It’s probably fair to say that the first Section 8 game was received with less than enthusiastic reviews, and in the face of such a lukewarm critical response, it’s not unusual for a game with great franchise hopes to disappear forever. Not to be deterred, however, developer TimeGate is trying to meet these criticisms and offer up a newly polished experience with Section 8: Prejudice. They recently stopped by the office to show off a work-in-progress build of the game, and if we came away from the meeting with anything, it’s a newfound appreciation for the will of a developer to serve the fans and respond humbly and openly to feedback.
Going into Section 8: Prejudice, the team set out with a goal to improve in four distinct areas: the single-player campaign, visuals, stickiness and usability. So we’ve decided to take a look at each category and offer up a sense of how they’re progressing thusfar:
Admittedly, the SP campaign in the first Section 8 title was an ill-featured afterthought, tossed in at the last minute to increase the multiplayer title’s overall marketability. With Prejudice, the team has created a specifically tailored single-player experience with a fully developed storyline aiming to immerse the player in the Section 8 world. Here, your team will be battling against the precursors to Section 8, a genetically engineered squadron of soldiers that have suffered greatly at the hands of their manipulation. These former allies have now formed a terrorist unit, rampaging unchecked through the system.
While the campaign is being carefully crafted by the team, it’s still not intended as the primary experience, so gamers can expect a quick, five-hour affair as a warm-up to the core multiplayer mechanics. We got to see a little of the game in action, a family familiar FPS motif featuring machine guns, shotguns, grenades and the next-big thing: jetpacks. TimeGate will be rolling out more about the single-player in the near future, but for the moment, it seems both present and functional, if perhaps a little ordinary in the post-Halo universe. Time will tell.
Moving into the multiplayer, there has been a noticeable improvement in the visuals from the first game to the second. The environments certainly aspire to greater scale and an improved level of detail. That said, scant particle effects and nine by-the-numbers levels – snow levels, lava levels, temperate levels, etc. – are the bare minimum of what’s required these days to offer a competitive MP package.
Certainly, the new drop mechanic adds a welcome visual punch, tracking your character as you drop into the map from high above the planet. This allows gamers to get a strategic environmental vantage if you can line-up your descent with a great sniping point. The two types of landings – hard and soft – will determine how quickly you drop into the action, or the amount of area damage you inflict when dropping directly into a swarm of enemies. The soft landing packs the most visual punch with a seamless animation as you fall from on high, land, roll and right yourself in one seamless movement. There’s a jagged edit in the hard landing that really breaks the fluidity, however.
Speaking of fluidity, another aim of the team is to make the game a more flowing experience, ensuring that your movement around the map is dynamic and easily controlled. New to the series is an Overdrive mode which allows players to move swiftly around the field, a feature which you can combine with the newly added jetpack to navigate the map as efficiently and swiftly as possible.
This will no doubt be key in multiplayer matches that range from 32-40 players, depending on whether you’re playing on consoles or PC, respectively. New vehicles also add both strategic and combat elements as you try to control your base or bases in a game of Swarm, a new mode similar to Halo’s Firefight.
A number of features have been added – or, to some degree, co-opted from other games – to increase the usability of the experience. Players will move up in rank, gaining requisition points during each round that can be used to purchase air drops of turrets and vehicles, as well as massive orbital strikes. There’s a wide array of armor and weapon unlockables and upgrades to ensure that your character is continually powering up. And lastly, those who just want to play a few rounds without logging online can do so against some fairly well programmed bot A.I.
There’s an extensive DLC plan for Section 8: Prejudice, including a robust fan site to track clans, stats, etc. The game is expected in early 2011. So far, it seems like a significant improvement over the original, but not yet anything to rival the games that are currently on the market. Only the end result will tell whether the team is in their right minds for going back to this ill-received franchise, or whether they’re truly Section 8. They seemed so sane to us!