It was all going so well. Following last year's launch, Planetside 2 has evolved into probably the best free-to-play shooter on the market, offering truly enormous battles and a staggeringly generous economy. Sony Online Entertainment have been scurrying around to optimise the MMOFPS to run on a wider variety of PC specifications while tweaking mechanics and the metagame. A new patch is ready to download, a new continent is in the offing, a PS4 version is slated for next year and the future is bright.
And then SOE president John Smedley went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like, "we believe that Planetside 2 is going to be the massively multiplayer Halo for PlayStation 4."
Oh dear. If we've learned anything over the last decade, it's that comparing games to Halo - or worse, branding them as 'Halo-killers' - is a surefire way to doom them to mediocrity. Haze and the original Killzone were touted as rivals to Bungie's FPS epic. They really weren't. Now that Smedley delivered the classic kiss of death in an interview with IGN, it's all too tempting to suggest that SOE will find some way to screw up the PS4 version.
Except they probably won't. Planetside 2 is magnificent in this writer's opinion, and succeeds because it's a completely different experience to almost any other shooter on the market. It shouldn't be compared to Halo. It is neither better nor worse; the comparison is totally redundant.
Especially because Planetside 2 offers all manner of things that Halo simply can't... because "massively multiplayer" needs to be the operative word.
I adore Halo, but I've lost count of the number of times I've pointed out that Planetside 2 lets us play what Bungie and 343 only show us in cutscenes. Remember that scene in Reach where an enormous convoy of Warthogs and Pelicans storm across a plain in open battle, only to dump you out and force the Master Chief to make the rest of his way on foot? In Planetside 2, you're right there in the midst of an armoured column, riding shotgun as dozens of tanks rain death down upon legions of foes, while fast-moving Harrassers slide around the flanks and squadrons of fighters zoom overhead. Every one of them is a player, either freelancing or working together in squads to push the objective, hundreds of simultaneous combatants locked in total war.
What most games make us watch, Planetside 2 lets us play. For free.
One minute, Carl and I are fighting in a claustrophobic laboratory, pushing back aggressors in a last-ditch defence. The next, we're taking to the skies in a gunship, pouring fire down upon massed enemy formations before leaping onto quad bikes and flanking an enemy formation. I cut down legions of spandex-clad Vanu with a chaingun as Carl heals up our squadmates, freely changing classes to indulge in some much-needed repair work or sneaky shenanigans. There's a role for everyone, and numerous ways to make your mark on the enormous conflict. Lasers sizzle through the night air, rockets roar and rumble, and PhysX support makes it look oh so very beautiful.
The economy is also truly superb. Every class is free. Every vehicle is free. Every faction is free. Every weapon can be earned with in-game currency, while upgrades can't be bought with premium funbucks. Planetside 2 is a game that offers dozens of hours of dynamic sweeping combat without ever needing to pay a penny, yet I've sometimes found myself dropping a few quid here and there on a cool helmet or situational vehicle weapon just to acknowledge the developers' hard work. I'm paying what I want. That, dear reader, is the best business model out there.
And yet, Sony seem to be struggling to market it properly. This is a game that sells itself, that's free to try, yet it was completely absent from all of the PS4 press conferences. When it does break cover, we only hear about it in terms of frankly silly statements like this.
Planetside 2 is not a "massively multiplayer Halo." It's different. It's free. It's sensational. And it's high time Sony Online Entertainment started seriously getting more players onto the servers, and whipped the PS4 user base into a frenzy with a confident, unique message. The focus should be on what makes it such a unique experience, what sets it apart from other games, not specious comparisons in soundbites.
Not that I'll need to splash out on a new console to play it. You can find me on Miller, fighting the good fight for the glorious Terran Republic. Come don the red armour and join me, trooper.
Don't get me wrong, though: I'll be all over Spartan Ops Season 2 if 343 ever gets around to releasing it.