Armored drop troopers plummet from orbit to do battle with hostile forces on a war-torn planet in Section 8, a sci-fi first-person shooter from developer TimeGate Studios. Unfortunately, despite a few surprisingly fun gimmicks, Section 8 falls short of greatness and winds up playing like a generic cookie-cutter shooter.
Expect to be frustrated from the moment you turn the game on with menus that are clunky and ugly, and text that’s hard to read. It’s even tough to navigate your way to the game’s single-player campaign, which will likely be your first stop before jumping into online multiplayer matches. Once you finally do get there, you’ll find a disappointingly skimpy single-player mode called Corde’s Story. It’s too bad that playing through this brief and unfulfilling campaign does little more than slap you in the face with a thin story and a few recycled multiplayer maps flooded with weak bots before it ends. There are no impressive set pieces, memorable moments, or interesting characters here - making the single-player campaign feel more like a drawn out tutorial to teach you Section 8’s basic gameplay mechanics and fill you in on its sadly generic lore.
You play as a soldier in the Eighth Armored division - and thanks to your exoskeleton battle armor, you’ve got a few unique abilities. First, you don’t spawn on the map, you “burn-in.” Jumping from dropships cruising above the battle zone, you can select any point on the map and crash into it like a meteor. You’ll see flames licking at your face and your altitude counter ticking down as you plummet to the ground, and it’s up to you if you want to hit the ground like a bomb or apply the air brake to tweak your approach. Drop straight in and you’ll be on the ground faster, but you’ll need a moment to recover from the landing. Slow down and you can set up a precise landing, but you’ll be out of the action a few seconds longer. With some practice, you’ll be able to curve your descent while under the fire of enemy anti-aircraft cannons. Burning-in looks and feels great, and it’s the coolest feature Section 8 has to offer shooter fans.
But once you land, the mediocrity sets in again with a traditional armory of standard weapons complete with jetpack and speed boost abilities. The jetpack allows you to reach almost any vertical space on the map, while the speed boost allows you to cross great distances in a flash. The increased mobility is meant to help you navigate Section 8’s huge maps, but it’s hard to enjoy how well your jetpack and speed boosts work as you dash and jump your way through the bland and boring backgrounds.
There’s no standard Deathmatch mode here; all multiplayer matches are based on two teams capturing control points scattered around the map. Holding control points earns your team points towards the target score needed to win the match, but that’s just the beginning. Over the course of the match, players can trigger Dynamic Combat Missions (DCMs) that introduce new objectives in the middle of the game. Some DCMs require you to escort a convoy, assassinate a specific enemy character, steal enemy intel and more. Multiple DCMs can unfold on the map at the same time, so you may find yourself deciding between defending a Control Point, going after a bomb, or assaulting an enemy drop zone. The number of possibilities that can unfold during a match makes every multiplayer game of Section 8 feel distinct and unpredictable.
Completing DCMs, capturing control points, and killing enemies awards you with currency that can be used to buy deployable equipment that further adds layers of strategy. If you want to defend a control point but are needed elsewhere, purchase a turret to defend your base. If enemies are burning in right above you, fend them off by planting an anti-aircraft gun. Need to take down an enemy convoy? Call up a tank or a suit of Heavy Armor. These deployables add a nice layer of strategy to the game, and the aforementioned customizable load outs let you play exactly the way you want to. Tired of getting worked over by more agile players as a point man, we removed all points from shields and armor, applied them to firepower, lock-on, and radar avoidance to create an ideal sniper. When we wanted to get back into the action, we put everything into defense and selected heavy-hitting close range actions. You can save multiple custom classes, and you can switch between them any time you burn in or activate a supply depot.
Section 8’s multiplayer supports many of the extras that gamers have come to expect from top-tier multiplayer games: A ranking system tied to experience points, robust stat tracking and a central community website. It also boasts the ability run a PC server for Xbox 360 games, allowing for up to 32 players and exclusive settings like low gravity. Xbox-hosted games can support a still-impressive 16 players, and the inclusion of bots in multiplayer means that you’ll never have trouble finding a full game. You can also search for human-only games if you like, keeping with TimeGate’s mantra of giving players options on how they want to play.
Unquestionably, Section 8 is a rock-solid multiplayer game that deserves to find a strong audience. But it certainly has its faults. The underwhelming campaign, über-generic setting, mediocre graphics, and occasional frame rate loss plague this otherwise excellent experience. The addition of the Instant Action single-player mode is nice for players who want more practice against AI before they go online, but like the single-player campaign, it feels like filler compared to the multiplayer mode. Still, Section 8 offers a unique experience that sets it aside from the other shooters on the market.
Oct 12, 2009