With Modern Warfare 2 shipping in just over a month’s time, you’d need to be quite brave or just downright foolhardy to release a first-person shooter now. Infinity Ward’s titan is, by all accounts, an improved follow-up to one of the biggest selling games of all time. So much so, that it’s scared most studios’ major releases all the way into next year with many feeling they just can’t compete. SouthPeak Interactive on the other hand has decided to go head to head with the colossus, and maybe it’s this show of wilful ignorance that leads to impossible comparisons. While Modern Warfare 2 promises to gleam as a result of a no-expense-spared production, it would be unfair to expect the same from Section 8.
The problem with Section 8, however, isn’t just a lack of spit and shine – it’s that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. The story takes place in the future after the human race has discovered interstellar travel and colonized across the galaxy. A group called the ARM of Orion has begun an underground revolution, taking control of planets from the main governing body. Upon this discovery, the government sends in the 8th Armored Infantry (Section 8), a group of soldiers that have been classified as ‘completely mental’ in the vein of Inglorious Basterds with one member, Alex Corde, being the game’s main character. It’s basically a mash of Alien and Halo, which may sound good on paper but beyond the opening cinematic the story tails off never to reappear in any worthwhile context. Grunting super soldiers battling their way to another Star Wars Iraq in a galaxy far, far away has been done so many times that it would take something monumental to make it feel fresh, but Section 8 really isn’t up the challenge. There’s just a complete lack of charm.
The single player campaign is instantly forgettable, if not for the fact that this is 2009 and shelling out for any game should at least entail something better than a decorated tutorial for gamers who don’t own a Gold subscription to Xbox LIVE. There’s genuinely not any excuse for what comes across as a lack of effort. Run here, blow up this. Use jetpack, blow up that – it just all seems so lazy.
That being said, one of the more entertaining and visceral aspects to Section 8 are the initial descents into the battle. Players “burn-in” by dropping onto the battlefield from orbital dropships hovering at 15,000 feet from the surface, which eliminates the need for fixed spawn points. You can also be shot down upon entry by players and anti-aircraft turrets alike, though these situations can be avoided or mitigated by using the “air-brake” feature which allows you to make mid-air adjustments. It’s the type of feature that you could see working perfectly in Halo ODST or deployed with parachutes in Call of Duty.
You can set up, roughly, any kind of game mode with a varying combination of Humans and Bots, along with in-game objective based missions (variations on Capture the Flag, TDM and Bomb Run) and the level of customisation available should be applauded. Once combat begins, however, Section 8 fails to build on such a promising start. Online feels completely barren with most players alternating between sporadic bursts of fire and hopping around in jet pecks that seem to be fitted with the world’s lousiest fuel tank. There’s a lack of atmosphere here with intense stand-offs at a minimum, although there did seem to be a constant stream of server problems during our play-test that made connecting to games difficult; whether we’ve just been unlucky in match selections is open for debate.
In most FPS titles the speed in which players can move about the map can have a chaotic and enthralling effect on battles (see TimeSplitters and Goldeneye) but unfortunately, one of the biggest complaints here is that soldiers move incredibly slowly during combat and when they do they finally break into a sprint with the camera switching to third person, it becomes difficult to stop them abruptly. This only serves to show up a clunky control system and engine at its worst, making the whole experience one that simply feels dated.
One of the most frustrating aspects is that you’ll often find yourself in battles where the opposition fails to take any substantial damage. Lag? Poor connection? No, unfortunately, you’ve got the wrong set of guns because they’ve equipped a souped up load-out for close combat. This soon leads to everyone on the map using identical gear and completely ruins the concept of Section 8 being a tactical shooter.
In one part Section 8 is a standard run-and-gun with bases, vehicles and the objective to annihilate the opposition, but it’s too cumbersome, clunky and confusing to pull it off. Secondly it’s a tactical shooter with team work and positioning key to winning any battle, but in this also your options suffer from the same bemusing lack of clarity. Despite customizable load-outs you’ll ultimately pine for something far more simplistic.
Section 8 isn’t very good. It’s bland, generic, lacking in original ideas, poorly executed in nearly every department and you’ll probably grow bored of it within the few essential hours it takes to complete the awful single player campaign. With Halo 3 now at budget prices and the excellent Battlefield 1943 available for download, you’d be advised to give this a swerve.
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