September 15, 2009
The United States Army used to have "section 8" discharges for those who were deemed mentally unfit for duty. TimeGate's new multiplayer-centric sci-fi shooter borrows its name from this no-longer used regulation. Players will join forces with the United States Imperial Forces 8th Armored Infantry, a group of troopers who complete insane missions that seem impossible, hence they're referred to as "Section 8." Featuring massive battlefields and the ability to spawn into the map from the atmosphere, Section 8 is one of the better multiplayer titles out for the Xbox 360.
Section 8 features a single-player campaign, but it's clearly not what this game is all about. Players take on the role of Alex Corde, a painfully generic space marine with no character development beyond getting promoted after every mission. The story pits the 8th Armored Infantry against a splinter group called the Arm of Orion, but there's little in here to get players to care. Taking all of four or five hours to complete, Section 8's single-players is clearly meant as a training tool to prepare players for the robust multiplayer, and nothing else. Gamers looking for a story-driven experience or a strong single-player aspect should look elsewhere.
Like Unreal Tournament III, Section 8 is a sci-fi shooter that's all about the multiplayer, and in that regard, it delivers some solid action. The action takes place across eight huge battlefields, or chopped down versions better suited for smaller games. Supporting up to 32 players online, Section 8 has the potential for some sprawling and epic battles. Victory comes by being the first team to reach a set number of "Victory Points," which can be earned in a variety of ways. The surest way to rack up points is to take and hold various capture points around the map, as these provide a steady stream of points. As the game progresses, Dynamic Combat Missions (DCMs) will appear, which provide significant points to the team that completes their mission, or the opposing team who counters it. DCMs may involve protecting a computer controlled VIP as they make their way toward a captured base, defending a stationary outpost for a set amount of time, retrieving intelligence from an enemy controlled capture point to a friendly one, and more. These DCMs keep the game dynamic, forcing players to stay on their toes to adapt to changing conditions. Section 8 favors teamwork and clear communication, as the team that works together clearly destroys a team of mavericks every time.
One of Section 8's most interesting innovations is how players begin each life. Dropping in from the sky, players have the ability to choose where they will drop into the map. While falling, players can drop like a stone to reach the ground faster - but need a second to recover before they can fire - or deploy air brakes which slow descent, but allow for more precise aiming of where to land, and the ability to fire as soon as their feet touch ground. This spawn mechanic eliminates spawn camping, and opens up plenty of strategic possibilities. Do you spawn right on top of the enemy VIP to try to counter that mission? Spawn into the heart of your base as it's under attack? Anti-air guns at the capture points keep spawning from becoming too much of a free-for-all, as these structures shoot down opposing players. Unless destroyed, a players will not be able to drop right into an enemy owned position, and these turrets can also be purchased and deployed in other areas of the map as an area denial tool.
With maps this massive, it's vital to be able to get around them in a reasonable amount of time, and Section 8's running system has that covered. After sprinting for a couple seconds, players will engage an "overdrive," where the camera pulls out to a third-person view, and players run at a much faster speed, making crossing large distances easy. Players also sport jetpacks that can be used for evasive maneuvers or to reach higher terrain. It would have been nice if the jetpack could be used for a little longer before having to recharge, but its use opens up the possibility of attacks from unexpected directions.
As players complete objectives, they'll earn money that can be used to purchase deployables which get dropped onto the map, and can dramatically turn the tide of battle. Turrets can be summoned to bolster a capture point's defense, or anti-air batteries called down for area denial. Supply depots can repair nearby players or buildings, while sensor arrays can provide info on enemy positions. Most expensive, but also most potentially game-changing, are the heavy armor and tanks that can be purchased, which can deal huge amounts of damage to the enemy. Deployables add yet another layer of strategy to the proceedings, making managing finances an important component of victory.
For those who would rather not play against human opponents, Section 8 provides Instant Action games, which play the same as the multiplayer, except the other players are AI bots. Bot difficulty can be set to several different difficulty levels to tailor the challenge, and these bots are no slouches. Your artificial adversaries will go after capture points, work to complete DCMs, and purchase deployables in a very human fashion, which makes Instant Action a great training ground for the multiplayer, and a fun experience in its own right if human opposition is lacking. There's the option to play humans versus bots, or the "Swarm" and "Super Swarm" game types, which stack the teams unevenly to provide a stiffer challenge for players. This variety of game modes ensures that anyone looking to enjoy Section 8's gameplay will find a mode for them.
Weapon balance appears to be one of Section 8's major question marks. The shotgun feels underpowered, and the rocket launcher utterly lacks splash damage. While it's a force to be reckoned with against turrets or tanks, its almost impossible to use effectively against infantry. The machine gun and assault rifle stand out as the two most effective weapons, meaning you'll see one of them in use by virtually everyone. Tanks, which are supposed to be the game's ultimate killing machines, prove so difficult to control that they're unlikely to be seen much in the multiplayer arena. Then there's the HUD, which takes a some getting used to. While it provides plenty of useful info to help players make decisions in the thick of battle, it looks rather small. Even in HD, I had to move a couple feet closer to the screen to see everything effectively, which I've never had to do for any other shooter.
Section 8's maps are massive and varied in their visual aesthetic, making them interesting to run around and do battle in. The space marine art style to the weapons, armor, and buildings looks pretty generic, and in during some rare moments of the most intense conflict, the frame-rate was known to slow down. Audio is uniformly bland, with forgettable weapon sound effects and voice acting that sounds muffled and tinny. While I'm sure this is meant to replicate the possible sound of communications through space marine helmets, it sounds terrible.
As a multiplayer-centric title, of course this game is going to sport a plethora of multiplayer achievements. There's a decent mix between easy and more challenging achievements, though a little more creativity in the achievements would have been nice. There are points for ranking up in multiplayer, but these aren't nearly as insane to acquire as Gears of War 2, or the 0 pointer for 10th prestige in World at War. Section 8 even features achievement tracking, and can further break down achievements by type. Unfortunately, Section 8's achievements can glitch and not unlock when they should. Developer TimeGate says it is aware of the problem and working on a fix, but there's no news on when or if it will arrive.
Providing a complex and multi-layered experience, Section 8 is one of the better multiplayer titles currently available on the 360. With clan support, stat tracking, and more, hopefully this game will sell well and build up the sizable community needed to keep the battles large and epic. Despite some need for the weapon balance to be re-tuned, an undersized HUD, and poor tank controls, Section 8 is a blast, and worth checking out if you're into large-scale multiplayer battles.
Generic weapons fire and poor voice acting are the hallmarks of forgettable audio.
The maps are huge and fun to do battle on, but the space marine art style for soldiers, building, and weapons is pretty generic.
Section 8 takes some time to learn, but once the game mechanics are understood, it's a deep and rewarding experience. An undersized HUD and poor tank controls are the only complaints.
Multiplayer is what Section 8 is all about, and the action here is dynamic and intense. There's plenty of stat-tracking, community support, and variety of in game modes to keep the game interesting for quite some time.
There's a fair variety between easy and more challenging achievements, though much of the list is rather generic, and encountering glitched achievements isn't acceptable. Hopefully that is patched soon.
Section 8 provides complex and dynamic battles set on huge maps, and is certainly one of the better multiplayer games available on the Xbox 360. Hopefully the game can build and retain the community it needs to keep those epic battles rolling at their full potential.