Barreling down from the sky toward the field of battle with fire on all sides is how every life of Section 8 starts. A multiplayer-focused shooter from TimeGate Studios, known for its Kohan PC-only real-time strategy titles and the Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate expansions to Monolith's F.E.A.R., the heart of Section 8 is in the right place. Not only is it far more entertaining than watching a respawn timer to come screaming down from above after you're killed, but it's a mechanic that lets you pick and choose exactly where you want to fall and even gives you a degree of control beyond that since you can hit the brakes as you near the ground to allow for a more precise landing. Maybe you'll need to use it because your initial drop put you in the direct line of fire of an enemy's anti-air fire, or maybe you'll want to adjust so you can land directly on top of an enemy convoy, or in the midst of your fellow teammates. It's all about versatility in Section 8, and if it weren't for some drawbacks when it comes to combat and presentation, this would have been a real standout experience.
As it is, the game, like most good first-person shooters, lets you fall into a real rhythm when it comes to movement. Every soldier in the game gets a Tribes-style jetpack with a limited burn. Use it to launch up onto rooftops or, better yet, in combination with your overdrive run. Since the maps tend to be fairly large, traversing the terrain is made easier by shifting out from first to third-person view once you've sprinted enough to fill a gauge, called overdrive. Once it's engaged you blast across the ground, can cause damage to those you run into, and can spark your jetpack at your higher rate of speed, allowing easy access into enemy territory as you rocket skyward, pick out an enemy, and engage your weapon's temporary lock-on ability to score a kill.
The ultimate goal of any multiplayer match is capturing and holding a series of points in what's called Conquest mode, reminiscent of a game of Battlefield. Hack one to start the capture process, capture more and hold them to score points for your team, protect them so the enemy doesn't hack and capture. If your team's coordinated or lucky or both you'll hit the required win total at which point you can smile and eat another chip out of the bag that's been sitting open and untouched on the coffee table the whole match. It's not exactly a revolutionary setup, but it works, and the multitude of variables whirring about on the battlefield keeps things interesting beyond the killing of individual troops.
Loadouts can be customized before you bomb down into the fight. A range of pre-built classes are available, but your best bet is to go in and pick whatever weapons you want, add in your tools, and then lock in your passive modifiers. Do you take the machine gun to put up a blistering wall of gunfire against opponents at short-range? The rocket launcher to take out turrets and enemy vehicles? The repair tool to keep your captured point's gun and rocket and sensor towers intact, as well as healing teammates and yourself? Do you want to boost your regenerative shields and armor, or focus more on a stealthy approach to infiltrate a hostile compound hidden from sensors until you can plant a knife in the back of whoever's standing watch?
It's a system that anyone interested in frequently changing their role during a match should appreciate, since you can even do it on the fly if you interface with the proper structures without having to wait for a death to swap gear. While it doesn't afford for styles of play as scream-at-your-screen surprising as Team Fortress 2's Spy, it's still a nice mix. Snipers, heavy weapons aficionados, and those who like to hang back to heal and repair are all well catered too with a nice assortment of tools and modifiable skills. Regardless of which path you choose, you're rewarded, and with the accumulated points from successful battle actions you can bring down from the sky anti-air guns, minigun turrets, bipedal mechanized suits, tanks and more. Just be sure you're not summoning in the midst of hostile anti-air – better break out some explosives to solve that problem.
Capture and Defend
While things and players are slamming into the ground and exploding and capture points and being hacked and defused, Quake Wars-style secondary objectives will pop up all around the map. There'll be a convoy you need to escort or destroy, a remote base that needs protection, a computer controlled commando that spawns in and has to be blown to bits, bombs that have to be defused and beacons that have to be activated. All this keeps all players on their toes, as you can reap significant rewards from following through on these side conflicts, and forces you to make even more decisions when it comes to how to go about winning. Do you hang back and continue to protect your control point, dropping in additional turret support once you've acquired the resources, or do you run out and try to complete a side objective? This is where the teamwork part comes in. If you're in a good squad, expect to dominate. If everyone's running around doing their own thing, expect to get trounced.
If this all sounds a little complicated, that's because it very much is. This is, without a doubt, a hardcore title, and can get quite hectic with 32 players running around in its servers. Upon first picking up the controls and trying to manage overdrive sprinting mixed with jetpack bursts (do you do a single burn or rapidly tap the ignition for a flatter line of flight?) in addition to the effective range of your weaponry and when or if to engage a lock-on can be daunting, to the point where some with less patience might drop the controller and forget about Section 8 altogether. With some perseverance it's possible to see the wealth of choices for combat the game has to offer, empowering you to make decisions for yourself as to how to behave instead of funneling you into a rigid class system, something anyone who's played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online should be familiar with.
The downside for Section 8 is that even across its relatively small selection of weapons it strikes at best a shaky balance. There are some snipers and pistol users out there, a majority of players seem to be favoring assault rifles and machine guns. Why? Because they're far and away the easiest weapons with which to make kills. The shotguns don't feel powerful, and the rocket launcher, with its nearly inconsequential splash damage, can't compete. Though it can of course make short work of any turret, trying to wipe out a vehicle without the full support of your team is like using a spoon to dig a hole in concrete.
Mix into that various control oddities and the learning curve is made even steeper. The aiming controls, despite the presence of a sensitivity slider, still feel uncomfortable with an Xbox 360 controller. There's the lock-on function to alleviate some of the frustration, but a lingering imprecision gnaws on the play experience regardless. The tanks, the big reward for saving up all your points as you killed and repaired and hacked, are a joke to control. Instead of cackling maniacally as your unleash untold amounts of devastation upon the opposition, you'll get stuck Austin Powers-like between fences and rock formations. It's especially embarrassing when teammates pile in to man a tank's various weapon turrets, and then all hop out again when it's clear it'll be about a thirty point turn before you're headed the right way. Calling down an extra anti-infantry turret would have been a more boring but better idea.
The visuals also fail to impress, lagging years behind the curve and featuring an unremarkable smattering of generic sci-fi space marine armor and weaponry we've all seen plenty of times before. The gameplay's strong enough to dampen the damage done, but I just wanted to make it clear that this is a title you approach for the mechanics, not the graphics, and certainly not the art style. The throwaway music and sound effects follow suit, and is it so hard to find a voice actor who can pronounce "begins" without making it sound as though it has two "e"s?
For anyone who doesn't like to play online or with live opponents, first off I'd say this isn't the game for you. If you like what you've read so far, though, there is full bot support for offline, as well as online, matches, and from what I played they seemed quite capable. They killed, they hacked, they healed and repaired, pursued secondary objectives, and actively inputted support requests for vehicles and turrets. While they didn't seem to be the best base defenders in the world, they're still great for putting up a challenge in offline play so you can learn maps and test out new class builds, or to fill in spots online. There's also a brief but educational story mode which every new player should at least play through as a tutorial for the competitive play. To play through for any other reason is to waste your time.
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