In the world of videogames timing is crucial. Not just attacking an opponent at the right time to cause maximum damage but also where releasing games is concerned. SouthPeak managed to get this out of the door barely two weeks before Halo 3: ODST – the sequel to the most played games on the Xbox 360. Had it come after, I doubt it would have even managed to get into the top 40 chart at all.
The plot and setting is your typical sci-fi affair involving two factions waging war on distant planets. What this really boils down to is two teams of up to sixteen players competing to reach a score of 1000. How you contribute to a victory though up to you. A kill is only worth 5 points whereas capturing bases and destroying gun turrets will earn you twice as much. The real big earners are gained from completing the missions that randomly commence such as escorting convoys, killing (or protecting) VIPs and the like.
Every kill you make earns cash that can be spent on turrets, tanks and heavily armoured mech-suits. You can’t use your jet-pack in a mech suit but you can grab an enemy and throw them through the air. Which is fun.
Like Halo before it there’s a two weapon limit but you can change your kit between respawning, which is a good thing from a tactical point of view – if there are loads of tanks on the map then it’s a good idea to get the old rocket launcher out. Unlike Halo though, the weapons are pretty uninteresting considering the sci-fi setting being the usual assortment of machine guns, sniper rifles, knifes and grenades. The only real unique elements to be had stem from the robotic suits that the Section 8 soldiers wear. Clicking in the analogue stick actives overdrive mode which lets you sprint like a madman and before respawning you can choose where you want to be deployed on the map. This too gives the game a tactical edge – you can land near your team mates, inside enemy bases (providing there are no AA turrets) or even carry on from where you last died, which helps keep the pace up.
If this review was solely for the single player mode I’d probably say it’s one of the most worthless games on Xbox 360. It uses the same maps and objectives as the multi-player mode, with foes being nothing but faceless drones. Even on hard mode it can be beaten in between two or three hours due to the unlimited respawns. You can however play against AI bots in the instant action mode. The AI is pretty good – they crack on with the objectives, following behind escorts and respawning next to any objects that need protecting. If this review was, somewhat bizarrely, rating the game on looks alone then it would also be one of the worst. I’m sure that there were games on the original Xbox that looked better than this. You do get the impression though that the textures and character models have been stripped back a bit to keep the speed of things nice and smooth.
So, it looks like a load of mangled space wreckage and the single player mode only lasts as long as most films do but as a multi-player experience it isn’t bad at all. It’s not as heavily hitting as Gears of War or as manic as Halo 3, but like all good online shooters as soon as you die you’re eager to get back into the action. How long you’ll be playing it for though really depends on how well it sells. At the time of typing Section 8 has been out for a few weeks and there aren’t many people playing online. If there are less than four human players then scores aren’t ranked, making it impossible to get some of the achievements. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation, really – this one ends up being a cult hit like Shadowrun it could be in your console for a long, long time. If not, then you’ll quickly tire of blasting bots and soon wish for something more substantial.