Over the past several years, gamers have been bombarded with one first-person shooter after another, with most offerings bringing very little to the table that differentiate them from the rest. Section 8 aims to buck that trend, bringing innovative features and multiplayer action to a somewhat familiar futuristic setting. Having first been released as a full retail title on the Xbox 360 and PC in late 2009, the PS3’s download-only version is a little late to the party. However, a lower price tag, new maps, and some gameplay improvements have been added to ease the pain of those who have been chomping at the bit for this to be released on Sony’s console (however few and far between those people may be).
On the surface this may appear to be just another generic attempt at a futuristic shooter, but upon further examination there’s a great deal to like here for FPS fans. Multiple classes are available, each with their own distinct combinations of weapons, equipment, and a number of unique attributes called Passive Modules. Want to have the ability to repair yourself and others on the battlefield? Then pick an Engineer and use the Repair Tool. If the ability to detect nearby enemies is more appealing, choose the Recon specialty. One very cool thing is that each class is fully customizable, giving you the ability to mix and match tools within each class as you please. Don’t expect a Call of Duty-like selection of weapons here though. A disappointing choice of only one of each type of gun (Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Machine Gun, etc.) is all that’s available.
After selecting a class and choosing the vicinity on the map in which to spawn, you are thrust into battle in the most literal sense of the word. Your character is launched from a ship at an incredibly high speed in the direction that was chosen. About half way through, a brake can be applied that allows for more precise control on where to land. Not only is this hands-down the coolest respawning mechanism that I’ve ever seen in a shooter, it’s also one of the flashiest ways of killing an enemy on the rare occasions that one is in your landing space. Once you hit the battlefield you have the ability to temporarily thrust yourself into the air via a jetpack and run at “hyperspeed” for a limited distance, demolishing any poor soul in your path. These things all combine to give some awesome variation to the gameplay and are sure to provide plenty of “Oh $%^&!!” moments.
Matches in Section 8 are a blend of the squad-based strategy found in Battlefield, the constantly varying objectives of Killzone 2, and the sci-fi action of Halo 3. Two teams are pit against each other and the first to achieve the required number of points wins. These points are gained mostly by capturing and holding various outposts on the map (a la Battlefield) and completing a number of random side objectives. Things are frenetically fun and coordination amongst teammates is a definite prerequisite in order to win on a consistent basis. As kills and team goals are accomplished, players get rewarded with money that can be used at any time to drop in items that aid the team like stationary turrets, anti-air guns, and even tanks.
Section 8 gets things right for the most part with its core gameplay, but it falters greatly in some other areas. Controls are a bit loose to say the least. Trying to target an enemy without using “lock on” (which only lasts for a few seconds and needs to recharge) is hit or miss. Vehicle controls are even more imprecise, sucking much of the enjoyment out of what should be an enjoyable option for attack. Overall, the visuals have got to be some of the most dated and mediocre that I’ve seen in an FPS in a long time. Environments lack a tremendous amount of detail and character models are equally as bland. At least there are little to no frame rate hitches even in online games. Admittedly, the cinematic sequences used in the game’s intro and within the campaign do look a bit more modern-day and contain lots of polish.
And speaking of the campaign, ironically titled “Corde’s Story”, this single player mode puts you in the shoes of a soldier predictably named Corde. The “story” is difficult to follow, not compelling whatsoever, and ultimately will be meaningless to most (hence the irony in the title). The only thing I was able to retain was that Corde has a sort of “super soldier” suit that lets him do some badass things, rolls with an Army unit full of other guys who have the same badass suits, and is involved in a war with some bad guys who also have badass suits. It’s essentially a very brief preparation for what this game’s true focus is, the online multiplayer. It does at least introduce players to the multiplayer maps and in-game intricacies but this could’ve been accomplished with a simple training mode rather than wrapping it into an uninspiring package and calling it a campaign.
The long term worth in Section 8 will directly correspond to the size of its online population. The ability for gamers to host dedicated servers from their Windows PCs is a huge plus. While it is not difficult to get into a game online presently, much of the time these games end up being filled with more bots than real people. On many an evening during my time with the title, I’ve seen only two to three 32 player servers filled with folks. My main concern about Section 8 is whether it will be able to draw enough of a hardcore audience to combat these issues. Why would someone want to jump into a multiplayer game that at any point in time may be half filled with AI-controlled players when they can jump into a game of say, Modern Warfare 2 that will put them up against real people at any time, day or night? Yes, at least the option for bots does exist unlike some other FPSs but most people buy a title like this to play against real folks…period.
Ultimately though, there is a lot of fun to be had in this package, especially for just a $30 download. Section 8 offers an enjoyable blend of frantic FPS action and strategic squad-based gameplay. Yes there are several faults with the visuals, weapons, vehicles, and some gameplay mechanics. And yes, teamwork is impacted because not many people are using microphones (more of a PS3 deficiency than a fault of the title). Still, despite all of the shortcomings, I’ve had more fun with Section 8 than I’ve had with many an online shooter. If it were to somehow manage to gain a hardcore following, this certainly has all the potential to be a sleeper hit for 2010. I don’t think I’d hold my breath waiting for that to happen though.