Be sure to check out our previous coverage of Section 8, including a developer Q&A, screenshots, and trailer, at this location and within our Video section.
A violent insurrection on its outermost colonies prompts a futuristic Earth to dispatch an elite squad of soldiers codenamed Section 8 to curtail the insurrection. Section 8 will face off against the forces of Arm of Orion in massive team based battles set on various outposts in space. While a single player mode is included, Section 8 is intended for online play and follows in similar footsteps to other team based MMO FPS games like Halo, Quake Wars, Tribes, and Battlefield. With several cool features and a rising online community, is Section 8 able to hold its ground? Time will tell, but let's take a closer at what we have here.
At the outset I do want to mention that I rarely play online FPS games, especially ones intended for teams and clans like Section 8. Knowing that, and seeing the single mode as a great way to learn Section 8's mechanics and features, I jumped into the campaign mode known as Corde's Story, named after Alex Corde, the protagonist that players will control.
The campaign is actually more than just a tutorial, although it is simultaneously intended as one. Corde's Story helps explain your character and the overall events taking place in the world TimeGate has created. There are a handful of missions that have the player storming Arm control points and interacting with various terminals or destroying certain objects. Players are also tasked with defending Section 8 assets as they continue to push the Arm of Orion back.
The campaign isn't meant to be much more than an introduction to the game's universe and mechanics, and for that purpose it does fairly well. I was less impressed with some of the mission design and that of the AI, but it's difficult to harp on it too long because if you are buying this game, the reason is soley for multiplayer, not single player. On the other hand, if this were a typical FPS game, where the single and multiplayer modes were intended to be more balanced, then I would take more of an issue with the lackluster campaign mode.
Other Modes And (Unique) Features
Okay, so that said, playing through Corde's Story did point out some good and bad things that you can expect from the other two modes, Instant Action and online play. Instant Action is a second offline mode where players can load up any of the eighteen available maps (8 primary maps with several variations) and load it up with bots. Several other options can be set before the game is launched, like varying the team balance and setting the bot difficulty. This makes for a decent offline practice mode, although you can never be sure what tactics you will run into online. Personally, I found the bot difficulty to be fairly stiff, but regardless, playing bots isn't likely to keep you entertained for long.
Corde's Story and Instant Action won't keep you entertained for very long, so it's time to flex that Xbox Live Gold Membership and take the action online. The Xbox 360 version supports thirty-two online multiplayer thanks to dedicated servers, while the PC version can handle up to forty players. At its core, Section 8 plays very similarly to other games in the genre, but one of several neat features is the ability to spawn in anywhere on the map, which adds a layer of strategy.
TimeGate took an extra step and made the spawn in process a little more than just selecting a point on the map. Players actually have some control over the 'burn in' procedure whereby you are thrust into a first person overhead view of the battlefield as you fly directly towards it. After a few second delay, players can press A to activate their Air Brake which slows their descent down and allows for a fine tune adjustment of the final landing spot. If you fail to break, your players hits the turf hard and is momentarily vulnerable to attack.
The obvious reaction to being able to spawn anywhere is to burn in close to an enemy Control Point to try and take it over. This thought is balanced with SAM sites, which you are warned about during spawn point selection. If you try to burn in above a location with air defense, expect a swift death, but these defenses can be eliminated on the ground.
Speaking of Control Points, that's primarily what multiplayer is all about -- working together with your team to overtake enemy Control Points and hold them long enough to win. Winning is determined by which team has the most Victory Points, and the best way to earn those is taking enemy Control Points. The game is designed in such a way that a team effort is all but necessary, as players have to hack terminals for a control point to be overturned, and this takes a good amount of time to do. It would have been nice to see this event more interactive, as players need only run up to the terminal and press A, and then stand next to the terminal for a period of time.
Loadouts in Section 8 are comparable to those in other FPS titles. Players are able to customize their loadouts, or pick from several classes of players like Engineer, Assault, Grenadier, and so forth. Each players is able to equip two weapons and two gadgets, or tools. Weapons run the gamut from your typical assault rifle that holds something like 100 rounds, to a shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and pistol. After some trial and error in Corde's Story, I quickly determined that there is no suitable replacement for the standard issue assault rifle as the primary weapon. In fact, using another automatic weapon for a secondary isn't a bad choice. You might think that the rocket launcher would be wise to use, and it is for taking out turrets and vehicles, but I've not been able to do anything with it against your average enemy on foot.
What's a bit curious about this to me was that I was using the game's built in Lock-On feature that allows players to temporarily lock onto a targeted enemy. The crosshair in the HUD will change to reflect the duration of this capability, which is upgradeable, but even with that, using the rocket launcher on personnel just wasn't happening. With the range considerations of both the shotgun and the sniper rifle, the low rate of fire for the pistol, players seem really encouraged to use the assault rifles for their weapons.
I came to realize a similar scenario with the selectable gadgets, too. In any game, no matter what the type, I'm a harvester for health related items. Put me in a D&D style RPG and I'm learning healing spells and bagging up the health potions. So when I discovered Section 8 has a repair tool, that can be used to both heal yourself and any ally (or equipment thereof), adding that to my loadout was a no brainer. A recharge timer helps tone down abuse of this ability, but you can monitor the recharge timer's status from the HUD. It doesn't really take all that long to recharge, so it's a very useful tool. The tool isn't powerful enough that you can use it while under fire, but if you can get out of a bad situation, it's nice being able to health yourself.
Each player's first line of defense is their shield barrier, and once this is depleted, death often occurs soon after unless you can get away for a repair. Section 8 has a couple of interesting mechanics to help players get moving, including a super-charged running ability and a jetpack. Players can sprint with left click, but holding this down for about three to four seconds will cause your character to enter a third person view and you will begin to run really fast. There is a recharge timer on this function as well, but players can run for at least ten seconds before this meter is expired, which is great for hauling it across the map for whatever reason, be it to catch up with your team or simply get from A to B swiftly. This normally works great, but it's also very possible to be sprinting, and suddenly break out into a run when you don't really want to. The clanking sound of your character hitting a wall or object, no matter its height, is hilarious, and would have only been better if the player fell straight back afterwards. Seriously though, breaking out into a run can be jarring if you aren't ready for it.
Using the jetpack is fun, but it doesn't stay powered for long before a recharge timer kicks in. The jetpack isn't made for getting around the map as much as it is to quickly get away, fluster your enemy, or to simply get from one area to a higher one. The jetpack takes the place of a dedicated jump button, and that can be annoying when you really want to jump but have to wait a few seconds for some jetpack juice to recharge.
Earlier I mentioned that taking over Control Points was one way to earn Victory Points, but Section 8 also has DCMs, or Dynamic Combat Missions. These missions reminded me of some of the mission types in Killzone 2, like Assassination and Search And Recover. In Section 8, DCM types include Commando, VIP, Outpost, Intelligence, Bomb, and Convoy. These challenges consist of successfully protecting and escorting a certain character, deploying an outpost and protecting it, and using a bomb to destroy base defenses at an enemy held Control Point. DCMs encourage team effort and they add an extra spice to the normal flow of the game.
Individual performance is rewarded with money, which allows a player to purchase items directly in the game, similar to the old Xbox 360 game The Outfit. Purchasable objects are dropshipped into battle and include turrets and vehicles like a four player tank that is really cool.
Ultimately, TimeGate Studios has created a good foundation for what could be a very popular FPS MMO. The online community is certainly growing, but it will be interesting to see how things look six months from now. Right now, the pulse seems very positive and here is to hoping it stays that way.