HIGH Finding my depth in the online multiplayer.
LOW The armored walkers are nightmarishly unbalanced.
WTF I know manuals are for noobs, but I would've still appreciated one with the DLC version of the game.
I'm not the world's biggest fan of multiplayer shooters. I've enjoyed some—most recently Metal Gear Online—but it's usually tough for me to get excited about yet another rat race to the top of the leaderboards. I do, however, keep my ear to the ground for shooters that seem to break out of the standard run-n-gun mold, and Brad's review had me thinking that Section 8 might fit the bill.
That "might" became a "does" upon playing the (very brief) single-player campaign. While the first couple of missions don't deviate too much from the established shooter formula, Section 8 quickly introduces new mechanics that significantly alter the flow of each match.
Section 8 features customizable loadouts that go beyond simply choosing what gun to use. Players can also decide which passive abilities and even specify how much of each they want, within limits. Another neat feature is how players "burn-in"—dropping from the sky at high speeds—each time they spawn, effectively allowing them to land anywhere on the map. They are also equipped with jetpacks that allow for limited flight, as well as a impressive dash boost ability that can make long distance travel a snap. Being able to damage foes by slamming into them is a nice cherry on top.
What was easily the most impressive aspect of the game, though, was the ability to call in equipment. Players can accumulate cash through defeating opponents and then spend that money to requisition gun emplacements, sensor arrays, and even tanks. All of these "burn-in" the same way players do, which adds a nice layer of strategy. Requisitioning materials in an area covered by enemy anti-air guns is consequentially equivalent to burning money. Of course this goes both ways, and a player's own anti-air emplacements can severely limit the options of the opposition.
Now this all sounds good, and it definitely goes a long way to distinguish Section 8 from its competition, but the game is hamstrung by unfortunate design choices. Unlike Brad, I found the single player campaign to be a poor tutorial for multiplayer. It did little more than introduce the basic mechanics of the game without giving me a good strategic foundation. When I dipped into the online portion, I found myself literally plopped in the middle of a firefight with no direction. I knew what I could do, but had no idea what I should do, and my first few fights were absolutely unsatisfying failures as a result.
This was exacerbated by the fact that the DLC version of the game doesn't even come with a digital manual, so I was truly left to my own devices when figuring out the flow of the multiplayer. Even now, I'm only dimly aware of what actions initiate the various sub-objectives, and couldn't purposefully initiate one even if I wanted to.
As far as the interface goes, the HUD is incredibly cluttered. New objectives would frequently pop up and I would be running in circles to find them. When requisitioning, I had to be mindful of vertical clearance as well as hostile anti-air weaponry, and the HUD only displays this information on a small bar at the bottom of the screen. There were many occasions where I would be politely informed by the ubiquitous sci-fi female computer that my emplacement had been destroyed without even reaching the ground. That's no good when I was trying to drop a last minute missile turret before getting pounded by power armor for the sixth time in a match.
The power armor and tanks are another thing. Everything in Section 8 is pretty hardy, including basic soldiers. Vehicles take this to extremes though, requiring dozens of rockets to destroy. Aside from other vehicles, there are very few things that can pose a serious threat to a tank or power armor. A problem that frequently arose was that if one team attained an early advantage they dominated the entire match. Early access to overpowered requisitions yielded more kills, which earned more money, which gave more access to overpowered requisitions, and so on. I've been on both sides of the equation, and have never seen a come from behind victory.
I'm aware that it sounds like I'm bagging on the game. That's because the foundations of Section 8 are a welcome departure for the genre, and I'm disappointed to see it undermined by such small shortcomings. While I did learn to play reasonably well without the assistance of a manual, and eventually managed to decipher the language of the HUD, these are problems that shouldn't even exist, and the biggest issue—overpowered vehicles—has no simple "just get better" solution. Even if I were an expert player with a crystal clear interface, each round would still devolve into a race for the first couple power armors, and then it's game, set, match.
Honestly, there's a lot of potential for Section 8 and I would love to see it do well if only to give Timegate an opportunity to refine their formula. In its current state though, it would be hard to recommend to anyone other than those who have an interest in seeing a unique but flawed take on an increasingly stagnant genre.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 2 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times) and 4 hours of play in multiplayer modes.