Section 8: Prejudice PC Review
When long-time PC gamers get together and reminisce about the old days, one topic that always comes up is the genres that modern game developers just don't know how to make anymore. Call of Duty: Black Ops can pretty clearly trace its gameplay lineage back to Counter-Strike and Quake before it, but then someone always brings up the Diablo series and how no one has ever really quite recaptured that magic. This is where the topic usually gets derailed into various MMORPG stories, but sometimes - and this only happens rarely - someone mentions Tribes.
Apparently, no one's capable of making a team-based shooter quite like this iconic, high-flying shooter series from more than a decade back. Well, our first real contenders in a while are now here. Global Agenda almost got it right, and TimeGate Studios' Section 8 from a few years ago missed the mark, but with their new sequel, they might be getting as close as we've seen yet.
Section 8: Prejudice comes out with guns blazing, sporting a very reasonable $15 price tag, despite including just about a full retail game's worth of content. There's a single player campaign, although it's admittedly not the best out there, and the multiplayer mode takes things learned from rank-up shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty and applied them to a sci-fi future where you spawn via orbital drop (one of the most interesting and unique features that Planetside had - if you're going to steal, steal only the very best!) and capture and control objectives around large maps. Once you earn some cash from capturing points and killing people, you can start calling in the serious gear, from stationary turrets to mechs, hoverbikes and tanks.
The bots you can play alongside do a pretty solid job of putting up a good fight on one side, and helping you complete objectives on another. Once in a while, after getting completely murdered in online play (which happens more and more often now that I'm getting older), I just "relax" with some offline play against bots, and it's actually quite nice. Anyway, you've got a fairly solid arsenal of weapons to use, and while Prejudice doesn't include class-based gameplay, you do have custom loadouts to fill in with interesting selections of gear. Do you include the repair tool for healing yourself, your allies, vehicles, and structures? Or do you instead take up that same space with a mortar-launcher that works perfectly when your opponent's jetpack peters out?
Yes, Section 8: Prejudice has jetpacks, and while they're not quite of the skiing, flag-capturing variety that Tribes veterans will want, you do use them often to move around the battlefield and make firefights much more interesting. You can sprint at anytime in your fancy armor, but you can also go into Overdrive, sending you running at superhuman speeds, and combining this with a jetpack's thrust can get you some serious air. You'll need this to navigate the multi-tiered maps and get on top of bases, and of course it's nice to get airborne to give a tank's driver a tougher time hitting you with one of those big shells.
The counter to this is the lock-on system. This is something that TimeGate surely had a lot of debates over, as it's essentially a full auto-aim that you can enable for a couple of seconds at a time, and it's set on a cooldown timer. This was put in, presumably, because everyone has the same idea once they start getting hit: "Gotta fly and be more elusive so he can't hit me!" I imagine that in playtesting, people were damn near unkillable without the lock-on system, and while I probably would have suggested that the developers go with the Tribes brand of game balance and refuse to implement any auto-aim system, it's important to remember the whole objective, vehicle, armor, and loadout systems are different. To balance this game just like Tribes would have meant changing every system to be exactly like that game - that's probably a good idea for some developer to do, but that's not Section 8.
The main Conquest mode has you capturing and holding a number of bases, and you can't just land right in the middle an enemy base through your orbital drop - there are anti-air guns which you'll have to take out first. This means infiltrating a base the smart way, probably by landing outside of anti-air range, quietly making your way around to all the AA guns and taking them out, then letting your buddies spawn in to help you make the capture. Then you can set up your own AA guns, along with resupply stations that will automatically repair them, and move on to the next capture point.
Your goal is to get your team up to a set number of total points before the opposition can do the same, and it's not just about capturing points. There are things you can do to unlock special missions to achieve, and completing them will get you big bonuses to the team score. Of course, the enemy can see those same mission objectives (escort a vehicle convoy, capture the intelligence, capture and hold a sensor jammer, take out specific player targets, and the like) on their map, and can try to stop you as well. These add a lot of depth to the game and break up the monotony that can often settle in as you slowly chip away at a base's defenses.
There is a Swarm mode that's playable with up to four cooperative players against AI enemies, and it's very similar to the Horde or Firefight modes that grace other sci-fi shooters out there. It's a bit low on features and polish, but it's fun for an evening with friends sometime. Assault mode has just unlocked for large competitive games, and for Unreal Tournament fans, it's pretty close to what you'd expect, just applied to the Section 8 objectives and style of play. Finally, I should probably talk about the story campaign in a way that's more than the footnote I mentioned it in above, but frankly, why? This game has plenty to do online, and simply wasn't really meant to be played offline for long (and it wasn't ever really marketed as a single player game). It certainly doesn't have a price tag that'd make you expect a tour-de-force of modes spanning a huge range, but TimeGate did almost accomplish that anyway, if in their own low-budget style.
The mix of infantry aim-based shooting, high-flying action, vehicle battles, and sneaking around trying to pull a fast one on the enemy is nearly perfect in Section 8: Prejudice, and I found out the hard way that there are quite a few advanced tactics I hadn't thought of before having them used on me to great effect. This video explains several of them, and if after reading this review you're still wondering whether to buy this game, I recommend you check out that video, because it's got a lot of the higher-level stuff that you won't see in regular trailer videos and such.
The original Section 8 was a good start, but its action felt a bit sloppy, and everything else felt very spartan and bland. All of those issues have been addressed (if not overwhelmingly obliterated) with Prejudice, as TimeGate has created better maps, an even more interesting main gameplay mode, and really put some life into this game with the new equipment and objectives. As mutliplayer shooters go, it's hard to go wrong with Section 8: Prejudice, and while this game still won't live up to the Tribes name - turns out that there's nothing out there that can do that just yet - you'll still find a damn fine online shooter with plenty of depth, all in a low-cost package.