The sequel to TimeGate Studios’ often underappreciated Section 8 hits Xbox LIVE today, and will be coming soon to PC and PlayStation Network. Although Section 8: Prejudice comes as a digitally distributed package as opposed to a full retail release, the developers are insisting that it packs far more content into it’s 1.78GB that the first game did on it’s entire DVD. Going on the number of gameplay modes and customisability therein alone, you’d be hard pressed to prove them wrong.
During Electronic Theatre’s preview sessions we were given the time to get to grips with the basics, from the entirely revamped singe-player Campaign to the all-new Swarm mode. As much as we enjoyed playing them there, here in the final build of the game they are vastly more expansive. The Campaign consists of eight levels in total, ranging from around twenty to forty minutes in duration each. While the single-player component of the original Section 8 could be completed in an evening, Section 8: Prejudice is roughly about twice as long, and equally as lengthy as that in some big budget releases – comparable even to that of THQ’s recently released Homefront. The plot devices don’t exactly push forward videogames in terms of a story telling medium, but it is well conceived in it’s own right: Section 8: Prejudice acts like an episode in a television series as opposed to a feature length film, with an obvious beginning, middle and end, and no need for a cliffhanger or hook from which to spawn a successive title. War is war, and this one battle was never likely to bring peace throughout the galaxy.
The Campaign does play in much the same way as that of the original game, though it is much more cinematic and does feel like more than just a training ground for the multiplayer competition. Taking slices of a map and giving you an objective, typically involving reaching a destination, hacking a control point or securing a location, the area expands and funnels you along a path with each completed task. That’s not to say it’s a wholly linear experience: Section 8: Prejudice provides you with plenty of room to put your own unique tactics into practice, and given the strength of the artificial intelligence (AI) opponents, you’ll quickly discover whether or not they’re effective.
Of course, some of the tactics that prove useful will aid players in the all-new Swarm mode. As opposed to the all-against-one gameplay mode of the original, Swarm is now a separate mode in its own right, with its own selection of adapted maps and ruleset. This time around, Swarm sees a small team of four human players (AI making up the numbers when needed) defending a single control point against waves of enemies increasing in difficulty. Effectively Section 8: Prejudice’s version of the endurance mode that has come to be known as ‘Horde’ since Gears of War 2 decided to have a stab at it, Swarm mode provides a welcome co-operative experience outside of the Conquest mode.
Although it’s relegated to second place on the main menu, the Conquest game mode is in actuality the main gameplay mode for Section 8: Prejudice just as it was in the original game. Up to thirty-two players can compete in team-based matches in which the ultimate objective is to achieve a set points total before the opposing team. Points are awarded for kills, assists, securing bases and defending bases, as well as for completing DCMs. DCMs are missions that automatically activate in game, and range from escorting an AI controlled VIP to a specific base to preventing the enemy from securing a number of salvage pieces dotted about the map. One of the new DCMs for Section 8: Prejudice is the Elimination mission, in which the players on one team must kill every member of the opposing team once within the time limit. The players that are yet to be taken down are highlighted both on the screen and on the players’ radar, and those as the numbers dwindle the opposing team must take desperate measures to ensure their teammates survive.
Throughout both the Swarm and Conquest modes, the individual player is rewarded for their success by way of capital in-game, and experience when returning to the main menu. The capital is used to call in ‘deployables’ mid-battle, such as rocket launcher and AA turrets, which can takedown vehicles on the ground and restrict the available locations for the infamous drop-in mechanic respectively. Outside of the game, the player will earn new items with which to customise their loadout, be it ammunition enhanced in a unique way or new grenade types. Much like the reward structure of the recent Call of Duty titles, Section 8: Prejudice dolls out plenty of unlocks to begin with, but saves the meatier additions til the player has become more experienced.
Section 8: Prejudice is a striking game visually. The original Section 8 was no slouch in terms of graphical fidelity, but this sequel improves upon near every aspect of the presentation. From the slick menu system to the fantastic draw distance, the speed with which textures are drawn during the drop-in to the variety and detailed appearance of the various armour, Section 8: Prejudice belies its digital roots. It’s never going to compete with the big budgets of Halo: Reach or Killzone 3, but just as the singe-player campaign appears on equal footing with many competitive retail releases, so too does the visual quality of the game. The voice acting is also commendable, offering distinction between the characters that could otherwise be missed amongst all the heroics and clanking of metallic armour.
There’s much to love about Section 8: Prejudice. It’s a game that compliments the original release while improving on almost every aspect, and there’s most certainly a good reason for any First-Person Shooter fan to adopt the digital release. The gameplay remains as deeply tactical as it did in the first Section 8 and the content on offer is near-double that of the original retail release, and yet it’s offered at a fraction of the price. Compelling both off- and online and visually appealing, Section 8: Prejudice is every bit the sequel fans would hope for. More than that, Section 8: Prejudice is a remarkable achievement for a digitally distributed title, redefining the standard of what is to be expected of a budget priced console game.