Playing a lot of Section 8

Section 8

A month or so ago, I learned that an acquaintance of mine from a few years ago had got a job at TimeGate Studios making maps for their new title, Section 8. I missed the closed beta, but had enough fun with the open one to make me want to acquire the full game when it came out.

Apparently about half of their dev team are hardcore Tribes players, and to a degree it shows. The maps, while not as big as the ones in Tribes, are vast and open compared to most modern games. Players are able to customize their soldier with two guns, two secondary utilities, and ten points to distribute across a number of passive powerups. Players also get a shield, a jet pack, super-sprinting, and lock-on.

Section 8 is a capture-the-point game with a twist—as players start to earn points for various achievements, the game automatically starts up mini-objectives to complete. This turns out to be a great way to keep things challenging and fresh, while giving players a good reason to come out of their bases. If you turtle in a base and don't complete your objectives, the other team will win. This gives the game a higher learning curve than most other games, but most should only take a few days to get it down.

Section 8 is a multiplayer game, so I'd caution you against buying it if you're expecting a good single-player story. Some sites mentions that it has a single-player campaign, but it really only consists of multiplayer with bots tied together in an hour long tutorial story where an unseen general is yelling reasons to complete all the objectives you'd normally complete in multiplayer. But that's okay—the real fun is in the multiplayer.

Spawning is a unique experience in this game. You get hurled out of ships in orbit and are able to break mid-air to adjust your landing position. With a bit of skill and luck, you can actually land on enemies for a very satisfying instant kill. To combat you landing in enemy territory, anti-air comes standard in all bases and players can deploy more if they choose. Anti-air becomes crucial to gameplay—if yours gets taken down, the enemies will start to swarm in right on top of you. Players dropping down within an anti-air radius will either be shot down or take heavy damage before ever seeing another player.

The maps will remind you a lot of Tribes. They are big and open, with 2-4 bases scattered around them. They all feature dead zones defining their boundaries, which can change depending on the maximum number of players. The bases are pretty good, with an intricate futuristic design. Despite the large maps, the area in between the bases are for the most part also well very detailed. The mini-objectives will usually take place in these areas, so you may end up spending more time outside of a base than in one.

Character customization is one of the crucial areas of the game. You get ten points to spread across various passive power-ups modifying your armor, shield, attack strength, lock-on duration and resistance, accuracy, and a lot of other things. This is probably the biggest area to master—even after three weeks playing (two in the beta, one in final), I am still tweaking my passives to better support my play style. Several of them are very obvious in their usefulness, but others take a bit of play time to fully grasp.

Part of your load-out is two weapons. Unlike most games, Section 8 makes no distinction between primary and secondary weapons—it lets you choose whatever combination you want, be it a pistol and knife or a machine gun and missile launcher. There are several weapons to choose from, but unfortunately there isn't much diversity between them. If there is one area this game doesn't shine in, it's this. What we have now are basically all your boring standard bullet-based futuristic army weapons. Each varies in accuracy, shield piercing ability, and armor damage, but they're all just boring stuff we've seen a thousand times before. I would have liked to have seen some Tribes-inspired energy weapons.

One thing the game's weaponry took from Tribes is the projectile-based guns, compared to games like Quake where the shotgun was hitscan (instant-hit). Ask any Quake Custom-TF player, and they will confirm the $25 shotgun can often be formidable against the $3000 rocket launcher if the wielder has good enough aim. In Section 8, all of the bullets fired are actual projectile tracer rounds that take some small time to reach their target. This is one of my favorite features, and I'm often disappointed that more games don't use it. Forcing players to lead their shots introduces a whole new dimension of skill to the game.

The two utilities you pick for your class are also pretty important. These include grenades, mortars, sensors, repair kits, and some others. Some of these provide a service to your whole team, so with some good organization you could get a really unstoppable squad. The grenades are basically proxy mines that you throw. They stick to walls, vehicles, and blow up if they get near an enemy. The mortars are like precision MIRVs, letting you drop concentrated groups of explosions that are great against pretty much everything.

There are a few things all players get. The first is a super-sprint, letting you fairly quickly travel the long distances of the map. You can use it to ram enemies, taking off their shield. The second is a jet pack with about five seconds of use before recharging. It is basically only useful for jumping small hurdles, or a quick large jump onto buildings in conjunction with sprint.

The third is probably the most controversial feature of the game: lock-on. While many multiplayer games have aim-bot cheats made for them, it's actually built into Section 8 as a slow charging 5-10 second lock-on ability. I've noticed a lot of mediocre players have grown to depend on it, and all the good players take advantage of this by developing strategies to make others waste their lock-on before jumping in with a good aim. They deserve some major props for creating a well balanced aim-bot that doesn't feel totally lame.

As you complete objectives, frag enemies, and capture points, you will be awarded with money to spend on deployables. You can buy supply depots, turrets, mechs, tanks, and anti-air. All of these are very effective in their own ways, but for some reason many players seem to forget to deploy anything until the match is almost over.

The game does have some flaws that will hopefully be patched soon. Like several Games For Windows Live games before it, Section 8 has plenty of people unable to launch it due to outdated GFWL installs. The game pulls down servers from the master list very slowly over an XBox-encrypted link. The in-game voice chat doesn't feature automatic gain, making most voices get drowned out by the action. The persistent stats system looks pretty cool but has been plagued with issues since the launch. Servers seem to be infrequently unstable, sometimes crashing or booting players. A few of the servers I've connected to seemed to lose sync, causing jumps as everything corrected itself every few seconds. Oddly enough none of these flaws existed in the open beta, making me wonder if the GFWL integration, which wasn't in the beta, had anything to do with it.

Flaws aside, I'm very happy with this game. There's a lot of fun to be had, and it delivers one of things I want most in a game: a large scale of skill that isn't reachable after only a few weeks of playing. Is it worth $50? I'm not sure there's enough content—8 maps—for me to say so. Maybe wait until it's $30 or $40. I'm hoping they release the map editor and enable mods. It's got a lot of potential for some good player-made content.

Posted on September 08, 2009 in Gaming, Section 8

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