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Long before competitive shooters on consoles were commonplace, gamers who wanted to prove something had to do so on the PC, and the place to do it was Tribes. Already, half of the people reading this are confused, and the other half are holding their chests, as if remembering a past love. For those who don't know, old shooters weren't the gunfights in Call of Duty 4, they were epic battles. A few pistol rounds didn't take someone down - hell - a few rockets barely left a dent. These fights were about base destruction, and waging battles that make World War II look like a game of tennis by comparison. Over the years, the shooter has become watered down to the point where the closest comparison we have to games like Tribes is the Battlefield series, which is a far cry from the shooters of yesteryear. Timegate’s Section 8 is a callback to those days, when FPS meant big, scary guns, and every kill was fought for.
Reading this, you're already likely already interested or about to tap out on the game altogether. Section 8 isn't for everyone. It's a nostalgic dream for some, and an archaic mess for others- that's how it is, and that's how it's going to stay. If you're someone who is turned off by the idea of scoring a headshot with a sniper rifle and seeing your opponent stroll away, you may as well turn around right now. If this sounds interesting, however, Section 8 may be the game for you.
There's something to be said about feeling all powerful - it's what pushed so many copies of Prototype and inFamous off the shelves. Section 8 does a wonderful job of this, and the hyper-powerful mechanized suits adorned by both the 8th Armored Infantry and the Arm of Orion (the fictional teams in the game) lead to some epic confrontations on the battlefield. Sprinting, which is something that has found its way into just about every FPS on the shelves, is taken to another level with Overdrive mode, which allows the combatants to jump into third person and run at double speed across the large, open arenas of Section 8. Jumping, too, is kicked up to 11, with the aid of a jetpack that, when used in conjunction with Overdrive, means the ability to leap hundreds of feet over walls and buildings.
Both of these aspects, while interesting in their own right, pale in comparison to "Burning in," a mechanic which has every player's spawn leading to them falling from orbit. After every death, the map is shown, and any location can be selected as a spawn point. After a short countdown the descent begins, something which can be seen from everyone within a few hundred feet on the map. With a few hundred feet left the player can tap on the breaks for some last-second tweaking, attempting to land on a building, rock formation, or, if they're feeling lucky, an enemy player. Landing on a foe from 3,000 feet up is about as difficult as it sounds, but awards the game's only one-hit kill, so it's definitely worth it.
Players aren't the only things that can burn in, either. Every kill, objective completed, and base captured awards players money that can be spent to purchase items. Supply Depots, Sensor Arrays, Anti-Air Turrets, Minigun Turrets, and Rocket Turrets can all be requested and awarded, dropping to the ground exactly where the player wants. Vehicles, too, can be requested, and are delivered via Dropship at a targeted location. It might sound overpowered to be able to request heavy armor or a tank in the middle of an opponent's base, but a simple request isn't enough to actually get an object. All of these requisitions are subject to fire from anti-air turrets, which slice up the map to make sure an entire team can’t simply drop onto an enemy’s base. That said, if someone was to enter a base and destroy the AA towers, there's nothing to stop five players from dropping into an opponent's base and spawning a few turrets to protect themselves.
Thankfully, taking over bases isn't as important in Section 8 as it might seem. In Battlefield and other similar shooters, bases usually serve as the only spawn points. In Section 8, the sky is the spawn point, so their only purpose it so give the team controlling them points. They're far from the only source of points, since every kill and objective completed also helps a team's chances of winning. Just as Killzone 2 did, Section 8 has missions spawning dynamically, instead of attaching each game to a specific rule set. It even takes it a step further, and has multiple missions going on at once, meaning one team can be protecting a VIP while the other is trying to deliver a bomb. It fits this style of shooter extremely well, all the while demanding teamwork. Capturing bases and killing enemies still earns points for the team, so it’s important to continue playing normally when objectives aren’t active. When they are completed, however, they earn massive points for the winning team.
When all of the elements of Section 8 are mixed together - the dynamically changing missions, the large multiplayer cap (32 players), the powerful suits, burning in, and requisitioning structures - the result is a wholly unique shooter in the console space. The dynamically changing missions are an ingenious addition, and should ensure that Section 8 delivers some of the most badass multiplayer gaming of the year. Sadly, not all works out in the game's favor, and some elements work against the game and will have many gamers scratching their head in confusion.
Any lack of player progression seems a bit strange in the year 2010, especially when it feels as though it would help the game have some some staying power. Before falling headfirst into battle, different loadouts are available, allowing the player to choose from pre-set classes, such as Recon (which uses a sniper rifle) and artillery (with a focus on explosives). Not only that, but the option to customize and create loadouts is available, so every weapon, item, and passive skill can be chosen. These seem like ripe candidates for some player progression, since being able to unlock passive upgrades would have made it feel like there was a reason to continue playing for that one extra game. The developers say it is so that every player has an even start, and that's true to a point, but it doesn't mean that it should be ignored entirely.
The visuals, too, leave much to be desired. Far from a pretty game, Section 8 doesn’t try and win any awards for its looks. Running on Epic’s Unreal 3 engine, Timegate’s shooter might actually have more texture pop-ins than any other game this generation. Sure, it doesn’t help that every character spawn has him dropping from 3,000 feet up, but it’s extremely noticeable. Even once they’re fully displayed, the textures don’t look all that great, and it’s very clear that the developer was worried more about the large-scale than the small. For the most part, this gamble worked out in their favor, since the framerate holds together even during large combat sequences.
To top off the package, Section 8 offers a short singleplayer portion with little cinematic cut scenes in between sections. The narrative is called Corde’s Story, and follows commander Alex Corde of the 8th Armored Infantry as he attempts to fight the Arm of Orion’s forces off of different military bases. The actual missions are a series of objectives like the ones found online, and usually involve Corde running into a base and hacking a computer, or defending one against enemies doing the same. It’s fairly difficult to actually lose any of these missions, since Alex can always respawn if he dies, resuming combat right where he left it. The option to just jump into a skirmish is also available, for those times where you just don't feel like dealing with other people. That said, if you're not looking for a multiplayer game, Section 8 probably isn't for you in the first place.
It's certainly not for everyone, as said over and over in this review, but it's hard to argue with dropping headfirst from space and living to talk about it, even if it's only just a video game. Running and jumping over walls is just fun, no matter what, and charging through enemies gives off some of the same satisfactions that Crysis did, albeit in a much different looking title. It feels as though a sequel might be able to address many of the problems in Section 8 to create a more polished experience in a more forgiving time.
In the end, one of the biggest issues with the game is its release date. It’s a shame that so many other high-profile shooters are coming out this year, because Section 8 would have had a chance to shine in a less populated season. As it stands, it’s going to be hard to find a huge audience for the title, especially with new Call of Duty and Halo titles just over the horizon. Even so, Timegate’s shooter is a well-put together experience that should make Tribes fans giddy, and remind the rest of us a time, for better or worse, when shooters were a little bit bigger.