I wouldn't mind being a war photographer in PlanetSide 2. When about a hundred players are fighting over an outpost--as the game was shown to me at E3--PS2 becomes a glittering spectacle of what the PC is capable of: skill-driven first-person shooting that drives a never ending war between thousands of players over miles-wide continents, but has the visual fidelity and attention to detail of a big-budget multiplayer FPS.
Not quite yet in beta, it's better-looking than Battlefield 3. Light aircraft leave vapor trails when they make hard turns; transport craft like the Liberator splinter into charred wreckage, a smoke-blemish lingers far in the sky for a few seconds when they die. Dynamic light crawls across mesas and valleys, and the sun will overwhelm you with glare if you look into it, making attacking with the sun at your back a viable tactic for infantry and air forces. PlanetSide 2 shouldn't look this good for the scale it's designed for. But then again, it's one of the only PC-exclusive multiplayer FPSes in years to have a handcrafted engine.
In one of my first spawns, I spot a Liberator gunship idling on an air vehicle pad and tap E to hop in. I'm in the tail gunner seat. We lift, and I've got about a 120-degree field of rotation on my cannon. My pilot sputters toward the outer ring of the outpost, I spot some Terran tanks below--their silhouette is much larger from the air. I lean into Mouse 1 and let the cannon loose. I really have to lead these shots--across the X and Y axes--to get them to connect. My pilot gives me a steady flight path, and I toast one tank and injure another. But our careful cannon run has left us vulnerable. My first-person view is flashing with red indicators of imminent death.
PS2's Senior Art Director, Tramell Isaac is hovering over my shoulder. I ask him: “So, if I jump out, will I have a parachute?” I've already lept from the Liberator at this point, dumbly. I'm just hoping for an answer I'll like. “Nope,” he says grimly. Ejection seats will be an upgrade option on air transports, but this Liberator doesn't have it.
I stare down at my legs helplessly, trying to at least dictate for myself how my bones will crumple. But I get incredibly lucky--I skid down the side of a small crag at just the right angle, and meet the ground almost untouched. Isaac laughs at my luck. I take out my rocket launcher and point it at the Vanu Sovereignty Scythe that shot us down. It's shaped like a Cylon Raider. The indicator turns green--I'm locked on. My missile catches up to it, smacking the thrusters. It doesn't die, but I delight in knowing that I've taken some small revenge.
I idle on the ground and spend a few more rockets at passing aircraft. I feel really comfortable in this role. I don't kill anything, but it's a delight to be an annoying flyswatter. I ask PlanetSide 2's Creative Director, Matt Higby, what upgrade options I'd have if I adopted anti-air or anti-vehicle as my profession in PlanetSide 2. He sifts through layers of customization menus, showing me rocket launchers with different lock-on speeds, projectile speeds, ammo capacity. All of these varieties act as side-grades to one another, not upgrades. I might decide to specialize as an anti-tank killer and carry a dumb-firing launcher that deals devastating damage. Or I might choose one with a camera built into the warhead that I manually guide and use to strike vehicles outside my line of sight. I waded into PS2 ready to fight as a frontline infantryman, but I ended up playing as a Heavy Assault rocket soldier for half an hour. It's really comforting to confirm firsthand that PlanetSide 2 facilitates that experience of discovering a role you didn't expect to like.
A grab bag of final notes and observations: