Section 8 Review
Section 8 is a sci-fi-themed first-person shooter in which men in shielded power armor do battle with a variety of weapons. On paper, a list of Section 8's features and concepts make it sound pretty cool. In practice, however, this large-scale, multiplayer-focused release doesn't get the feel of its weapons down, resulting in action that often feels disconnected and flat. When taken with its poor attempt at crafting a single-player campaign, you're left with a well-meaning game that fails to engage players.
In Section 8, the combatants wear large, armored suits and are launched into battle from the sky. Every time you spawn, you spawn ten seconds above ground, screaming down to the planet's surface at breakneck speeds. Also, you can choose to spawn just about anywhere on the map in multiplayer matches... but choosing to drop in an area covered by the enemy's anti-aircraft guns is akin to suicide. Once you're on the ground, the game is decidedly Battlefield-like. The maps grow and shrink to fit different player counts (up to 32 players can get together, even on the 360, provided you're connected to a dedicated server) and the action is all about raising your team's score by taking hold of control points while preventing the opposing team from doing the same. You'll do this by gunning them down with a handful of different futuristic-looking, but very standard weapons, such as an assault rifle, a heavy machine gun, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle, grenades, and so on. The game lets you configure your loadouts to adhere to a handful of preset classes, but you can also build your own custom loadouts to choose which weapons you want to fight with. You can also change loadouts on the battlefield at supply depots, some of which come with holding certain control points. But you can also deploy them yourself.
An interesting twist to Section 8's gameplay is that you can earn money that can be spent on deployable gear. Like yourself, it's also dropped in from the sky, so it's a good thing that all of the maps take place almost completely outside. You can drop anti-personnel turrets, anti-air guns, sensor arrays that show enemy movement on your team's map, vehicles, and so on. While it's not something that totally makes or breaks the game, the concept of deployable gear is pretty neat.
On top of the control points, Section 8 will also give you side missions to complete during a battle, such as delivering a bomb to a specific location, protecting an AI-based VIP character as he makes his way from one control point to another, driving a convoy across the map, and so on. It's tactically interesting when these come up, because you have to decide if you're going to go for these optional missions or stick with the control point gameplay. Earning points by completing specific feats on the battlefield lets you trigger these side missions. But the AI-controlled VIP moves slowly and rarely takes the safest path to his destination, making those annoying. All of the vehicle control in Section 8 is pretty bad, making convoy a bit of a bust, too.
The big problem that puts a serious hurt on everything else in Section 8 is that weapons feel very limp. They look like big, scary, sci-fi guns, but don't feel like they're doing serious damage when they connect. The soldiers on the battlefield have shields and health meters, and when you're shooting a target, it feels like you're just staring at the meters and watching them drop instead of seeing any actual damage on the soldiers. The only real piece of visual feedback you get aside from the meters is a flash that indicates when a soldier's shields have dropped. But some weapons seem to cut through shields and do direct damage to a player's health, too. All of the meter-watching may be effective, but it also gets in the way and makes the game a bit less immersive.
The multiplayer mode is the first item on the game's main menu, which gives you a good sense of what the developers' priorities must have been. Below that there's an "instant action" option that lets you play against bots, which isn't very exciting at all. Bots can also appear in online games. Under that is the game's campaign, a short set of missions that feels like it was cobbled together at the last minute. The campaign is a lot like the multiplayer, except it's a one-way fight as you stomp your way from one checkpoint to the next. When you die, you simply respawn at the last checkpoint and continue the fight where you left off. This means you can complete just about any objective by just throwing yourself at it again and again. It requires no skill to accomplish and doesn't teach you very much about the game, either, so it isn't an effective tutorial for multiplayer. The only time it seemed like there was something I could fail at with consequence was when I was asked to escort a convoy across a bridge. The rest of the game can be completed by running past most of your enemies and getting right to the control point or terminal or whatever the next objective is. It's a pretty lame excuse for a single-player component.
Visually, the game's best feature is the size of its maps. Much like a Battlefield game, these areas can be quite large, though your power suit's high-speed running abilities make crossing a map pretty easy. The character models don't look so great and the in-game animation isn't terrific, either. The sound effects and voice work are fairly standard.
There are some neat aspects of Section 8 and some good ideas that keep the game from getting too straightforward. But it feels like half of a game. The single-player campaign is a joke and this style of large-scale multiplayer has been done better elsewhere. Considering how competitive the multiplayer shooter genre is, that puts Section 8 in a pretty tough spot. But if you're looking for a different take on the Battlefield style, Section 8 does have its share of interesting moments.