Section 8 Review: Bringing The Big Guns
The term “Section 8” refers to a type of discharge from the US military, with the reason being that the person in question is mentally unfit to serve. In this game, you play as a member of “Section 8,” an infantry division with the reputation as being insane due to their suicidal missions, which generally result in very short careers. Equipped with a rechargeable shield, several weapons, configurable modules, and a jet pack, members of Section 8 are ready to overcome any challenge. The question is, are they ready to take on the highly competitive market known as the Multiplayer FPS?
First and foremost, “Section 8″ is strictly a multiplayer experience. Much like “Unreal Tournament,” “Quake,” and “Tribes,” “Section 8″ is all about going online and creating corpses. There is a desperate attempt at a single player campaign, called Cordi’s story, but it suffers from almost everything. It uses the same maps as the multiplayer and the experience is quite formulaic: each mission gives you a cutscene, then all you do is go from check point to check point with your invulnerable, AI buddies, killing everyone at each check point. It’s a very brief adventure, and serves more as a multiplayer tutorial than a single player campaign. It ends up just being a bad experience, with a horrible attempt at voice acting, character development, and story line (with barely an introduction on why this is happening).
The meat of the entire game rests entirely on the multiplayer, and, for the most part, it somewhat works. “Section 8″ manages to combine all sorts of elements from different shooters, and puts them all under one plate while maintaining a fast paced game. For starters, you can spawn almost anywhere as your character drops in from a ship, so no more worries about hiking a long distance to meet someone. The other important attribute is the overdrive, which occurs whenever you hold the sprint button long enough. With overdrive active, you’re able to move across the map with intense speed, so objectives that are 500m away from you can be reached in mere moments.
The game itself is based on a pseudo-”Battlefield” style where your objective is to score victory points. You do this by holding control points, just like “Battlefield,” but the new addition to the game is the Dynamic Combat Mission (DCM). DCMs are unlocked by performing “feats” throughout the match, with most of these feats occurring when you simply play the game (e.g. kill someone, destroy a base, repair, etc). After a certain number of feats have been completed by your team, a DCM occurs that gets involvement from both sides. If you complete it, you score extra victory points plus the perk of that DCM. An example of this is if you manage to escort the VIP, the VIP will stick around at the control point to defend it. Little touches like this forces everyone to be aggressive and not turtle, especially since many victory points are accumulated through completing/preventing DCMs.
The other important feature is the character customization. You have several pre-made classes, although nothing is stopping you from creating your own classes. You pick two weapons, two equipment, and passive modules. Passive modules are the bread and butter of your character since they do things like give you extra armor, make it harder to detected on radar, or do more damage. As you play the game more, you also have the ability to buy deployable items such as miniguns, rocket launchers, and AA guns to screw around with the battlefield.
While all these features sound great on paper, “Section 8″’s entire downfall is based on its execution. A lot of the traits are definitely new and interesting, and, at first glance, they appear to give the game a lot of depth. Your first impressions may be very favorable, since this is something you’re already familiar with, yet new enough to keep you interested. However, once you realize how the game works, you’ll see why “Section 8″ doesn’t have a huge following.
The first major issue are the lack of creativity on the weapons. While the setting might take place in the far future, the weapons clearly do not. Your basic armaments are assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, machine gun, and pistol. You won’t see anything unique like “Tribes”‘ famous disc launcher.
The other problem is the lack of mobility in the game. Your character moves extremely slow and feels very clunky, even with a keyboard and mouse control scheme. The jet packs seem to be added as an afterthought as well, since they don’t give you much air time or speed. To make them even more useless, you can’t use one while it’s recharging; in other words, you have to wait till the jet pack is fully charged before using it again. If you’re expecting this feature to bring you back good memories of “Tribes,” you’ll be disappointed.
While you might think these problems are irrelevant, or simple nitpicking, I haven’t even gotten to the worst offender of them all: The Lock-On. For whatever reason, Timegate studios decided to make a first-person shooter that included the ability to lock on to an opponent to finish him off. This is completely dumbfounding, because the entire point of a shooter genre is to aim, and this game eliminates that core feature. It removes any sort of skill or depth in the game, since all you need to do is select a target, press E, and kill them nearly instantly. As you play more and more with this feature on, you’d realize that the best strategy is to rush in large groups and become unstoppable, as opposed to aiming and outmaneuvering your opponent, like any sensible shooter. And before you ask, yes the lock on is available for sniper rifles.
To make lock on feature even more relevant, the balance is thrown out of whack. Without the lock on, it’s pretty hard to kill someone due to poor hit detection combined with everyone having an insane amount of health/shield. It is pretty much a requirement to lock onto a target since manually aiming doesn’t deal as much damage as locking onto them. To make matters worse, the HUD and radar are useless since they don’t tell you if the enemy is above or below you, and enemies won’t appear until they are five feet away from you.
Vehicles are pretty much a standard in most FPS games, especially ones that follow the “Battlefield” model. Just like those games, “Section 8″ suffers from balance issues because of the vehicles. For example, the heavy tank is pretty hard to take down due to its quick mobility, and slow rocket launcher projectiles. Having a tank on the field is a guaranteed game changer. The same goes for the Convey, which you receive for free if you do a DCM. It has nearly the same exact firepower as the tank, only with a lot more health. Fortunately, the controls on these vehicles are god awful, since you can get stuck on every minor thing on the map from wired fences to a tree. You’ll probably want rely on your feet more due to the fact these vehicles have lousy controls and an HUD that doesn’t properly tell you if you are going forward or backwards.
If the poor execution wasn’t enough to stop you, the bugs will. There has been constant connection problems due to the Windows Live being the multiplayer platform. Ranked matches aren’t always recorded either, making the entire ladder system feel like a lottery as opposed to a testament of skill. I even experienced a blue screen of death on my Windows Vista.
With all this being said, it’s quite clear that “Section 8″ has a lot of great ideas. The mixture of custom classes, dynamic missions, and ability to manipulate the battlefield with deployables is a very workable concept. It’s just unfortunate that Timegate Studios clearly has no idea what makes a shooter genre tick when you see stupid things making it into the game like poor player mobility and locking onto targets. Unless they make a game changing patch, there is no reason to get “Section 8″ since there are much better shooters coming out in the near future by more competent developers.
“Section 8″ was developed by Timegate Studios, and published by SouthPeak Games for the PC and Xbox 360. This review is based on the PC version of the game.