to watch a live monitor or stand behind someone while she plays. It's another thing entirely to actually immerse yourself in the game, and even though I had to stand up, and even though the demo stations were situated in a hurricane of noise, jostling bodies, and bothersome distractions, I actually felt as if I was fighting for the Terran Republic there for a brief time.

That ability to transport the player -- that ill-defined but all-important immersion -- is something that PlanetSide 2 has in spades. Yeah, it's early. And yeah, maybe part of my enjoyment comes from seeing a fantastic old game given a sparkly new coat of AAA paint, but at the end of the day, PlanetSide 2 is also shaping up to be a rock-solid game in its own right.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!

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