Despite boasting the haughtiest battlefield entrance since those guys rode into battle to the deafening cry of Ride of the Valkyries, TimeGate Studio’s Section 8 proved a victim of a burgeoning shooter market. In a year playing host to the gluttonous Modern Warfare 2, what chance did a game called Section 8 stand?
Fortunately for those who appreciated it, TimeGate have returned with Section 8: Prejudice, a direct sequel and one they’ve smartly opted to release on XBLA.
Best of all – if you’re as easily pleased as I am anyway – Prejudice features that very same battlefield entrance. For those uninitiated, Prejudice takes place in a future where dropships, transport helicopters and APCs are more passé than VHS and Chumbawamba. Instead, as an orbital supersoldier you whiz down onto the battlefield from space, crashing into no man’s land and heading in whichever direction signals a firefight. It’s every bit as good as it sounds.
But there was more to Section 8 than grand entries and Prejudice’s 8-mission campaign resumes the romance of blue burly space dudes shooting at red burly space dudes.
You fill the boots of silent hotshot Alex Corde. Following a tutorial starring a bunch of gruff American beardy types, the bad guys (conveniently garbed in red) invade the tropical paradise the good guys (swathed in blue) are stationed on. The blues don’t much like this and so it’s down to you to make sure the reds are made to regret their decision to annex Blue Land by murdering every last one of them.
It’s all superficial sci-fi hoo-hah. Earth’s recourses are depleted, humanity has colonised space, a band of angry soldiers have gone rogue and all these deadbeat sci-fi foibles do is act as a paper-thin excuse for the player to shoot stuff again and again. So you follow waypoints brawling with red guys while a crotchety colonel and your irritant AI buddy blabber on about saving the world. TimeGate try and make this rickety ride enjoyable but there’s no masking the fact that it heralds from the 90s. The 1790s (and even George Washington would have been rolling his eyes.)
So you’re funneled through a series of lackluster environments, hopping from one arena swarming with unscrupulous space pirates to another, restricted from even setting foot off the beaten path by garishly marked red zones on the mini map. Dare enter these areas (which border you on all sides) and you’ve all but declared your wish to stop living.
That restriction makes the campaign a laboriously prescribed affair when there are clear motions in place to send it in the other direction. Features like ordnance, which lets you deploy turrets and such, should rid the journey of some monotony – nothing says ‘down with thee, space bandit riffraff’ quite like a tank the size of a manor house. Yet you’re never afforded carte blanche to request these dramatic battlefield pawns – something that would lend the game an air of pep rather than plague it with predictability. Instead, every now and again you’re let off the leash but always at TimeGate’s tyrannical discretion.
Firefights are made passably interesting due to a couple of other features loaned out from the multiplayer. Corde is outfitted with a jetpack, which is put to good use thanks to Prejudice’s automatic targeting system. Auto-targeting allows to you to nominate an enemy and enjoy a brief spurt of auto-aiming. Cheating you might cry but with enemies cavorting around the world like children let loose in a padded play area it’s a valuable quirk.
But beyond that it’s a campaign beset by weary genre conventions: defend the tank, assault the base, hack the console, defend the console, destroy the console, blah, blah, blah. It’s fireworks and nonsense, first person shooters painted by numbers and worse still it has the antiquated checkpoint system of a 20th century shooter to boot.
Prejudice’s campaign then is cursory; a protracted romp about gruff space dude killing machines being gruff space dude killing machines. There’s no denying that the game reneges on its multiplayer so if you’re buying this on the pretence that the single player is worth the admission fee alone, well… it’s not.
Fortunately the multiplayer far exceeds the humdrum campaign. Borrowing its fair share of ideas from Halo, it’s a mash up of Bungie’s science-fiction juggernaut and TimeGate’s own Section 8 and there’s nothing quite like the first time you hurtle down from space and the wonderful sense of inertia as you scramble to reunite with teammates already dotted about the battlefield getting shot to smithereens.
With two modes (although there is another incoming) and four maps (each split into smaller versions totaling 16) Prejudice comes up a touch light on content but never fails to satisfy in execution. The onus in both modes rests on teamwork, which never really bodes well on Xbox Live, so it’s a tribute to TimeGate’s design decisions that it actually works out in Prejudice.
Swarm is the de-rigeuer horde mode in which players defend a structure that in no way appears significant from waves of angry enemies. It supports four players but you’d be fortunate to stumble across anyone playing it, which we’ll kindly chalk up as a monument to Prejudice’s flagship mode, Conquest.
Conquest tasks teams with capturing four key areas on the map while completing a spate of auxiliary missions that combine to make up the team scores. While these missions are far from thrilling alone (token variations on VIP, capture the flag and other objective based challenges), when segued in the same vein as Killzone 3, the constant flow of challenges gifts the matches a capricious tone as the battlefield evolves and warps based on the objective at hand.
Capturing the four quasi-fortresses remains the backbone throughout matches and requires little more than standing idly near a computer terminal in the heart of each. Once captured, the team can set about strengthening their newly secured property by calling in ordnance.
You are free to request ordnance at any juncture but before you’re given the green light to pick ‘n mix missile turrets, mech suits and all other varieties of merrymaking devices you have to amass funds. Points are dolled out for all the usual things: kills, assists, fulfilling objectives and destroying enemy ordnance and with 32 player games it’s not long before the maps are awash with little packets of joy hailing from the sky.
The mech suits, bikes and four-man tanks are the titillating rewards but they ask a hefty price. What with the burden on teamwork, much of the ordnance is geared toward aiding your allies. Resupply booths allow comrades to stock up on ammo and equipment through osmosis while anti-air turrets play 25th century Duck Hunt with any players attempting to drop-in to areas under the turrets’ jurisdiction.
Ultimately, ordnance helps temper the blistering firefights. Fortresses act as handy checkpoints to launch the next offensive so there’s a decent element of strategy underlying the shooty shooty parts and that allows Prejudice to stake a claim in the bustling playground of like-for-like shooters. It’s a nifty combination of manic shooting and composed strategy, best played with friends.
Add to that a deep well of customisation options extended over from the campaign and a bevy of rewards tailored to each of the weapons and you’re left with a startlingly robust and extensive multiplayer experience, one bolstered by an overarching ranking ladder that lingers on for what feels like forever. Prejudice being as smashing as it is, online at least, that can only be a good thing.
Once upon a time you would have found Section 8 crushed somewhere beneath the stampeding heavyweights of the fps scene. Not anymore. With Prejudice, TimeGate has found its series a snug home on Xbox Live Arcade. Go say hello.