Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Section 8 Review

My review for Section 8, originally published at Hooked Gamers.

The New Old School

TimeGate Studios' newest outing into the realm of first-person shooters provides for a polarizing experience. On the surface, the mix of old school shooter feel and innovative multiplayer features seemingly creates a very deep and highly enjoyable experience. After prolonged play however, a number of glaring issues manifest themselves. This ultimately leads to Section 8 being an occasionally exciting experience, with a lot of unfulfilled potential.

The Sky is Falling

Section 8 includes a single-player campaign titled "Corde's Story", which follows Alex Corde, the newest recruit of the 8th Armored Infantry, as he battles the Arm of Orion. While providing a coherent plot and semi-linear gameplay, the very short single-player campaign proves itself to be no more than a tutorial for the multiplayer experience. And Section 8 is above all a team-based multiplayer shooter.

Forgoing static spawn points, and the grieving that can go along with them, Section 8 allows players to "burn in" to the battlefield. Players are able to view an overhead dynamic map of the action and choose any point at which to deploy their avatar, adding a tactical element to respawning. One can choose to deploy directly into an enemy base, along-side teammates, or in a remote area. Every respawn provides for a differing tactical advantage and experience.

Before burning in however, players have the option of choosing their loadout, which includes two weapons, two types of equipment, and passive modules. The standard fare of weapons is included, such as assault rifles, machine guns, pistols, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. The different types of equipment are more varied with options like grenades, mortars, and repair tools. Passive modules however, add an interesting role-playing aspect to the game, allowing players to slightly customize various attributes such as shield strength, weapon recoil, and run speed.

A number of default classes exist with preset loadouts, such as the Assault class and the Engineer class, but Section 8 also allows for complete customization. In conjunction with the ability to spawn anywhere on the map, the class customization feature allows for complex tactical considerations before a match has even started. For example, when utilizing an assault-type class, the player might want to burn in directly into a large firefight, whereas a sniper-type character might be most effective by dropping in far from an ongoing battle.

Dodge This

Once on the battlefield, a number of other features provide for an exciting and adrenaline-pumping one-on-one shooter experience. Avatars in Section 8 have a large number of hit points. Combining this with regenerative shields results in long periods of intense shooting to take down an enemy.

A number of movement options add to both the difficulty and excitement of firefights. First, and perhaps most thrilling, is the ability to use jetpacks. Soaring high above your enemies while firing a copious amount of bullets is always satisfying, especially when they are unable to aim precisely in return.

Players also have the ability to run with a speed boost. After holding down the run key for a short period of time, the in-game character will enter an accelerated run as the camera pans back providing a third-person view. It is very useful for traversing the extremely large maps and escaping from potentially fatal situations.

Balancing the hit points, jetpacks, and speed boost is the timed auto-aim ability. While zoomed-in, every player has the option to turn on auto-aiming, locking onto an opponent and connecting with every single bullet for a short period of time. When first using this ability, I was slightly ashamed. Auto-aim is the stuff of hackers. After repeated use however, I have to admit that TimeGate's implementation is very smart and useful.

During one instance of my playtime, I found myself in a prolonged one-on-one battle. My opponent and I circled around cover as we slowly weakened each other. Unfortunately, a couple of his teammates burned in close to our location. Faced with a three-on-one situation, I knew I would not last long. Thinking quickly, I activated my jetpack and flew through the air, turned on auto-aim to finish off my original opponent, landed behind some cover further away from the remaining enemies, and made a hasty retreat all the way back to my base with speed boost. It was very satisfying.

Play With Me

With such satisfying and intense tactical gunplay, why is Section 8 so disappointing? As stated, TimeGate's game is a team-based multiplayer shooter. This is emphasized by the fact that a number of the dynamic combat objectives, those missions that need to be accomplished during a match, depend on multiple teammates working in tandem. The convoy mission requires one player to drive a vehicle to a certain point within a limited amount of time. Of course while one team is attempting to complete the mission, the opposing team is attempting to prevent its completion, requiring friendly teammates to protect the vehicle. The VIP mission provides a similar dynamic, as teammates must defend the VIP as he travels to a secure location.

Unfortunately, during my admittedly limited time playing Section 8, I did not witness any of the necessary teamwork among other players. During multiple convoy missions, none of my teammates made an attempt to even drive the vehicle, much less defend it. During multiple VIP missions, the VIP was able to simply walk unopposed to the necessary destination, as everyone on the opposing team was content to engage in some other activity. What should be a tactical team- and objective-based game almost always deteriorated into a simple and stale deathmatch experience, with various one-on-one battles occurring across the map.

Is this the developers' fault, or the players' fault? Did I simply stumble onto servers populated by unusually apathetic and independent players, or have the developers not provided enough incentive to properly play the game? These questions reveal a dichotomy that can be applied to any videogame, but is particularly relevant to my experience of Section 8. In joining a server, I was ready and willing to play a certain game, but was never able to actually do so. Fortunately bots are provided.

End Game

There are a few other issues that prove to be frustrating in Section 8. Certain deployable vehicles and weapons seem too overpowered. The heavy armor is absolutely devastating, and once in use, always translates to instant death for surrounding opponents. Further, the default movement speed is agonizingly slow.

However, all of the highs and lows provided in Section 8 pale in comparison to the fact that this team-based multiplayer game simply is not played in a team-based fashion. This is particularly unfortunate considering all of the highs that this game possesses.

It is fairly clear that a lot of time and thought went into the development of Section 8; there is a lot of potential in the game. Unfortunately, that potential is never fulfilled, for whatever reason. Perhaps in the future more dedicated players will emerge throughout the servers, or more incentives will be provided for a team-based atmosphere. As it stands however, Section 8 is a game that really wants to be enjoyed, but it is hard to do so.

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