Section 8

Game Description: On the war-torn planets of tomorrow, mankind's greatest battle is about to begin. With its frontier colonies devastated by a growing insurrection, Earth dispatches the elite 8th Armored Infantry (nicknamed "Section 8") to repel the coming onslaught. The nickname refers to an old United States military regulation where a soldier would be dismissed from service through being mentally unfit for duty. The near-suicidal missions that this division volunteers for brands them as insane by other military units. Section 8 deploys by 'burning in' from their orbital drop ships tens of thousands of feet above the battlefield, utilizing the most advanced arsenal of military hardware known to man.

Section 8 Review

Gives "Death from Above" a Whole New Meaning

Section 8 Screenshot

HIGH The armor design and functions are great.

LOW The single-player mode is over way too soon.

WTF How can it possibly be so hard to land directly on an enemy?

Anyone who reads this site knows that I'm generally not big on online multiplayer games, unless they're of the 2P co-op variety. Those, I live for. The standard sort of "one army versus another army" stuff, not so much. This may prompt some of you to ask what business I have reviewing a game like Section 8, whose main purpose in existence is online multiplayer. The answer? I'm a sucker for really cool-looking armor. The armor in Section 8? Pretty damned cool.

Essentially a first-person Space Marines-ish sort of affair, Timegate's Section 8 features two distinct modes; the single-player and the online multiplayer.

Regardless of the mode selected, the player starts by being "burned-in". Translation? Getting flung from a low-orbit dropship to the surface of the planet at ridiculous speeds. More than just spectacle, it's possible to engage air-brakes and steer to a preferred landing area within the conflict zone, giving a tactical edge to each touchdown. If the player manages to land directly on top of an enemy, it's an instant kill.

Once on the ground, the nifty armor that caught my eye serves its purpose effectively. Besides protecting the character from the impact of landing, it also sports a Tribes-like jet pack for brief flights and can also engage a third-person hyper-running mode to cross vast expanses of the map in a hurry. In terms of design, Section 8 does a great job of making the player feel like a futuristic soldier well-equipped for advanced battle.

The single-player, usually a throw-away addition in a game of this sort, was actually well-produced and serves as an extremely competent extended tutorial. Starring First Recon soldier Alex Corde, the brief campaign unfolds over a series of areas with varying objectives. Capture this point, eliminate those hostiles, and so on. Although it's not going to win any awards for drama, it was better than expected and I felt very well-versed in the game's mechanics after just a few levels.

Section 8 Screenshot

Sadly, the campaign only lasts a couple of hours, and its brevity is a true shame. I could easily imagine an entire game based just on traditional single-player structure, and if a sequel of that sort was announced, I would sign up in an instant for a second tour of duty. Until that day comes, all that's left is the multiplayer once Corde's story comes to its conclusion.

Having cut my teeth in the brief campaign, it was extremely natural to transition into the online modes with no learning curve at all. There are no new twists, or surprise additions, which I greatly appreciated. Technically, online offers a fairly healthy selection of options such as the ability to customize weapon load-outs, the ability to rearrange the traits of the armor, adding bots, and the usual selection of other host options when starting a session. It's comprehensive.

Although I've heard some complaints that there aren't enough people playing this game, I had no difficulty at all finding matches to join. In fact, every game I played was at full player capacity.

After getting my feet wet, I was surprised to find that the satisfaction I got from hopping, running, and sniping on my own carried over quite well to the team game—something I never saw coming given my general predisposition towards solo. Honestly, it's hard to beat breaking into a cross-country sprint with a sonic boom and then leaping high over defensive walls to obliterate enemies from above. Even a hardcore 1P man like myself isn't immune to this stuff.

Although I'll be the first to admit that online multiplayer is usually the least interesting aspect of any game for me, Section 8 did a great job of making it easy to learn and easy to take part in. That facility combined with the excellent abilities of the armor and fast-paced nature of play make for a solid experience that 360 owners should certainly take note of. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one time. 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains violence. Parents, as is made quite apparent by the cover of the case and description on the back of the box, this game is all about combat and gunplay. Additionally, the bulk of this experience is intended to be had online with other players. Although the content is not particularly graphic (no language or sexual situations, either) it's safe to say that this game is squarely aimed at the teen-and-older audience. Steer your kids clear.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be aware that although all dialogue in the game's cut-scenes and during missions are subtitled, the text is fairly small and hard to read in general, let alone in combat situations. It's a little too easy to miss an important update in the middle of a firefight, but the map compensates by highlighting key objectives. In terms of hit detection, the game does a good job of communicating when players are under attack, so no difficulties there.

Section 8 Second Opinion

No Relation to the Federal Low-Income Housing Subsidy

Section 8 Screenshot

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.

Section 8 Screenshot

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. Rating: 6.0 out of 10.

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.

Interview with Drew Rechner, Community Liaison for Section 8

A while ago, my review of the recently-released MMO FPS Section 8 went live. To my surprise, I actually ended up having a very enjoyable time with it, despite not being a fan of the genre.

Although the servers have been full of players every time I've gone online, I don't get the sense that there is a very high level of awareness of this title in the games community—especially in the wake of another recently-released steamroller of an FPS that's had everyone buzzing over the last week. So, as my way of saying "thanks" for making my time reviewing the title worthwhile, I decided to do a follow-up interview as my small effort to help raise Section 8's profile.

Without further ado, I present my interview with Section 8 Community Liaison Drew Rechner…

Hi Drew, thanks for talking with me. To begin, what should players know about the developers behind Section 8, TimeGate Studios?

TimeGate is an independent development studio based in Sugar Land, Texas (outside of Houston) that started back in 1998 to work on our award-winning real-time strategy game, Kohan:Immortal Sovereigns. While originally focused on RTSs, we gained a reputation for innovating in a well-established and highly competitive genre. Since then, we’ve produced four other award-winning titles.

We are all hardcore gamers at TimeGate. We use a critical eye on every game we play and think about how we could expand on the aspects we enjoy and fix or erase the things we do not. We then apply this knowledge to each game we create.

Starting with a RTS background, how did you segue over into FPS development?

We truly believe in the games we are creating at TimeGate. After releasing several successful RTS titles, we started kicking around ideas for the next game and it pulled us towards the FPS genre. Before work, during lunch, and after work nearly the entire office was playing an FPS. Because of this, our focus turned to creating FPSs using the untraditional library of knowledge we obtained through our work on RTSs.

Our first released FPS titles were the expansions to the F.E.A.R. franchise, and we started full production on Section 8, our own IP, shortly after.

The FPS market is a tough one to crack, especially with certain franchises having a virtual lock on the 360. In your view, how do you see the current FPS environment and what does Section 8 bring to the table that players should sit up and take notice of?

There are a lot of deep-rooted and strong franchises currently on the Xbox 360, but there is still a lot of room for innovation. While many of them execute what they aim to do quite well, we believe the market has become saturated with a lot of stagnant ideas, and we feel that Section 8 mixes the pot quite well. So instead following the FPS "norm" of these games, we set out to do something completely different with Section 8.

Section 8 is quite different than these games in a variety of ways. For example, we have removed much of the predictability of other first-person shooters with burn-in spawning. Because players can burn-in to anywhere on the battlefield when spawning, spawn-camping has essentially been eliminated in Section 8, and players will no longer be forced to stare at their corpse for 30 seconds after being killed by their opponent.

Section 8 also features customizable player loadouts, unlike most other games that railroad the player into choosing between pre-existing classes. Players are able to equip their powered armor suit the way they see fit with passive modules, gear, and weapons.

Additionally, Section 8 allows players to dynamically manipulate the flow of combat with on-demand vehicle and asset requisitions as well as participate in a variety of Dynamic Combat Missions (DCMs) which ensure that no two games of Section 8 play the same twice.

Do you feel as though your goals for Section 8 have been successful thus far? How do you feel about how the game has been received in the reviews community?

We genuinely set out to make a game that we would enjoy playing and one we thought others would enjoy as well. As mentioned earlier, we focused on taking the elements we enjoyed the most about FPSs coupled with a bunch of our own new ideas and fixing what we did not enjoy, such as spawn-camping, vehicle stealing, and predictable gameplay. To this extent, we feel Section 8 has been extremely successful. At the end of the day, we created an addicting and exciting shooter experience that is unlike any other FPS on the market right now, and we are proud of that.

The majority of the reviews have been very positive and seem to appreciate our different and innovative point of view for FPSs. Like with many new ideas, there is some resistance—which is expected. Section 8 really challenges how people approach the FPS genre and forces players to call into question some of the standard conventions they've been putting up with for years.

While some features of the game are quite excellent, such as the flight and speed-run abilities, several sources have noted that standard walking speed is quite slow and the tank is very difficult to maneuver effectively. Are there any plans to address these issues, or tweak any other aspects of the game?

We are constantly analyzing the data and feedback the game is receiving these first few months and will be making adjustments as needed. We really appreciate all the feedback we have received thus far and have already started acting on a large number of items we have seen in a variety of places including our forums.

Although the team-based play is solid and exciting, it seems to me as though there's a lot of potential for a more traditional single-player game based around a more mobile and able character like the kind featured in Section 8. Has there been any talk of a sequel focusing more on a campaign?

Section 8 has always been a multiplayer focused game since its original conception many years ago. With that said, we still wanted to create an engaging single-player experience that introduced the player to the universe of Section 8 and told a bit of the story between the 8th Armored Infantry and the Arm of Orion. We agree that there is a lot of potential for further expansion in this avenue and we are constantly evaluating all opportunities for our future titles.

Are there any plans for Section 8 DLC?

We have not publicized a DLC schedule just yet, but we are working on this type of update for the near future. We are still evaluating DLC and have starting putting ideas together, but we are not quite ready to commit to a timeline just yet.

What's next for TimeGate Studios?

We are already hard at work on our next slate of projects. While we are not ready to make any announcements regarding these yet, rest assured that our next projects will continue to expand upon our tradition of pushing genre-defining boundaries.

Many thanks to Drew Rechner of TimeGate for the interview, and also to Rob Fleischer for taking care of the arrangements to make it happen.

For more information on Section 8 and Timegate studios, please visit them at their website, and definitely check out the game—it's available now.

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