Review: Section 8 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Section 8
Developer: Timegate Studios
Publisher: Southpeak Games
Genre: First Person Shooter
Released: 09/01/09

Talk about out of the blue. Section 8 is a game that came out of nowhere. I had heard nothing about it until the demo hit Xbox Live. Now the game has hit store shelves, dropped into retailers from orbiting starships. The question is, should you deploy your air brakes and pick up this game, or should you just let it crater?

Story:

Section 8 is mainly a multiplayer title, but there is a brief campaign mode that lets you get your legs and see what you prefer in your combat load out. The story for the game seems to take a little bit of inspiration from Imperial Rome, a little bit from the movie Starship Troopers, and some Halo thrown in as well. The campaign tells the tale of Private Corde, who is a member of the 8th Armored Infantry Brigade of the United States Imperial Marines. The 8th is known as Section 8, because only crazies would be shot out of a launch tube at a planet below, and Section 8 is the term given to people who are crazy in the US Army.

Yes, I really did type United States Imperial Marines. The game goes out of its way to make you see the Stars and Stripes on the shoulders of the Marines, and even though there are soldiers in game with Australian and British accents, no mention is made of any sort of coalition of the willing.
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I find myself wanting to know more about what happened to cause the United States to say screw it, let’s be an empire. Perhaps in the sequel, if this makes it that far.

Graphics:

I love the scope of this game in terms of its imagery. Everything is huge. There is a mission where you must disable the defenses of a planet in order for your fleet to move in closer. These defenses are the size of skyscrapers. The ships in your fleet are just as massive, and it’s pretty obvious that nobody is worried about overcompensating in this universe.

Moving on, the soldiers in Section 8 are clad in full body armor. This armor bears a great resemblance to the Cylon Centurions in the rehash of Battlestar Galactica. Certainly inspired by it at the very least.

The HUD is clearly designed for HDTVs, because after playing the game on both SD and HD, I can easily say it’s far more workable on an HDTV.

Sound:

The theme music is epic. I could listen to it without the game running, in my living room or some such. Certainly a piece that deserves to be added to a Videogames Live concert, or a that type of event.

The rest of the sound is well done, and comes through very well on the surround sound. Assault rifles and missile launchers all sound futuristic enough to be plausible given what you see on the screen. I did find one really annoying bit of audio. There’s a mission where you can plant explosives on something to disable them. Fair enough. After they are armed they emit a really high pitched whine. I suppose that would make sense in real life. I know I’d run away from it to save my hearing (and thus…my life), but I really don’t need to hear that in a game.

Your commanding General is voiced by the same gentleman who was your commander in Red Faction Guerrilla and Crackdown, and he does a fine job here. The rest of the voice actors to a good enough job. Nobody’s going to complain about people phoning their work in here at any rate.

Gameplay/Controls

Section 8 takes a whole lot of cues from the Tribes franchise. You are an armored soldier, with a jet pack. You can attack or defend various objectives, and in so doing you can call in things like missile turrets, ammo stations and the like. And since everyone spawns from overhead drop ships, you can also cut off portions of the map to the enemy by deploying portable anti-aircraft guns. This creates opportunities for players to wall off sections of the map from their enemies. Your armor can be heavily modified, with both active and passive features.
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A passive feature might be how stealthy you are on enemy radar, while an active feature would be switching out a pistol for a shotgun, or something similar. Basically if you’re going to interact with it in game, it’s likely an active feature.

Basic movement can take some getting used to. Essentially your movement is quite slow in relation to other games of this type. This actually seems more realistic as you are weighed down by an armored suit and various weapons, but it’s still jarring. To be used to sprinting hither and yon in games like Halo and then be dropped into this one and find yourself all but crawling around might make you think it’s just too slow, but I quickly got over it. There is a run option, and after you’ve been running for a little while you build up enough kinetic energy for your suit to engage its Overdrive function. I don’t know if that’s what the developers call it, but that’s basically what’s happening, so there you go. Strangely there appears to be no way to disengage the Overdrive aside from engaging your jet pack or slamming yourself into a convenient tree or wall.

Taking into account that this game is set in the future, your suit provides you with a limited computer assisted aim function which you can engage for brief periods at a time. It’s not always useful, and it is line of site only, so if a target moves behind something you’ll lose the lock. I found that the lock isn’t really as useful as it could be, perhaps to help keep the game fun.

Those turrets and such which I mentioned previously that you can call in cost money. This money is earned by making yourself useful, basically. Shoot someone, earn a buck. Repair someone, earn a buck. Capture a supply station? Earn a buck. You get the deal. The more money you earn the bigger the toys you unlock. There is a tank and Heavy Armor you can purchase if you earn the cash. The tank can seat 4 players, and each player has a role. The Heavy Armor on the other hand is just a wrecking machine for one person, equipped with machine guns and fists. These can be turning points in games, or they can be a huge waste of money. Be smart and don’t call for a delivery near enemy lines, you’re probably just giving them a gift.

In addition to the standard capture checkpoint missions, Section 8 also includes a feature called Dynamic Combat Missions. These are random occurrences which allow a team to make up ground in the race to reach 1000 points and victory on the map. They include VIP (protect/assassinate), Intelligence (capture the flag), Commando (overpowered attacker), Outpost (a new base for one faction must be defended or destroyed), Convoy (point A to point B) and Bomb (set up the bomb, defuse the bomb). Each of these mission types have been seen before, but they are used here in a way that works well with the gametype. If one side is dominating a map you can still get points for buying tanks and such by destroying an enemy convoy or killing a VIP. And if they choose to come out and defend their DCM, then they are leaving one of their bases vulnerable.

Replayability:

There are eight maps that ship with the game. Depending on the size of your game you can choose to select smaller portions of some maps, making it easier on the servers and your connection. Each of these are introduced to you in single player, as that’s what the single player campaign exists for. This is not exactly a cornucopia of maps to play on, but it’s a good start. Throw in the variety that comes from modifying your power armor and you can spend a long time finding out what suits you best. The speed at which you move also makes the maps seem larger, making for more variety simply because you can’t possibly experience the entire map very quickly.

Balance:

The balance here is pretty high. All of the weapons, either Arm of Orion or Section 8 are virtually indistinguishable. 4 So I suppose I’m saying that because there is no variety the game is already balanced, and the only thing that really affects the outcome of the game is the skill of you and your teammates.

Originality:

On the face of it the game doesn’t look very original at all. Much of the gameplay is inspired by previous games and the whole space marine thing has been a part of videogames since Pac-man avoided the draft (What, you thought Inky Pinky Blinky and Clyde were ghosts? No no…they were MPs.).

But if you look a little deeper, you may find some things which warrant the label original. For instance, the ability for players to download to their PCs server software which will let them use those PCs as dedicated servers, freeing up their 360s for actual gameplay usage and upping the player limit from 16 to 32.

Additionally, there is an actual server window for you to scan for games and choose which ones you want to join. Now if it actually worked it would be even more fantastic, but more on that in a minute.

Addictiveness:

I suppose, in a game where multiplayer is so vital, that how addictive a game is would be determined by how easy it is to get online and play against other people. Unfortunately in my time with the game I’ve found that playing online seems to be more difficult than it should be. While there is a server browser, it doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell. There is also the ability to quickly connect to the first game found, but even this is not always guaranteed to succeed. Is it possible I’m an idiot, having played games with server browsers and quick connect buttons for decades now? Certainly. But I find the likelihood of that to be suspect at best.

It’s a pity too, because when you do get online and get into a game with 31 other players, there is a lot of fun to be had here. There are large maps and smaller maps, and doing things that make you feel as though you are contributing to the outcome of battle are easy to achieve. You don’t have to be Genghis Khan with a blaster rifle to score well in this game. If you choose to simply stay back and defend a base, deploying turrets and repairing friendlies you can score really well and have a good time doing it. If the connection issues are ever fixed this is a game which could prove really addicting.

Appeal:

Joining squads, blasting enemies, capturing Intel and killing VIPs. These are things to consider when thinking of joining the United States Imperial Marines. The few, the orbital, the Marines.

The movement in game IS slower than your average first person shooter, so be warned.

Miscellaneous:

The game is clearly a PC game made for the 360. Everything about it seems like it would fit very easily onto a PC, and as there is a PC version I’m not going to say I’m shocked considering how easy it is to port a game these days.

I really did enjoy the story in the single player campaign, short though it was. Much of that would probably be due to the CG movies played at various points in the game. They weren’t mind blowing by any stretch, but they certainly offered a glimpse of a universe that I want to know more about.
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Finally, one great thing about orbital insertions? Landing on an enemy.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: VERY GOOD
Balance: AMAZING
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GREAT
Final Score: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

With Halo: ODST coming very shortly, it seems as though Section 8 may have picked the wrong time to try and enlist gamers into their version of the Space Marines. Still, if enough people decide to try this instead of OD’ing on ST there is plenty of fun to be had here.

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