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Section 8 (Xbox 360) artwork

Section 8 (Xbox 360) review

"Fortunately, multi-player matches go a long way toward redeeming the game. Maps might have been a disaster when you were wandering across them to satisfy a few repetitive objectives and to catch another glimpse of Corde looking like he bit into a toxic lemon, but when you're exploring that same region and you know that an intelligent player could lie in wait around every corner, barren landscapes and labyrinthine military complexes suddenly take on a life you never would have imagined that they could possess."

If you've played first-person shooters online for anything even remotely close to an extended period of time, you've likely run into a situation where, after giving it your all and firing enough bullets at the opposing team members to sink a battleship, they somehow triumphed and left you dead. Anxious to return to the fray and assist your struggling squad members, you waited patiently as the re-spawn timer counted down to your glorious return. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, you reappeared... on the opposite side of the map! As profanity and the distant sound of booming television speakers echoed in your ears, you waddled back to where the fight was going down and arrived just in time to see the last body drop and to hear a sarcastic "Thanks a lot" from the team members who had to endure most of the fight without your support.

Until now, all you've been able to do in the face of the insincere gratitude is shrug and say "It happens," but until now you haven't played Section 8. Developed by TimeGate, a team that formerly was best known for some work on F.E.A.R. map expansions, Section 8 carves a place for itself in the crowded FPS genre by featuring a re-spawn system that actually makes sense.

The game takes place in a futuristic world where two militant groups battle for domination of a world that has been significantly remapped so that it barely resembles the one we know today. Giant battleships drift lazily across the atmosphere like clouds, sprawling metal structures litter the face of the planet and men now fight in battle suits that look like they were ripped straight out of a "Robocop" movie. More than the ships or the iron monstrosities that pass for dwellings and military compounds, the suits are what define the bleak environment that man now calls home. The cumbersome gear allows soldiers to arrive on the battlefield not by way of tank or even helicopter, but at the end of a free fall from space.

As the game's campaign mode begins, you find yourself in the role of a young soldier named Corde, one of several brave men who are waiting to drop from a battle cruiser's bay and to plummet toward the surface of the planet. The area of New Madrid has ceased to respond to communication attempts, so you've been sent to find out why. Following an exhilarating drop to the planet's surface, you'll fan out along with the other members of your squad to investigate a barren landscape. By the time that first mission ends, you'll find yourself without a leader and imbued with a lust for sweet revenge. Seven more missions will follow, each bringing you closer to a violent resolution.

Corde's story had the potential to be interesting, even if it is derivative, but the developers apparently weren't concerned with such matters. Narrative is kept to a ridiculous minimum and attempts at providing depth only manage to come off as random. For example, one mission unceremoniously begins with Corde sitting on a bench and reflecting on the thrill of running around and hacking someone with a knife--a joy that is illustrated by a cutscene--but there's no actual attempt to connect that introspection to anything that matters. With only a few cutscenes and some radio chatter devoted to the tale of one warrior's quest for vengeance, it's not surprising that everything feels shallow, just disappointing.

Those willing to look past the unsatisfying plot will find that the single-player campaign still doesn't have much to offer. The eight maps that you are sent to explore all were designed with deathmatch play in mind. All the developers did for the story campaign is add a few objectives and throw up some arbitrary barriers that penalize you if you explore a given region in the wrong order. Some might say that TimeGate deserves credit for at least trying, but that's hard to swallow when the results are so uninspired.

Fortunately, multi-player matches go a long way toward redeeming the game. Maps might have been a disaster when you were wandering across them to satisfy a few repetitive objectives and to catch another glimpse of Corde looking like he bit into a toxic lemon, but when you're exploring that same region and you know that an intelligent player could lie in wait around every corner, barren landscapes and labyrinthine military complexes suddenly take on a life you never would have imagined that they could possess.

There are a few problems that even the presence of human opponents can't fix, however. Several of those carry over from other game modes, including environments so bland that you'd swear could have been rendered on the original Xbox and several long stretches of nothing but sand, rock and gently sloping hillsides. TimeGate isn't exactly a massive developer, so such shortcomings are perhaps to be expected and can be forgiven because they don't have a lasting impact on gameplay. What's harder to accept is the occasionally cumbersome interface. Between spawns, you have to specify whether you want to drop with your squad or point to a section of the map. It's nice to have the option, certainly, but couldn't the developers have tweaked the game so that it remembered your previous selection and defaulted to that? Little things like that matter when you're playing for hours at a time.

Another concern is anti-air weaponry. When you're about to return to the planet's surface and you move the cursor to select where you will land, you'll receive warning text if the position you select puts you at risk of being shot out of the air. Ignoring that advice means that you will almost certainly be a corpse by the time you hit the planet surface. But let's say that your squad is scattered across the map in several pockets. Instead of sending you toward the grouping that isn't near an anti-air weapon, the game has an annoying tendency to drop you directly toward anti-air weapons. The result is that as often as not the option to re-spawn near your squad is a total gamble. It could work out beautifully or it could be suicide.

If you're able to look past such nuisances, though, Section 8 really is an enjoyable experience. Matches last a reasonable amount of time and teams are automatically re-balanced throughout if late entries or sudden departures suddenly make things unfair. New objectives crop up throughout matches, constantly shifting things so that it's never safe to become complacent. Players gain levels and achievements for heroics, which is a nice reward for progression. Also, your best records in certain areas--such the as number of arrays and turrets destroyed or the amount of damage dealt with a machine gun--are recorded so that you can always challenge yourself to improve on your previous best performance, plus you can choose from several classes each time you spawn. That adds a nice bit of strategy to each round. On top of that, the ability to boost through the air for short distances with a jetpack makes matches feel much more three-dimensional because you no longer have to climb a winding staircase to reach the ledge where someone on the opposing team has set up sniping headquarters. Then there's the lock-on feature that gives newer players a chance at hitting a target with a sustained burst of fire, but it's not so overpowered as to prevent a superior player from winning in spite of things.

Section 8 isn't perfect or even a stellar first-person shooter in any single area (particularly its single-player campaign). There are times when it just barely feels competent. In spite of such complaints, though, the control that players have over re-spawns in all modes makes up for a lot of shortcomings and the online play is both active and engaging enough that you shouldn't have trouble finding an enjoyable match that's free of prepubescent chatter. A rental is certainly in order.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 16, 2009)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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