What's the point in making a multiplayer game for consoles if nobody is going to play it on consoles? How exactly do you review a game you can hardly play because barely anybody else is playing it? These are the questions I face as I write this review for Section 8, a surprisingly good first-person-shooter that has painted itself into a corner, relying on a demographic that, apparently, doesn't exist.
It tries to appeal to the Halo crowd, certainly, but the Halo crowd are, unsurprisingly, playing Halo. They neither need nor want another sci-fi FPS, because they've got the best they believe they will ever get. How is a game like Section 8 supposed to compete against the biggest console shooter in the world?
Well, it can't. It simply can't. Read on for the full review as we lament the sad fate of Section 8.
Section 8 (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC)
Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: Southpeak Games
Released: September 4, 2009
There is a loose plot associated with Section 8, but frankly I'm not going to waste your time with it, because it's so barely elaborated upon within the game, it may as well not be there. Suffice to say there are some good guys and some bad guys, and that's about it. The game is completely dedicated to a focus on multiplayer combat, so much so that the game's scenario, characters and environments don't matter in the slightest.
The single-player campaign, in fact, struggles to be over an hour long. It's simply a collection of maps with bots in them and a string of objectives. It may as well have not existed, but I'm guessing it was thrown in because the developers felt obligated. Besides, most of the time it's the only mode you can actually play, so why not?
The shooting gameplay is decidedly old school. The armored space marines have long life bars and it takes a while to kill or be killed, making multiplayer feel much closer to Halo than something more frantic like Call of Duty or Killzone. There are a selection of guns, none of which are particularly unique to the game. You have your standard collection of rocket launchers, machine guns, shotguns and pistols. The weapons are determined by which class you pick, although you can also create custom classes to find the weapon set that suits you.
Although the game is rooted in generic, established FPS gameplay, it does have a few notable gimmicks to help it stand out. Chief among these is the way players spawn into a map. Unlike most shooters, a player can spawn anywhere in the map, provided it is overground. This is because players drop in from the sky, descending from above in an undeniably cool way. Lucky players can also land on the heads of enemies, insta-killing them, although my best attempts to do this have failed so far. It's a really cool little feature, but it has to be said that the long dropping animation gets a bit boring after a while.
Players can also spawn weapons, vehicles and supply pods in very much the same way, earning cash during a match which can be spent on all sorts of cool gadgets. Tanks, however, are almost impossible to control, while the armored suits are so overpowered, they totally upset the balance of the game and are a total bitch to destroy. These issues aside, it's very nice to be able to call in heavy support from the sky, the earning access to such heavy backup feels like a nice reward for a job well done.
The other big feature is the boost run ability. If players sprint for long enough, they will enter a boost mode where the game becomes third-person and characters run around the map at tremendous speed. It's useful for getting to places in a hurry and is fun to do simply because it looks quite awesome. The trade-off is that it takes ages before kicking in, and without it, players are ridiculously slow-moving. The standard walking and sprinting is too slow to be considered useful, and should have been sped up a little.
Players also have access to jet-packs, allowing them to reach high ground in a snap and avoid enemy gunfire. As with the boost running, it's incredibly fun to do, although the fuel in them doesn't last long enough and they have a lengthy recharge time. Still, you get to kind of feel like Boba Fett, and that's no bad thing.
Finally, players also have access to a limited lock-on, allowing all their bullets to hit a target for a short period of time provided the line of sight isn't obstructed. It's surprisingly useful without being game-breaking, and is very appreciated considering just how long it takes to kill another player.
Fundamentally, all this points to Section 8 being a flawed, but ultimately good game. However, here we come to the major malfunction. Barely anybody is playing this thing. Even with 32-player matches available, it's really hard find a game populated by even half that number. In fact, during my last attempt to get a game going, I noticed that only one other person in the entire world was online and in a game, wandering around an arena on his own, waiting for another poor lost soul to join him. When I left the game, he even tried to invite me back in, he was that lonely.
There are people playing the game, there just isn't that very many, and the numbers are sure to dwindle with each passing day. With that in mind, even though this is a good game, it's one I could never in good faith recommend that you buy. It's fun, it's solid and it even pulls off a few unique tricks, but with an awful single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode that sustains no community whatsoever, Section 8 has been hoist by its own petard.
By all means, rent Section 8 if you can and give it a whirl. See if you can get lucky and find a game. But don't buy it, because you'll have wasted your money. A shame, because I really, really do like this poor game.
Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)