It's easy to dismiss sci-fi first-person shooter Section 8. It looks dated, it's utterly generic, it's initially bemusing and you won't find many worse single-player campaigns. But in many ways this TimeGate Studios-developed shooter gets away with it, because with Section 8, it's all about the multiplayer.
From a graphical perspective the game looks like a last gen Halo rip-off, although the gameplay is really rather different once you get into it. The focus is on 32-player Conquest, the one and only game mode. Across large, open maps, two factions wage war - Section 8 and the Arm of Orion. Each team competes to complete objectives and score victory points. When one team earns enough points to meet the victory point goal, they win. Simples.
Those objectives are many and varied, and are Section 8's greatest strength. You might fancy capturing control points, in which case you'll score victory points. Or you might fancy a spot of player killing, in which case you'll score victory points. Then you might dip your power suit armoured toe in a dynamic combat mission, in which case you'll score victory points. Whatever your choice, you'll always be contributing, you'll always feel you're making a difference. In the current Halo/CoD-obsessed world, this is rare and welcome.
DCMs, as they're called, occur periodically during Conquest and are activated through the accumulation of Feat Points. Once an entire team's got enough, a DCM will start. There are six in total - you might be escorting a commando one second, protecting a VIP the next, then rushing off to somewhere else on the map to deploy and protect an outpost. If you're on the opposing side, you'll need to stop their successful completion. It's the DCMs that rekindle memories of Killzone 2's excellent online multiplayer, and ensure Section 8 rarely gets boring.
Section 8's biggest problem, however, is that most won't stick around long enough to get under the skin of the game. There are just too many turn-offs. If the awful graphics don't turn you off, then the generic design and clichéd space marine story will. It's a shame, because Section 8 has its moments, especially when you're on a team willing to work together and communicate.
Spawning involves Orbital Burn-In, essentially sky diving onto the battlefield from 15,000 feet. You first pick an area of the map to land on and then hit the action button (A on the Xbox 360 controller - the version tested). Then you're sent spiralling to earth. It's a clever idea - death doesn't mean a minute's trek towards the action, and even if anti air guns force you to land away from your target, the Overdrive sprint mechanic, which kicks in after sprinting for a few seconds, helps cover the ground in the blink of an eye. Burn-In can even be a weapon. You're able to hit the brakes at the last second and slowly adjust your landing - aiming for enemy heads is quite the thrill. Section 8's interesting in that you don't only have to watch your back, but watch the skies, too.
Aiding your movement is the ability to use a jet pack to leap across the battlefield like a frog. While you've only got a certain amount of energy available before you have to recharge, jumping is useful for leaping over base walls or making quick exits when the going gets tough. Perhaps because TimeGate was worried this ability would make skilled players too tough to kill, you're able to lock on to enemies for a couple of seconds, making shooting easier.
Underpinning these mechanics is a shield and armour system that makes each and every player an absolute bitch to kill. Everyone has a shield, which slowly reduces to naught as you take damage, but can be recharged ala Halo. Once gone, your armour is exposed, itself with a health bar. When that's gone your actual health bar is exposed, which also slowly reduces to naught as you take damage. It's perfectly possible to take a rocket to the face and survive in Section 8 - those power armour suits must be made of strong stuff.
This effect, coupled with the slow, often lumbering movement, will be off putting to some - the game isn't as instantly gratifying as other popular online first-person shooters. Section 8 isn't about running and gunning. It's about working as a team, playing smart and picking your battles.
As with so many team-based multiplayer games, the side that talks most wins most. Coordinated assaults on control points, then dogged defence of them, is a tactic worth employing since they yield loads of victory points. Personally kick ass and you'll earn requisition points, which can be used to purchase vehicles, mechs and turrets that drop on to the battlefield much like you do. Smart purchases can make all the difference - the mech's instant kill melee attack makes mince meat of enemy soldiers. Leading squads to complete or counter DCMs is also important, but without coordinating it with your fellow soldiers there's no point.
You're average multiplayer game of Section 8, then, is more of a tug of war than it is a straight up frag fest. You'll often see enemy players ignore you completely as they sprint towards some far off section of the map. It's a much better game played the way it should be - as a tactical FPS, not a twitch shooter. In fact, the actual shooting, the down the barrel of the gun shooting that CoD and Halo fans love, is pretty poor and unsatisfying.
The lack of a proper single-player experience (it's an extended multiplayer tutorial and nothing else) and the poor graphics will prevent Section 8 from achieving huge success and high review scores, but the core multiplayer gameplay should ensure a healthy and loyal following for a while at least.