Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: Section 8: Prejudice (PSN)

In an industry completely overrun with shooters, it takes something special to really stand out in the crowd. With blockbuster favourites like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Gears of War and Halo, all of which are filled with all manner of spectacle and over-the-top set pieces, it’s a bit daunting to even consider trying to run in the same race. No one else manages to even get near the success that those franchises have garnered, even if what is offered has some great amount of ingenuity.

Halo? No. Section 8: Prejudice!
Take Brink, for example: this was a game that was billed as something new and exciting, a groundbreaking title that would change the way first-person shooters worked. It was class-based, allowed customisation of your character and your weapons, and featured freerunning. It was as if Splash Damage took cues from all the best shooters and combined them into one game.

The only real difference was the execution: featuring maps that focused entirely on objective-based gameplay, Brink promised to be an interesting experience. This was a formula that worked in previous Splash Damage titles (such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein) so there was much hope that the game would live up to its hype.

But it didn’t matter. Release day came and went and all people could say was that Brink fell short of their expectations. People lamented the level design and the balancing of the classes. They complained that the guns didn’t feel any different and felt betrayed that the game wasn’t as good as they hoped. And, in some respects, they were correct: perhaps Brink wasn’t the pipedream we were hoping for. But it was still a damn sight more interesting than endless Call of Duty deathmatches, and it broke some fertile ground that I’m sure other developers will take advantage of in the years to come.

In my opinion, what everyone was complaining about was that Brink was too different from Call of Duty and its kin. It wasn't the norm that we had become accustomed to and it’s for that exact reason that, unfortunately, I don’t expect Section 8: Prejudice to do very well in the market. And that’s just a crying shame because, like Brink, it deserves far more attention and praise than it has received.

Prejudice is actually a sequel to the 2009 title Section 8, also released by TimeGate Studios. Section 8 was a fairly mediocre title that was a largely multiplayer-only affair (something I find never speaks well of a game, especially when it’s a disc-based release). Still, the game had its own style and some interesting gameplay elements people hadn’t seen since Tribes – namely, the inclusion of jetpacks. The game pitted you in up to 32-player matches against both other players and bots (something that truly needs to make a comeback) where you needed to complete objectives to receive victory points. It was a very straightforward game that did little that hadn’t been seen before and was critically received with very little fanfare and middling reviews.

Prejudice looks to fix this by instead focusing on a single-player campaign and does an at least decent job of execution. The campaign sets you as Captain Alex Corde, an officer among the ranks of Section 8, the 8th Armoured Infantry Division of Earth, and pits you against a splinter group known as the Arm of Orion. The full plot explores this conflict in further detail but I shan’t reveal too much for fear of spoiling you all. Suffice it to say the campaign is pretty standard military space marine fare, what with the doomsday weapons and genetically engineered super-soldiers and the like. It’s up to you to bring this conflict to a close and, while the campaign certainly doesn’t sound like it’s anything special, it’s actually quite an interesting and compelling little romp through the universe TimeGate created, which is a nice change of pace from the blandness that current shooters offer.

The game isn’t class-based, per sé, but there are enough features included in the game to allow every player to have a different style of play. You can fit yourself with two weapons out of a list of seven, and can equip two different gadgets (such as repair tools and shoulder-mounted mortars) out of a list of roughly the same length. Each piece of equipment also has unlockable attachments (such as different types of ammo or burst-fire modes) that you will receive both throughout the campaign and when you increase in rank in the multiplayer modes. 

On top of this, each player is allotted ten points to spend on armour upgrades, of which there are about ten options each with four ranks. So you can max out your damage resistance, your accuracy, a stealth field or even how quickly you repair things. The mechanics allow for so much customization, you can effectively create many different classes and tailor them to suit your playstyle. This allows for much greater flexibility than other class-based shooters while also maintaining a sense of balance from player to player.





The multiplayer side of things is broken into three different modes: Conquest, Swarm and Assault. Conquest plays almost identically to the original Section 8, pitting two teams against each other in an attempt to get the most victory points in the allotted time. As the round progresses, each team will be given objectives to complete which could include such things as capturing a sensor jammer or escorting a VIP bot. Completing these objectives will garner your team large quantities of victory points so it’s generally the team that can complete the most that wins in the end.

Swarm mode is TimeGate’s version of Halo’s Firefight, pitting four teammates against wave after wave of AI enemies. The third mode, Assault, pits two teams against each other in a race against the clock: each team takes turns playing offense and defense as the former tries to post the shortest time to capture each objective point. Whichever team manages to succeed in the shortest amount of time wins the round. It’s very simple and is actually a bit reminiscent of Left 4 Dead’s Versus Mode in its execution, though only in concept.

At times, it seems like Prejudice is very strongly trying to emulate Halo, but it always manages to maintain its own sense of identity which is something worth noting. Most games fall into the trap of coming off as nothing more than knock-off’s, but Prejudice is not that sort of game. The voice acting perhaps isn’t great and the graphics are perhaps just a bit dated but, all these things considered, Prejudice never ceases to be entertaining and never stops dragging you back for one extra round. And when it comes to games, the only thing that truly matters is how fun the game is, and that is a category where Prejudice never falls short.

Did I forget to mention that you enter the battlefield by airdrop?
Because that's one of the best parts.
When it comes to first-person shooters, Section 8: Prejudice may be the best value for your money until Battlefield 3 is released. For an extremely reasonable $US15, you receive a first-person shooter with a campaign that rivals the length and scope of some of the blockbusters – the campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops, for instance, averages at somewhere around six hours of game time. Prejudice meets that length square on, which is pretty impressive for a title that is only available through digital distribution.

If you are someone who enjoys spending endless hours playing team deathmatch, perhaps you’d best save your money as I imagine you’ll only complain that Section 8: Prejudice doesn’t meet your lofty expectations (much like what happened with Brink). If, however, you are tired of the same ol’ same ol’ and want to enjoy some actually innovative shooter action, Section 8: Prejudice is the best value for your money by far. By far.

- Nick J

 


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