The original Section 8 didn't exactly set the world aflame. Its focus on pure online gameplay was to its detriment, due to the fact that not many people were actually playing it. By and large, it was a noble effort and a decent game, albeit one that seemed doomed to slip into obscurity.
Then, suddenly, it gets a sequel. Section 8: Prejudice seems to have set out to be the game that Section 8 should have been in the first place, releasing this time as a significantly cheaper downloadable title, and offering a lot more features.
This deeper, more robust $15 followup almost makes the $60 original seem like an insult.
Section 8: Prejudice (Xbox Live Arcade [reviewed], PS3, PC)
Released: April 20, 2011 (XBLA) / May 4, 2011 (PC) / Summer 2011 (PSN)
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points, $15
The first thing to note with Prejudice is that it actually has a real solo campaign this time. While the original Section 8 did have a single-player option, it was little more than a series of multiplayer matches against bots, with nothing but an incredibly paper-thin story holding it together.
While the narrative in Prejudice is still rather light, the use of more cutscenes, varied objectives and levels geared toward solo combat give the feeling of a legitimate story experience, rather than a shallow token effort. The story is quite forgettable, pitting the heroes against some embittered soldiers out for generic revenge, but it's told with enough confidence to keep the player engaged on a surface level.
Combat has not changed much since last time. As always, the player drops into battle from a great height, able to control his landing on the battlefield and ostensibly start the fight from anywhere on the map. Jetpacks, temporary lock-ons and turbo sprints make their welcome return, helping to craft the illusion that one is playing an all-purpose supersoldier. Yet again, players and enemies have both a shield and armor meter, with each meter needing to deplete before the opponent falls. Up to speed with the basics? Good.
The game's range of customizable weaponry features different types of ammunition designed to combat specific threats -- most are balanced to be proficient in damaging either shields or armor, but not both. This is a good way of encouraging experimentation and weapon-swapping, but it does mean that there isn't much in the way of standard, regular fire. At least until you get an assault rifle with burst rounds, which typically renders all other guns useless.
Customization is a key part of Prejudice. Not only can players choose from a variety of weapons and ammo types, they also have two equipment slots which can be filled with different grenades, combat knives, mortars, repair tools and more. Various statistics can also be tweaked, allowing players to build up characters with higher shield capacities, or with stealth capabilities.
The customization is a great touch, and in theory it leads to all sorts of characters being built. However, in practice I noticed very little difference with any of my characters. Characters built toward defense don't really last much longer than another type of character when under heavy fire. Similarly, I noted that tweaking my character for high damage output made no difference to the amount of time it took to kill infantry. While I don't dispute that the stats do change, the increments seem to be so minute as to prove inconsequential.
Players earn cash with their kills to spend on various in-match bonuses. Supply points, turrets, mechs and vehicles can all be spawned with the money earned during a match, and can be devastating in the right hands. Mechs and heavy duty vehicles -- such as bikes and tanks -- tend to dominate a battle while in play but naturally become hot targets. Also, while they're quite powerful, I did find the controls somewhat loose and dodgy, especially the tank, which handles more like a forklift truck made out of soap.
There are currently two types of multiplayer match -- the competitive Conquest and the co-op Swarm. Swarm is very much like your typical "Horde" mode, with the objective being to protect a control point from being hacked by waves of enemies. Even on the easier difficulty settings, Swarm gets tough in no time at all. Enemies are incredibly aggressive almost from the start, and become increasingly so as stronger infantry and enemy mechs show up. While this can be a fun mode, the difficulty curve is quite staggering, so prepare for a fight.
Conquest is a huge 32-player battle in which four control points are littered around a large map. The objective, of course, is for one side to capture and hold as many points as possible. To say these matches can be chaotic is to put it quite lightly -- in fact, they almost border on too chaotic. As the battle ramps up and various defenses are spawned, even spawning into battle can lead to a quick death, and players get littered throughout the map so much that you're likely to be blindsided by the one guy you didn't see, no matter where you are.
Not to mention, the game's two health meters make it very easy to lose your kill. Enemies can last a long time under fire, and it's not uncommon for another player to steal the victory after you've done all the hard work.
The battles can feel incredibly hard to keep track of, with so much happening, so many icons on the HUD, and enemies falling everywhere, but it's certainly not a bad experience. Despite the near messiness of the fight, one cannot deny that Prejudice is a well made game, with combat that firmly falls on the side of traditional first-person mechanics rather than modern, quick-kill fighting. I can't say it's a playstyle that I'm necessarily fond of, but I respect that stylistic choice.
Those that get more into the game can unlock new types of armor and equipment, and also keep track of Achievement progress with the always-popular progression pop-ups. I'm really impressed with just how far Timegate Studios has gone in trying to replicate a "AAA" shooter experience in a more humble format.
As a $60 game, Section 8 looked visually dated. As a $15 downloadable title, it's far more acceptable. Textures are basic and effects are simplistic, but the game doesn't look ugly and the character design is cool enough to make up for the ungarnished aesthetics. There's some solid background music keeping things going, and even the voice acting is good.
I did, however, have trouble with the game crashing intermittently, during both the campaign and multiplayer. It didn't happen enough to be considered unbearable, but certainly enough to be a recurring inconvenience. Bear in mind that there's been no update for it at launch, though hopefully a patch will fix that in good time.
Section 8: Prejudice is an improvement of Section 8 for sure, although those that were turned off by the game's Halo-esque style and old fashioned combat won't find much to write home about. The inclusion of a real single-player campaign is a nice touch, and while the multiplayer is sometimes too hectic to be fun, the sheer scale on offer for the comparatively low price is definitely admirable. If you liked Section 8 or you just fancy a cheap, traditional shooter with a few neat gimmicks thrown in, then Section 8: Prejudice will deliver the goods with efficiency, if not with flair.
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