On the war-torn planets of tomorrow, mankind’s greatest battle is about to begin. With its frontier colonies devastated by a growing insurrection called the Arm of Orion, Earth dispatches the elite 8th Armoured Infantry (nicknamed “Section 8”) to repel the onslaught.
Section 8 is a unique attempt at remaking the FPS genre, but poor vehicle handling and other minor issues may deter some from picking this one up.
The story behind the game is as derivative as it gets. Humanity has spread across the stars. Cue the emergence of a separatist group calling themselves the Arm of Orion, who immediately makes it their mission to wage war on the government. Outraged, Earth sends a massive fleet to retake captured worlds. The titular Section 8 is the division assigned to perform the most suicidally difficult missions.
If you’re looking for character development and the like, you may want to give the single-player campaign a pass. It follows the story of a Section 8 grunt named Corde, but the story falls flat. These battle-hardened warriors casually shrug off the deaths of their fellow men – with the exception of Corde, who attempts a half-hearted “That’s the bastard who killed my [spoiler deleted]!”
Suffice to say, Section 8 is first and foremost a multiplayer game. As such, you should treat “Corde’s Story” (as the campaign is known) as an extended, four- to five-hour tutorial of sorts that familiarizes you with the game mechanics.
So what exactly does Section 8 have in store? Basically there are six different types of classes you can choose to play: Assault, Engineer, Recon, Infiltrator, Artillery and Guardian. These classes are not only differentiated by the weapons they carry (of which you can carry two). Differences in their item loadout and the allocation of a predetermined number of points into “passive modifiers” further separate the six classes into distinct roles. These modifiers improve your character with upgrades like higher damage and better armor, to name a few.
If the available classes don’t suit your needs, you’re more than welcome to mix-and-match weapons, items and passive modifier points to create your own hybrid class. You can even change classes on the fly via the usage of deployable supply depots throughout the map, or in between respawns. The result is that you are able to play the game the way you want.
A game set in the future wouldn’t be complete without some heavy-duty technology to help wipe your enemies off the face of the planet. There’s a barebones selection of weapons, which includes a knife (for those of you who like to get up close and personal) and a rocket launcher (the dinkiest rocket launcher EVER, it seems more like a baby’s plaything), and an interesting array of items (a multipurpose tool that can either heal teammates or repair vehicles and structures, a radar jammer, proximity grenades, and mortar to name a few).
The highlights of the game, though, are the burn-in, jetpack, overdrive and lockon features. These are default to all players no matter their class. Burn-in refers to the way soldiers are deployed to the battlefield: fired out of ships in orbit towards the planet’s surface. Coupled with the ability to brake in the final stages of your dive, this means you can deploy practically anywhere on the battlefield, whether right next to your squadmates or behind enemy lines. This ability alone adds so much tactical depth that it quickly becomes an asset you need to learn to use to your advantage (fun fact: landing directly on top of an enemy while burning-in instantly kills them).
The jetpack, meanwhile, grants you the ability to leap higher distances or hover for a limited time. The overdrive allows you to increase your running speed exponentially after sprinting normally for awhile, while the lockon allows you to lock on to a target of your choice for a very short period of time, ensuring perfect accuracy.
However, although mobility is vastly improved by the burn-in, jetpack and overdrive abilities, when you’re walking or sprinting normally you seem to move at a cow’s pace. It feels frustratingly slow and cumbersome. That said, it’s a good thing these supersoldiers are so durable – it takes forever to gun someone down (even with 100% headshots) and the same applies to you. Expect much longer lifespans in matches than the instant kills of other FPS games.
Rack up enough kills or capture enough control points scattered around the map and you’ll receive money. This can be used to purchase either deployable base defenses (limited to a resupply depot, several turrets or a sensor array) or vehicles. There are two types of vehicles: one is a heavy mech and the other is a super tank.
The mech is one of the most overpowered upgrades available for purchase in the entire game. Aside from being able to absorb ridiculous amounts of damage, it packs twin autocannons that practically rip anyone to pieces. Get too close, and it will scoop you up and hurl your crushed corpse across the battlefield (read: instant kill). Thus, mechs are (usually) able to draw fire away from the rest of your team, affording them a useful place in your strategies.
The super tank, however, is an anti-climax of sorts. It’s so superpowered (it packs a turret, cannons, missile launchers, AND a mortar) that it becomes a nightmare to pilot. The turret is just as big as the tank chassis; so unless you keep glancing at the minimap in the corner of your screen (to tell which way you’re facing), driving the tank around is akin to riding a blindfolded hippo on steroids.
Additionally, while you’re in a match, be prepared to receive objectives every now and then. These are known as “Dynamic Combat Missions”. Personally I think it’s a way to combine both the single- and multiplayer experiences, as well as introduce an element of unpredictability into each match. Fulfill the objectives of your missions successfully and you will gain victory points, which count towards your overall performance in the match. Of course, don’t forget the other side will be similarly working to stop you from doing so!
Hence, it’s quite possible that one side will be on the offensive to complete its “collect enemy intelligence” mission, only to be forced back into the defensive by the introduction of a new “protect convoy” mission, thereby changing the battlefield dynamics and making for a tighter, more engaging match.
Like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Wanted: Weapons of Fate, Section 8 uses the Unreal engine for its graphics. The result is a beautiful looking game with huge open spaces stretching out into the distance. Explosions feel solid and there is enough variety in the environments to prevent things from looking uninspired, but best of all is the sensation of hurtling towards the planet’s surface as you drop from orbit. Granted, there’s nothing revolutionary about the graphics, but you can’t deny that Section 8 is a pretty game.
All in all, those looking for a new way to play multiplayer FPS should pick up Section 8. Once you get past the things that make it different from traditionally-favored shooters like COD4: Modern Warfare and all-time favorite Counterstrike, it can be quite a fun and fast-paced game. If it wasn’t for all the minor issues, it would probably be a classic by now – but don’t let that deter you. If you’re in the mood to try something novel, sign up for Section 8 and prepare to drop!
Pros: Some innovative features, customizable classes, Dynamic Combat Missions add variability
Cons: Cliched (non-existent?) story, soldiers run at snail’s pace, tank drives like a cow