I’m being flown westwards in a Galaxy dropship transport along with the 11 other players in bravo squad. A couple of dozen friendly fighter planes pass below us, heading north east, moving to support another battle elsewhere. Red tracers begin to fill my screen as we take fire from enemy flak positions supporting a battle in the north. Veering left, our pilot moves to approach our destination from the south.
I ask for a sitrep: delta squad have arrived in advance, and are watching enemy positions for activity. Alpha and charlie squad leaders report that they now have ground support vehicles en route. Seconds later I arrive with bravo and we drop onto our objective; a small building in the east of this base. Alpha and charlie squad begin finding placements for Sunderers (mobile infantry spawn vehicles) and I see another platoon drive up with support vehicles, take up positions and begin assaulting the western side of the same base.
Over half an hour ago we broke the world record for the largest number of players in an FPS battle, but there’s still an hour of laser war left in Planetside 2.
The match started in a sedate manner. In order to avoid large concentrations of players causing problems, each of the three factions was given three starting locations and players were asked to be waiting within transport vehicles. The start of the match is announced and we take off. This will be the quietest 30 seconds of the next two hours.
Our first target is Genesis Terraforming, a medium sized base at the centre of the eastern front. Our faction (the purple spandex-clad Vanu Sovereignty) already owns this base at the start but losing it would open up multiple paths to smaller, easier to capture bases behind our lines. I send one squad to each of the three objective locations at the base and ask delta to hold a building in the middle of the base. 30 seconds into the match, and half way to our first fight, we are told that there are 1,098 players online.
We arrive at exactly the same time as our Terran opponents. My squad members fall from their Galaxy dropships right next to the enemy. Just before I drop myself I see a couple of friendly pilots simply plough their aircraft into the Terran dropships after delivering their troops. The first engagements are frantic and short lived as players land on the roofs of buildings, immediately facing the enemy.
As we are killed and respawn, for the first of what will be dozens of times, I ask alpha and bravo squads to begin deploying Sunderers at the centre of the base so we can gain a foothold, but enemy vehicles that have just started to arrive make this difficult. Charlie squad manage to hold after their initial drop slightly longer than most of us, but are soon pushed out by a force twice their number. I send an order to all platoon members to re-group in the spawn room of the base. We then begin to sweep the base, moving as a large mass with our sister platoon from one objective location to the next, clearing each building of enemies in turn.
Our first objective is secured, and the Terran forces here have gone elsewhere. We move to an adjacent base, which is under attack by entrenched Terran forces. It’s not safe to move out, so we gather together, waiting to move as a group. Those of us in platoon two are joined by platoon one and I find myself crammed into a tiny room with just shy of a hundred other players. Looking through the shimmering force fields that protect us, I can see our opponents; they are spread out, they have the high ground and they control the choke points. On a count of ten I relay the command to go and we spew forth from this little room and charge towards our objective on the other side of the bridges that span the road below. Overlooked and with little cover many of us fall almost immediately, revived by medics and then charging again, maybe making it a few more meters this time. We have no time to pause and return fire; it’s simply a matter of providing more targets than the enemy can deal with and closing the distance. This is trench warfare with lasers, and I’m ordering the players over the top.
I’m in command of platoon number two, consisting of 42 players from Miller (one of Planetside 2’s European servers). Each of the four squads under my command is headed up by its own squad leader, including one squad comprised of the men and women of the RPS community. I’m working alongside the leader of platoon one and together we constitute the forces of ‘Area 1’; the eastern front. Our area commander sits alongside other area commanders, the leader of ‘quick response’ forces and the commander of our air squadrons. They, in turn, take orders from the overall of the force command team. There are few games of a scale where one player can be in charge of fifty other players working together, and there are even fewer where that player is just a cog in an even larger machine.
After another successful defence I take my platoon one base to the west to prise it from the hands of the Terrans who have set themselves up there. Given that this base is connected to where we are, this is simply a matter of waiting for a ten-second ‘redeploy’ timer and then selecting this base as the next spawn option. The fight turns out easier than expected, and we quickly rout the enemy. I get my platoon loaded into Sunderer transports and begin a push into enemy territory, but we are soon asked to reinforce the western front. Much like Genesis Terraforming acts as a gateway in the east, Fort Drexla does the same on our western front against the New Conglomerate faction, and those at the top want to make sure we take it. I ask each squad to get themselves into a Galaxy drop ship. Acting as mobile spawn locations for your squad, it’s a simple matter to have a pilot head towards a destination whilst their squad mates load themselves into the back of your aircraft mid flight. Redeploy, Sunderer and Galaxy movement abilities tend to make large, coordinated fights in Planetside 2 a matter of juggling the movement of infantry players en masse, sadly foregoing any sweeping vehicle battles. We spend the next 20 minutes jumping between Fort Drexla and nearby bases.
The format for the world record attempt is simple: Three factions vie for control of bases across a continent. Where the previous world record set by ‘Man vs Machine’ took place in a game designed specifically for the purposes of setting the record, there are, in practice, few differences between this world record attempt and what happens everyday on the Planetside 2 servers. Though the endless war has been shortened to a two hour match. Of the four available continents, the chosen site for this battle is the swampy continent of Hossin as it offers the closest to a three-way symmetry for a competitive scenario.
We’re almost an hour into the match and though the Vanu have managed to hold onto key strategic bases, we’ve lost five smaller ones and made few gains and so we’re lagging behind on the score. This is actually all as planned; our force commanders wanted to avoid taking an early lead and attracting the ire of the other two factions. A switch to a heavy offensive push is announced. We are dug in at Takon Storage, near to Fort Drexla, and take it from the New Conglomerate with relative ease. Takon Storage is one of five bases captured in rapid succession, putting us back in the running (as can be seen on this recording of the match). Fort Drexla is the final of these five bases, and we are one of four platoons sent there to secure its capture. Tasked with being a heavy infantry push I get the platoon kitted out in armoured ‘MAX suits’ or wielding Lashers; the Vanu special weapon which excels at suppression. The base itself is accessible only from the north, with sheer cliffs on all other sides. The northern approach is bordered by towers, and walls, making vehicular assault difficult and pushing infantry assaults through chokepoints. I gather the platoon outside the walls, at the base of a tower. Pushing through the gates we climb a tower on the edge of the base and hold it as we group up. We then move along the walls towards the western edge of the base, all the while firing streams of plasma through the windows of overlooking buildings.
With four Vanu platoons assaulting this base and a commensurate response from the New Conglomerate, it’s at this point that latency starts to become a real problem as extra players put an exponential strain on the servers (explained by the Planetside creative director here). With easily over 200 players in the space no bigger than your average deathmatch map, the limits of SOE’s technology becomes apparent and we are having to deal with latencies of 1,500ms and above. As it turns out, the Lasher – with its continuous stream of area-of-effect damage – is very forgiving in this high-latency environment and we eventually hold the base.
After securing Fort Drexla we can finally return to our initial battle front in the east, where the Terrans have been making headway. We are tasked with taking Gourney Damn; a base near the centre of Hossin built around an objective point in a confined underground space surrounded by open areas and – appearing for the first time for Planetside 2 on Hossin – the FPS staple of insta-death goo. We quickly set up multiple Sunderer spawn locations around the base and move to take position inside the objective building. Terran forces circle our position from outside, lobbing grenades down the stairs. But with our medics keeping us alive and our Lashers suppressing the stair entrances, we simply wait for the Terrans to run out of grenades. For a couple of minutes this seems like a comfortable position, only having a minute left on the countdown before we capture the base. But we are finally dislodged as the Terrans go all out with their own version of the MAX suits. Foregoing infantry support, three squads of these armoured players charge into our position, the chatter of their chainguns drowning out the wub-wub of our Lashers. We manage to take down a third of them before we are over-run. I report in; “PL to Area Command, that’s a wipe.” This re-secure by the Terrans works momentarily, but it is a close last-minute save and this is apparent as they have not had time to remove our vehicle support beforehand. It’s a simple matter to re-group at our nearby Sunderers and counter with our own infantry push. Gourney Dam becomes the first base for which RPS’ own outfit gets the credit for capture, and it puts the Vanu Sovereignty into the lead for the first time in the match.
The last half hour of the match is spent on the back foot. We’re being pushed hard by both the Terran Republic and the New Conglomerate, and are unable to hold onto our short lived lead. Our final stand is a capture of the Ziggurat. Far to the east of the map, it’s the only base that we can capture in the time left. Realising this, hundreds of Vanu descend upon the base to ensure that last small victory. The New Conglomerate win, with 36% territorial ownership, the Terrans and 32% and the Vanu at 30%.
Over 4,000 players signed up to take part, and the final count for the world record, officiated by Guiness, was set at 1,158 players. Although according to Matt Higby, SOE’s creative director of Planetside, this record had been broken over 70,000 times since the game’s launch in 2012.
Planetside 2 is free to play, the RPS Planetside community organises itself on the RPS forums. If you want to play with either the Vanu ‘giraffes’ or the New Conglomerate ‘traitors’, simply find us on the RPS Mumble and join in.