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E3 2009: Section 8 hands-on

E3 2009

Mix in parts of Tribes, Quake III, Star Wars: Battlefront and Battlefield 2 and you’d likely have Section 8, an upcoming multiplayer-heavy FPS from TimeGate Studios and SouthPeak Interactive. While comparisons are bound to be made, the team at TimeGate is hoping that the game, which offers “large-scale multiplayer” battles, will have enough originality to distinguish it from an increasingly crowded market of multiplayer shooters.

Brett Norton, a lead designer of Section 8, sat down to show me some of the finer points of this single and multiplayer shooter on Wednesday. In development for more than two years, the game is set to be released for the PC and Xbox 360 this fall. A PS3 version planned but no release date announced.

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My demo focused on the multiplayer aspects of the game. Featuring up to 32 players in a multiplayer game, Norton took me through a quick tour of the demo as he played against 12 players on the show floor and 20 bots. The multiplayer session began with a quick tour of the game’s load-outs. Players can select predefined character classes or customize their characters to their liking. This was pretty standard stuff, but Section 8 stands apart from the competition through a “passive module” system.

This unique feature to the game allows players to give their character specific ability increases. For instance, players can spend some of the 10 points their allotted to increase their speed, armor or duration of a lock-on targeting ability. Norton and the team at TimeGate hope that players will use this feature to create truly unique gameplay experiences that are tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Once Norton created his custom character, he then dropped into the map – literally. Players will have the ability to choose where they’re placed on the map. You can try to land deep inside enemy territory, which is guarded by turrets and take the risk of being shot out of the sky, or land in safer territory that’s farther away and risk losing the element of surprise.

Players are pitted against each other, with each side attempting to take control of specific points of the map. The longer a team holds a point, the more points are earned, and once a certain number of points are earned by one side, the game ends. In addition to earning points by controlling key areas, players also earn points by killing opposing players and by completing specific objectives.

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For instance, periodically, new objectives will appear in a users menu. One demonstrated was VIP protection. You may be tasked with protecting a VIP and successfully guiding them to safety. Your opponent will be tasked with taking the VIP out. Whoever wins gets additional points that will help lead their team to victory. This should add an interesting element to a game and I hope the developers can make this a tense and entertaining part of the game.

The gameplay is fairly typical FPS. Your character is equipped with a jetpack ala Tribes, allowing you to shoot into the sky in brief spurts to get over walls and to escape particularly challenging battles. Vehicles are another important part of the game, but only for combat. In a very clever move, the team has added an “overdrive” mode to your character’s movements, allowing you to enter a mode where you run about four times faster than the standard sprint after about four seconds of regular sprinting. The team wants you to use vehicles for more than just transport, so they’ve made movement across the huge maps that you’ll battle on much easier. As a player of Battlefield 2, this is much appreciated.

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Norton was quick to point out that the game wasn’t all about the online experience. A single player campaign mode will be an important and developed part of the experience. Players will fill the boots of a solider named Alex Cord, a member of Section 8, Earth’s armored infantry. Humans have spread out into the expanses of the galaxy, but we’re still fighting with each other over our resources. Norton called it a “progressive future” where humans have great technology “but not all of society’s woes have been solved.” But humanity soon encounters a bigger problem than a dispute over minerals. Cord is dispatched to investigate a series of attacks on several human colonies, which is where the single player campaign presumably begins. Norton was mum on any further details.

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When I finally had a chance to sit down and give the game myself, I have to say, I was left a little disappointed. After playing it, I just wasn’t convinced that it was a game that would be spinning in any of my systems any time soon. It wasn’t bad – the graphics were great and the levels were absolutely huge (a level editor for the PC version should be released shortly after release). But nothing gameplay-wise felt any different than the multitudes of other shooters that I’ve played in the last few years. And though it does incorporate a single player mode, multiplayer is definitely the emphasis and if I can’t be convinced that this game is going to be worth playing when it comes out after spending more than a half-hour checking it out, how many people are going to give it a chance to blossom into the huge game that it could become?

I have a lot of reservations about this game, but I recognize that it does have potential. If a crowd of gamers gets behind it, it could develop into a cult favorite thanks to some clever game design tricks. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s going to be enough here to convince enough casual players to hop on board and make it a big enough game to attract an involved audience. Hopefully I’ll be proved wrong when the game is released later this year.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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