Writing Archive #1 – Planetside
‘Going Planetside’ – an extended look at the online shooter for PC Gamer UK. Originally published August 2004
â€œWeâ€™ve seen things you wouldnâ€™t believe. We chased dropships across ice-worlds and fought a sci-fi siege in the depths of an alien dust-storm. Weâ€™ve bailed a jeep out of a dropship from three hundred metres up. Weâ€™ve seen attack ships on fireâ€¦â€ Nevermind the poetry â€“ this is more like opera anyway, filled with vast scenes of conflict and fat men singing, well shooting anyway. Planetside is a huge, bewildering phenomenon and right at the heart of it are thousands of players, each one with a hundred thousand war stories to tell. For this transmission from the depths of cyberspace we join our intrepid combat reporters on the brink of an assault into the continent of Amerish, a â€˜homeâ€™ continent of our very own Empire. For the Vanu Sovereignty, the mighty Empire the journalist corp serve, it is a matter of honour to hold on to these continents. The three islands are the places from which we can strike out and make headway into capturing the enemy continents, but today it is lost â€“ the enemy overran it and now the capitol base must be reclaimed at all costs. In this perpetual war there is never a moment of rest, but for this eveningâ€™s struggle we have a finite goal: we get in, hit the enemy defences hard, and get back that nice purple colour, all over the world mapâ€¦
While we wait for the rest of the team to log on weâ€™re already heading up towards the vast glowing dome of the warpgate (an efficient means of transporting vehicles across continents) in our faithful Deliverer. This light APC is heavily armed with two turret-mounted machineguns. A solid piece of kit. On board is the core of our crack team, led by ‘Swiss’, our experienced commander. We have an infiltrator, wearing his stealth suit and armed with jamming grenades and a powerful pistol; we have our medic, who has now gained enough experience to pack some heavy weaponry, and we have the pilot, who is also a capable engineer. Everyone is nervous, slightly excited. Itâ€™s been a while since we played together and the tension is palpable.
On the other side of the gate Swiss chats with a local commander, who is one of the most experienced players in the game. Heâ€™s going to helping to direct the assault, using his command tools to gain a clear picture of how the overall attack is going, and helping to co-ordinate the various squads. Our own squad makes their first target a small tower â€“ a spawn point that is currently captured by the enemy. As we roll out the gateâ€™s defensive shield we see that the combat has already begun and, more importantly, back at base our air support has arrived and are spawning their vehicles. Chatting merrily, Swiss lays out some waypoints, the visual markers that will help the team to navigate to their objectives. He also writes â€˜Kieron smells of weeâ€™ on the in-game map for everyone in the squad to see. Why? Well because itâ€™s funny. And itâ€™s funny because itâ€™s true.
Trading friendly insults, we skirt along a road, seeing a few friendly troops engage some far off vehicles. But thatâ€™s not our goal â€“ weâ€™re interested only in taking that tower. Our action will push back the enemy lines and allow our forces to engage in a pincer movement on the enemy positions. The map indicates a heavy storm is sweeping in from the west, which should make things a little more interesting.
The first taste of combat comes from our gunners, who spot some enemies skirting through the woods. Our big guns open up, noisily hurling bullets into the trees. The rogue infantry return fire with light arms and we run them down. Another supporting trooper hits us several times with a guided missiles, before he too is killed. The damage to the APC has to be repaired, and we stop while our engineer patches it up. But heâ€™s in trouble â€“ an enemy infiltrator, hidden by his Predator-style invisibility armour, kills the engineer and driver and immediately our team is strandedâ€¦
Leaping out of the APC, our own infiltrator uses his ‘darklight’ implant to track down and kill the enemy assassin. The team must now make their way on foot to the tower, while our engineer will respawn at a mobile base, set up by an allied squad, and make his way to the rendezvous.
But things take an turn for the worse â€“ an enemy Reaver, the heaviest of the attack aircraft, has spotted our lone team and, seeing them as easy targets, begins to attack. We make for the shelter of the nearby woodland, taking a few injuries as the reaver finishes off the APC. Once undercover we patch up, watching the Reaver circle and trying not to give away our position, itâ€™s only a matter of time beforeâ€¦ heâ€™s taken down by our own Air Cav. The boys come thundering over the hilltops and lock onto the enemy pilot. He tries to use his afterburner to escape, but is quickly tracked and destroyed. The pilot bails out and our own Reaver pilots ruthlessly gun him down.
Finally weâ€™re onto the tower. A second squad is already trying to get inside, but theyâ€™re meeting some resistance. Theyâ€™ve set up a mobile base outside, allowing us to respawn and rearm as we die, and ensuring that this will be a protracted fight for the tower. â€˜Ainâ€™t got time to bleedâ€™, quips Kieron. â€˜Itâ€™s do or die boy,â€™ says Tim. â€˜Saddle up!â€™ The enemy defend ferociously â€“ shotguns and plasma grenades felling the steady stream of attackers until eventually some MAX units arrive. These heavily armed suits of robot armour act as walking tanks, pushing the enemy back with endless streams of laserfire. Engineers and medics back them up, patching up the injured and laying down suppressing fire. We spot PC Formatâ€™s Adam Oxford on the opposing team and have a bit of a chat with him before his squad gives up and is whisked away to another continent.
Soon the enemy at the tower are neutralised, trapped and killed in their spawn tubes as a friendly hacker switches the control console to align with our Empire. On the map and the global chat we see that our other forces are making headway â€“ the first two main bases are under hack, and theyâ€™ll soon belong to us. The commanders, whose skills mean they have a large array of tactical tools at their disposal, see that the enemy are massing at the next base on the lattice. They are being reinforced and will likely make a stand.
We decide to fall back, pulling out of the chaos of the siege to collect a second set of vehicles. This time weâ€™re going to break up the squad a little to let people use their own vehicle skills. One of the pilots will take to the air to dogfight in the fast recon hovercraft, the Mosquito. The Reavers are long since dead and because our force is yet to capture a technology centre base, there are no â€˜advancedâ€™ vehicles to be had on this continent, and that includes the Reavers. Each of the bases provides an advantage the Empire that captures it â€“ the very next base should open up that very set of options.
So the team is divided between two of the one-man Lightning tanks and a Harasser, the aptly named light attack buggy. â€˜Weâ€™re with the Press corp,â€™ we tell a bewildered beginner. â€˜Weâ€™re covering the whole event for the papers. Donâ€™t worry, weâ€™re experts at this kind of thing.â€™ Then, armed to the teeth, we tear crazily out the base, accidentally running over a friendly on the way out. â€˜Sorry about that!â€™
The next quarter of an hour of combat is spent harrying the enemy lines, hunting for their mobile bases, working as unit to knock out incoming enemy vehicles and ruthlessly running down lone enemy soldiers. We spot a whole group of them come down in drop-pods, killing them as they land and, hopefully, disrupting whatever plan their dastardly squad leader was hatching. But soon the pendulum of battle swings back into the hands of the enemy. The concentration of force on this base has left another of our bases on the grid wide open and a couple of squads of enemy soldiers has made their move, hacking the adjoining base. The hack has spawned an LLU, one of many facets of the game dynamic that has been added in since its release. If the hacking team is able to take this glowing object to the correct terminal in a nearby base then the hack will be completed. Likewise if we stop it then the hack will fail. The various commanders bark their orders on the global command channel, directing air power to try and intercept the LLU, which will likely be transported in a vehicle to the target base. Knowing that air power will only be of limited use, we decide to move into intercept. Swiss drops some waypoints, making sure that weâ€™ll move in to the flashing LLU marker on the map from different sides. Time is ticking and the LLU is on the move.
Our enemies arenâ€™t stupid â€“ theyâ€™ve got reavers to engage our limited air power and the LLU is being transported in a heavy tank. We spot them through a gap in the trees. Our Harrasser goes hurtling over the hilltop, plunging down in the enemy in a hail of bullets. It takes a direct hit and skids away into the trees. The driver manages to bail out, but the gunner is killed as a second shell comes howling in. The Lightning tanks engage, but theyâ€™re no match for the heavier battletanks. The first puts up a valiant fight, the second pulling our, heavily damaged, for repair.
Beaten, weâ€™re soon on foot in torrential rain. And the mobile spawn pointâ€™s position has been compromised. To our horror, MAX units close in from all sides, guns blazing. We retreat, hurling the electro-bolts of the Lasher heavy assault rifle into their ranks. But itâ€™s not enough. Our men go down, one after the next. Swiss is at a loss for wordsâ€¦ we were so close. The LLU is lost, and so is the base.
â€˜What are we gonna do boss?â€™
â€˜Run away! Game over, man…â€™
We spawn back at the single captured base in time to hear more bad news: the ANT fuel truck that was to refuel our single remaining base was shot down on board the Galaxy-class dropship it was hitching a lift with. If the power runs out, the so do our guns and vehicles. Who else is running an ANT? One lone soldier, a commander whoâ€™s just joined the game. Heâ€™s out on his own. Can we get to him? We invite him to the squad.
We punch through the enemy lines at pace. A selection of vehicles heads out to meet the ANT, tanks, buggies, APCs. Thereâ€™s a dropship on its way from HQ, but thereâ€™s not telling if heâ€™ll make it in time. If the ANT doesnâ€™t make it to the base within the next few minutes then weâ€™ve had it. We arrive at the warpgate to find the ANT waiting inside the protective safe zone. A small group of enemies are there too â€“ a couple of attack buggies waiting for the ANT to make its run for the base. We engage them at close range, guns blazing, and the ANT trundles on its way. What follows is a running battle, we fight off aircraft attacks, infantry and a second wave of vehicles. We die one by one, our vehicles exploding and plunging over cliffs. One by one weâ€™re sent back to base, our hearts in our mouths. And through all of it the ANT travels slowly onwards, taking shots, getting weaker… Unable to do anything else, we watch the last few moments on the map. Can he really make it? Suddenly his map marker is moving fast â€“ the Galaxy has arrived. Under heavy fire, the heroic dropship pilot has picked up our truck! We run out of the base to see it roar overhead, the ANT ejecting from the back. We run to activate the refuelling array. With seconds to spare the base is refuelled and we live to fight another battle. Praise be to the Gods of gaming.
And the local commander, who seems to have missed the point about drama, congratulates us in his normal surly way. â€˜Well,â€™ he says. â€˜Itâ€™s about bloody time.â€™
Jim Rossignol 2004