In 2009 TimeGate Studios released a first person shooter called Section 8 which gained a decent online following thanks to a good multi-player experience. The follow up features refinements to the multi-player and a new single player campaign but the twist is that this is a download only title (for 360/PS3 and PC) which costs £9.99/$15 rather than the £30-40 or $50 that most new titles launch at.
EDIT 16/08/11: Valve today added midweek madness to the PC price on Steam, offering the game for an excellent 66% off.
Today we find out if it offers anything worth experiencing in a market saturated by first person shooters.
It is pretty clear from playing Section 8 Prejudice that the developers have focused more on the multi-player aspect of the game rather than the single player, something which is at odds with the norm. That doesn't mean that the campaign mode is a disappointment but it is the least rewarding of the two gameplay options.
We start the campaign as a well-armed soldier where we go through the usual style of tutorial for a FPS, familiarising ourselves with the main controls over an obstacle course. This lets us know that the usual WASD keys work for movement, that actions are performed by keys such as E and F and that our standard left mouse to shoot, right to zoom is present. Where the game differs from the other games though is in a few specific choices that TimeGate has made. First of all we have a jetpack available to us from the outset. Space once to jump and then again to use the pack. There is also the option to "overdrive" where holding shift causes us to run, keeping it pressed moves us into a sprint like mode. These two aspects can of course be combined which makes for some rather cool entrances into battle.
Section 8 Prejudice also features another aspect which sets it apart from many other games, the ability to call in supply devices. These allow us to re-supply our ammo but also to completely change the weapons at our disposal (loadouts), both primary, secondary and tools/grenades etc as well. As these are available at multiple points throughout the level we can therefore tweak our approach to particular sections at will, changing from sniper rifle, to machine gun to rocket launcher for example. The deployment of these supply devices is also a way of introducing the player to the idea that air support plays a big part in this game as does the ability to buy items such as a hover bike and have them dropped in by a larger ship.
So the basic premise behind the single player campaign is that a prisoner is freed from one of our maximum security jails in an ambush by an unknown force. We must then track him down through waves of enemy forces and as we go, uncover who he is working with in order to save the world. Nothing particularly spectacular, but entertaining nonetheless and a good introduction to the gameplay mechanic which is so important in multiplayer.
Speaking of Multiplayer, as we noted earlier TimeGate has clearly put a considerable amount of effort into this aspect of the game. We have the option of Assault, a versus game mode were teams battle to capture control points in the fastest time before defending them. Conquest (Versus again) puts two teams up against each other and we gain points towards a victory by killing the enemy, capturing control points and completing missions which are assigned by our commander during the timed battle. In Swarm four players defend a single control point against multiple waves of enemy units, we have to fortify the base and repel these attackers until the time runs out.
Each of these modes is exceptionally well balanced and the skills we learned in the single player campaign are all used to great effect here. We also get to see why we were learning the importance of air support in the campaign mode was useful when playing online. Success in battle here is dependent on calling down the right support to help us achieve our goal, whether it is installation of air defence turrets, supplies to change our loadout, mech suits or vehicles. Added to that we have a rather cool respawn method when playing online.
Each time we die and at the start of the battle we are shown a top down view of the map. This covers the control points, anti-air guns and enemy positions and we can select to spawn anywhere on the map based on this information. Want to go to a control point to assist in repelling a wave of attack, no problem. Want to drop in on a fire fight in the heart of enemy land to take revenge on the player that just took us out... click away. It really does open up a much faster and gameplay style with more freedom... as well as looking very cool when diving through the atmosphere as shown above. As an added bonus, each time we die the option is there to re-tool to meet the needs of the current battle style.
As well as all of the above we also gain XP for playing, unlocking items such as new weapons and power-ups as we go and there is the ability to buy extra maps for those who want to maximise their enjoyment of the game.
Graphics and Sound
Section 8 Prejudice uses Unreal Engine 3 and so is a decent looking game. There are some nice lighting effects and the various locations look significantly different to each other. It is also clear that more time and effort has gone into getting a reasonable level of balance across the game art than some competitors as there are no real issues with noticeable low res textures which distract. Things are not perfect though as the characters are not the most detailed, the cut scenes don't really do the action justice and there are a few bugs, at least on our AMD card, where shadows such as those on faces don't render properly.
Still, the respawn effect looks fantastic and the detail level is perfectly acceptable in multi-player to allow us to enjoy the experience.
In terms of sound, multi-player lacks a musical score instead concentrating on the weapons effects and voiceovers which is ideal. In single player we get a decent but not outstanding score with some average voice acting. Nothing to spoil the experience but sound in the campaign hasn't been a massive priority for TimeGate.
Section 8 Prejudice has a single player campaign which is worth playing in a couple of sessions for those who have a free afternoon or evening. It is enjoyable but a little short lived and doesn't require a huge amount of thought. It is worth playing though given the cost and the benefit that it sets us up well to jump into the online modes.
That multiplayer action is where the game really shines. The maps are well thought out and of a decent size. The gameplay modes are varied enough to make each interesting and challenging in its own way and the balance is absolutely spot on. Taking one of our recent battles as an example, in a 16vs16 Conquest battle we finished 981 points to 1006 which is exceptionally close, rarely does one team ever run away with a victory. We also need to note that the ability to quick match works well with the game assigning a decent server every time and the online code seems very stable with no lag.
The overall gameplay mechanic works great and the ability to unlock extra items and level up will keep players going while they master their skills and past that we have the option to buy extra maps if we wish.
In the end though the games main strength is that for £9.99/$15 we get access to the best multi-player game we have played this year and that alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.
Some good ideas keep the game from feeling like another COD clone FPS and an excellent online multiplayer raises it above many other titles.
Decent, functional but not spectacular.
OK in campaign mode, scaled down to the essentials in multi-player which is ideal.
Probably the best £10/$15 you will spend on multi-player action this year.
Overall (Not an Average)
Treat the campaign as an enjoyable blast through a long tutorial before heading into some intense, well balanced and reasonably tactical online multi-player action. A must buy for anyone who is a FPS fan, especially those disappointed by other recent "big" releases.