This preview is based on the Section 8 Multiplayer Beta on the PC.
Section 8 isn’t the first game to do a lot of things. It isn’t the first game that has allowed players to spawn anywhere on the map, it isn’t the first game that has nailed the visceral and fast passed movement of jetpacks, or the first game to let players choose their own classes. While it might not be the first game to do any of these things, it does look like it is finding a way to do these things very well.
When a multiplayer game starts, the map is divided into several bases, or capture points. All of these points are neutral and will defend themselves against either side that tries to capture them. The defense that is automatically set up at these bases normally resembles anti air guns, weapons designed to shoot down players that are attempting to drop – from space – within its range. While these guns can be destroyed, they will also fall under the power of whoever controls that point at any given time.
The game awards players for controlling one base for periods of time and spawns mini objectives for players to complete for additional points. They range from protecting, or killing, a VIP to picking up enemy intel and delivering it across the map. The game announces when these missions start, and even puts an icon on the heads up display to show where the action is taking place. With just these little announcements, the game manages to mix up the action as they can seemingly start anywhere on the field. The notifications also mean that large groups of people are constantly arriving to either complete the quest or stop the other team. Blended into all of this is the speed of the game, and the quick respawn times – where you drop from space onto the field- and it is hard to ever really feel far away from the action.
The one thing the game does very well is the quickness of combat. After holding down dash for a couple of seconds, the in-game avatar breaks out into a full out sprint, crossing from one side of the massive map to the other. The character also has a jetpack equipped at all times which can be used to get a better sniping area or to simply escape a firefight that has broken out unexpectedly.
The game accounts for the speed and variety of player movement with the ability for guns to lock onto a target for several seconds. While it might sound overpowered, the lock-on breaks if visual contact with a target is lost, must be recharged after used, and doesn’t seem to last long enough to ever kill someone from full health. That said, it is nice to have when a target is close to dying, hits their jetpack to try and escape by flying over the player’s head, only to be picked out of the air by a lock-on. Strangely enough, it ends up feeling like a very nice counter to the game being so insanely fast. The balance of the game stands out.
Players are rewarding for their performance with in game currency which can be used to call in Tanks, Mechs, or other such reinforcements. These power ups can be called in almost anywhere with a clear sky on the map. While the lock-on ability may make the game feel more balanced, the air drops do a great job of making the player feel entirely empowered. The Mech, for example, has an amazingly powerful machineguns mounted to the front of it and can do a melee attack that grabs an enemy and smashes them into the ground. While crazy powerful, it is very slow, and can be easily avoided by a player.
This isn’t to say that everything is wonderful with Section 8. The maps that I have played all feel very similar to each other, as if all of the bases were designed by the same architect who agreed to some insane planet based bulk rate. The maps all also feel like they are located in roughly the same 10 mile radius, in the same desert. It isn’t that the maps don’t look good, because they are amazingly polished and play well, but they all feel very similar.
Section 8 is coming out at the beginning of September 2009 for the Xbox 360 and PC. It does a great job of channeling older games that came before it, like Tribes and Unreal, while borrowing the best parts of those games. SouthPeak has put together a great game even in this beta format. We are looking forward to the final product. Look for a full MyGamer review shortly after the game’s launch next month.