Section 8 is a futuristic FPS that puts you in control of an armour-clad super solider, either on the side of good – Section 8, or bad – The Arm of Orion. These two factions are fighting, as factions usually do, to control various planets and resources. Battles are fought on an array of planets, and each environment is suitably large and epic in scale for this type of game.
The key word here is multiplayer, and it’s easy to see that the developers have focused almost 100% on this aspect of the title. Yes, there is a single player ‘story’, which revolves around a character called Corde, who’s a member of the famed Section 8 force, but this isn’t really worth noting, to be honest. The story is awful, and the missions themselves are very poorly disguised training missions for the multiplayer component, and nothing more.
Solitary players who aren’t online can still play the game against bots, though, so there’s still a reason for non-Xbox Live players to pick up the title, although, as is usually the case, bots pale in comparison to real players, and the longevity of the title as a single player game is limited.
Section 8 has a lot to offer on the face of things. Visually the game is okay, if not terribly impressive, and the range of weapons and deployable items is decent enough. At any time in the game, as long as you’ve got the funds (which are earned as you fight and complete objectives), you can call down fixed sentry guns, rocket launchers, supply stations and more, including vehicles and power armour, all of which can help take an enemy position or defend your own base from attack, and by using a supply point, you can change your character load out at any time.
Preset load outs, such as assault, recon, demolitions and sniper are all listed, and you can also create your own custom load outs. These custom settings don’t only include weapons and item selection, though, but also include a character-tailoring system called Passive Modules. This system lets you allocate points to various aspects of your armour and weapons. For example, you can assign more points to your armour and shields, boosting your defensive capabilities, but this will leave your offence somewhat lacking. You could pile points into powerful Anvil Rounds, which make relatively short work of foes, but you’ll usually take a hit in defensive abilities. It’s all very well implemented stuff, and a highlight of the game. Sadly, though, Section 8’s highlights aren’t exactly brimming over, and you’ll begin to notice faults with the game as soon as you pick up the control pad.
When in the field, despite the intro cut-scenes claiming to the contrary, your soldier is slow and clunky. He runs at a snail’s pace and has the most ineffective jump jets I’ve seen. These jets run out after about two seconds, and take an age to recharge, leaving you feeling restricted and dismayed as you’re forced to wait and wait until you can finally jump over that enemy base wall.
Your soldier isn’t always slow, however, and holding down the left stick will cause you to run faster, and eventually, after a few seconds, engage boosters that let you run at great speeds. This is great for traversing long distances, but can be a royal pain in the backside in other situations. You can’t actually decide whether or not to use the boosters, and so, in the middle of a pitched battle, when you run for a set time you’ll inevitably boost off into a wall or other object when your speed kicks in, with predictably irritating results. The option to manually engage this boost would have been very welcome, indeed, but, sadly, isn’t available.
Other problems lie with the weapons. There are plenty to choose from, and a couple feel great, but most feel more like peashooters. This is partly down to the general weakness of the weapons, but mostly down to the ridiculously enormous health pools combatants have. If you get annoyed pumping clip after clip into someone playing Halo 3, only to fail to drop their shields and end up pushing up daises, then Section 8 will have you hurling your controller at the TV. These guys have more health than a Final Fantasy boss, and each kill requires some serious aiming skills and perseverance, especially online. Quite why the devs created such a wonky system is beyond me, and this alone is enough to derail the game for many gamers. Note to the coders: when I play an online game, I want to have a blast and rack up some frags. I don’t want to spend half an hour trying to kill a single guy!
This may sound overly harsh, but go ahead and try the demo, I’m sure you’ll agree. Of course, practise makes perfect, and with time you do grow accustomed to the lengthy exchanges of fire required to nail a kill, but when cut-scenes show Corde running jumping and killing enemies with headshots and, of all things, a puny knife, the game itself doesn’t fail to let you down somewhat. Hopefully a patch may address this issue, but for now it’s a serious problem.
Vehicles are always a highlight for many players of online frag fests and tactical battles, and those who like to rush for the tanks and heavy hitting rides will be pleased to know Section 8 has its own set of mechanised death dealers. Sadly, these aren’t as fearsome as they first appear. Tanks are horribly difficult to control and the impressive-looking battle armour’s weapons may actually be less effective that the hand held weapons soldiers carry. Hmmm.
So, it’s not looking great so far, but Section 8 does do some things right, in particular the actual mission structure. Unlike similar titles like Battlefield, Section 8 isn’t afraid to challenge the rules. The core of the game revolves around points. The winning team is the first to accumulate the set amount of points. To rack up these you can kill the enemy, as you’d expect, and you can also find and control bases and command points, a la Battlefield. However, a novel feature lies with the various side missions that can be attempted during the battle. These include such tasks as escorting VIPs and convoys, taking over specific bases and so on. If you complete these you get a nice point boost and a bonus support item.
The use of deployable assets is also well implemented, and as long as you’ve got enough points, you can call in help at any time using the HUD interface. This is easy to do and makes tactical deployment a breeze. Points are also awarded to players who actively help their team mates, which should help enforce a good team ethic, something sorely missing from many rival online shooters. Battles can get pretty intense with a full compliment of players, and if you find a team that really does work together, the tactical element really shines.
The now famous spawning system is another highlight. Instead of simply appearing out of the blue, players drop down to the map from orbit. While dropping you can plummet right into the ground. This method also leaves you momentarily disoriented on impact, though, leaving you open to attack. Optionally, you can apply airbrakes which allow some control over your landing, and slow you down. Landings of this manner are smooth and you’ll be ready to fight instantly. With practise and careful aiming, you can even land on an enemy, causing sever damage. Don’t try to land in enemy controller territory, though, as you may end up eating flak on your way down.
In each match you can choose the auto spawn, which drops you on top of the action, or you can use the free spawn option that lets you drop wherever you like. This is great for such classes as snipers, who can drop onto tall structures unreachable by others, and it adds another layer of tactics to the mix. It’s a novel feature that’s sure to see the light of day in other titles someday.
Overall, Section 8 is a strange one. One the surface it’s a game that really shouldn’t fail. It’s got epic 32-player matches, some good looking weapons, men running around in cybernetic power suits at super speed, open environments, deployable gun turrets, strategic play, and you enter battle by dropping from orbit right into the ground. I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t find that appealing? Sadly, all of these promising ideas and features don’t really come together exactly as they should. The downsides of the title simply can’t be ignored. The oversized health bars, weak weapons, clunky controls and abilities, and awful vehicles detract greatly from proceedings, and some will be instantly put off. Stick with the game, though, and get to grips with the weapons and health system, and you’ll find a different and surprisingly deep multiplayer tactical blast that’s well worth a look.
If TimeGate Studios had spent more time balancing out the game, Section 8 could have been an instant classic, but in its current state, it simply can’t hope to contend with the likes of COD, Battlefield or even Quake Wars, and with the next instalment of COD on the way, the future isn’t looking too rosy for this sci-fi romp.