Section 8 Hands-On ImpressionsBy Brian Leahy - Posted Aug 10, 2009
Section 8 is an ambitious game, bringing some new features to an old-school formula for massive multiplayer battles based around territory control. Think of it as a cross between Battlefield and Tribes with the ability to spawn anywhere and build deployable items anywhere on the map. Sound like a lot? It is!
Matches play out with squads attempting to capture or defend bases that accrue points over time for the team that holds the fortress. In addition to this, points can be gained by participating in Dynamic Combat Missions (DCMs) that are created on the fly based on the different types of kills your team is scoring. These could include defending a convoy as it travels between two bases while the other team attempts to destroy it, or reaching a beacon and using it before the enemy can stop you. There are also challenges for specific players, like killing two enemies with the assault rifle or capturing a base for even more in-game rewards and experience.
As you complete objectives and kill enemies, you get cash that can be exchanged for deployable items like supply depots, turrets, tanks or mech suits. These drop in the same way the player does and are susceptible to AA fire, so be sure to call them in while in safe zones. Your loadout can be customized to hold two primary weapons, two items, and ten levels of passive abilities that increase things like your damage, armor, or shields. You’re free to take any combination of items as well, with your arsenal determining your speed and armor.
When respawning, you can drop-in anywhere on the field of battle. Well, almost anywhere. Enemy bases are protected by anti-air turrets that will quickly pick you off if you try to drop within their range. Beyond that, you’re free to drop where you please. Bonus: if you can land on an enemy, you kill them with the impact of your fall.
In order to assault a base, you must stand at the objective and hold down the fort while a terminal is “hacked.” In the meantime, you’ve got to fight off enemy defenders and destroy their turrets. Be careful, though, as respawning defenders can drop in at any time. If you manage to switch the base’s ownership while they are dropping, however, they will be welcomed by a barrage of flak from your newly controlled anti-air turrets.
The tactic of map-wide drop-ins works well for the most part, but really hurts players that prefer to setup a sniping position outside of flak protection. The enemy can just drop in behind you and snag an easy kill. On maps with more than two bases, the feature can also lead to an accidental cease-fire if squads constantly choose to drop into different zones after dying. If you have an intense firefight at base #1 and eliminate all of your opponents, they might choose to drop in at base #3. Sure, you’ll capture base #1, but they’ll probably take base #3. It would work better with coordinated teams, but the quickest way to travel is death. Sprinting for a few seconds will enable you to go into an overdrive mode where you move ridiculously fast, but cannot shoot. Limited jump jets are also available.
There is one “feature” of Section 8 that is a bit confusing. After zooming in on an enemy, you are given the opportunity to lock-on to them for a limited amount of time. The time limit can be increased through passive upgrades to your character and basically gives you auto-aim. It allows less skilled players to compete, but proves frustrating for shooter veterans. Thankfully, there are passive upgrades and items that can make it more difficult for enemies to lock onto you. The hardcore players have begun using the lock-on as a method of finishing off injured enemies, rather than initiating combat with the ability. From my play time, it seems like not utilizing lock-on results in a lot of missed shots and lower damage output, due to the large amount of hitscan weapons. I begrudgingly found myself using it because it just wasn’t possible for me to kill enemies reliably without it.
Section 8 almost has too much going on to deliver a focused gameplay experience. The multiplayer mode will require a lot of teamwork and hopefully the player base will rise to the challenge. We’ll see in a few weeks when it unleashes on PC and Xbox 360.