(PC Review) Section 8: Prejudice

Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: TimeGate Studios
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-32
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 8 = Excellent

Minimum Requirements:
Single Core 3 GHz / Dual Core 2 GHz, 2GB RAM, GeForce 7800/Radeon X1900

TimeGate Studios is nothing if not confident. Despite a modest reception for 2009’s Section 8, the studio not only decided to persevere with the series, but to do so without the backing of a major publisher while transitioning from a traditional release model to a download-only one and offering it at launch for a budget price. Sporting the Unreal Engine 3, a single-player campaign, and multiple modes for online and offline multiplayer, complete with bot support, Section 8: Prejudice is a fantastic deal that offers plenty of bang for each of the 15 bucks being asked. But with a player base hovering just above ‘small,’ the armies of Section 8 and the Arm of Orion have troubling times ahead.

The most immediate difference between Prejudice and its predecessor is that there is now a proper single-player mode. No longer a set of offline multiplayer matches masquerading as a campaign, players now follow Captain Alexander Corde of the 8th Armored Infantry (Section 8) in his fight against a revitalized Orion’s Spear, the military might behind the separationist faction known as the Arm of Orion. While this is definitely something, it’s not necessarily a good something. Clocking in at around four hours, the entire adventure is decidedly lackluster with stilted dialog and character interactions, slapdash cutscenes, and very few encounters of note. The main benefit of going through the trouble of stomping the Spear into submission is to learn the maps, weapon types, and weapon mods. Aside from learning the ropes, though, there’s no reason to bother.

Once the Campaign is out of the way, then it’s on to the good stuff: Conquest, Swarm, and Assault. Conquest has up to 32 players vying for control of base via terminals, the acquisition of which adds points towards a total score and offers the holding team protection (turrets) and resources (supply depots). Players need to hack and then defend the terminals in order to attain full control, and some really great back and forth goes on as squads sneak into undefended bases while others rush in to reinforce hard-pressed squadmates. Swarm is a version of Horde mode, where a handful of players hold off increasingly difficult waves of enemies from a set location. And like all Horde-type modes, it’s awesome. Assault is the newest mode, which was unlocked as the game was being reviewed during a kill-counter event TimeGate ran that rewarded players with its inclusion in the mode roster for achieving 10 million kills. It’s a decent addition, with teams taking turns assaulting and defending bases for the fastest time possible.

Similar to the original, players enter maps by being shot out of a dropship high above the battlefield and land by engaging a break within a certain altitude. This might seem as though it’s a gimmick, but it’s actually a pretty clever mechanic for getting gamers into the action as quickly as possible. Since movement is only possible after breaking, players can either engage the breaks to guide themselves towards the earth (and on top of an enemy) or not and rocket down reach a terminal in the process of being hacked. The fact that the act of spawning itself adds a touch of (optional) strategy speaks to the overall design of Prejudice.

In many ways, the game is a combination first-person shooter and strategy game. Money is earned through both the assaulting and defending of bases, killing enemies, and also by completing dynamic combat missions. The latter are a set of objectives that appear throughout rounds that will have players recovering data from wreckage, escorting a VIP, protecting an outpost, or hacking and defending a jammer. Teammates can either get involved in the missions or ignore them completely, with those who complete the objectives earning a little bonus in addition to the team-wide reward. The money earned can be used to call in a handful of vehicles and structures. I found the vehicles to be pretty unwieldy, with the hoverbike, mech, and tank having finicky aiming and driving mechanics. Aside from the occasional mech, which allows for some great melee kills, I mostly didn’t bother with the vehicles. What I did bother with were the structures, which carry with them all sorts of tactical possibilities—much to the delight of my inner Rampart nerd.

Players can call down machinegun, anti-air, and missile turrets, as well as supply depots, radar jammers, and sensor arrays. By earning enough cash to lay out a properly defended position, it’s entirely possible to be a one-man army, given that there are enough team structure slots available, hiding behind turrets’ covering fire (as well as from above, taking out enemies burning in) while the supply depot repairs them and rearms nearby teammates. The structures aren’t invincible, though, and can be taken down with a few well-placed rockets or mortars, but they can also do serious damage to the enemy when consideration is given to range, approach, and layout. This is where some proper hotkeys would come in handy, because having to fiddle through the purchase menu and items (B, then brackets to scroll) is a serious pain whenever an enemy squad is charging forward and each second it takes to get to a structure is another second they get to close in. The slight annoyance is worth it, though, as there’s little as rewarding as holding down an entire base by yourself.

One of the game’s biggest strengths is that the strategy aspect is entirely optional. It’s possible to win by relying on the bases’ defenses and taking out the enemy before they even reach the terminals. With the game’s loadout option, much of how the game is played is left up to the player. A stream of unlockable weapons, weapon mods, and upgrades allow for the game to be played in a variety of ways. Players can be a brute with a machine gun kitted out to deal heavy armor damage with napalm-round-armed mortars and extra shields and armor, or with a sniper rifle, knife modded for extra damage, and upgrades geared towards a stealth, steady aim, and speed. Each upgrade has four bars (re: levels), each representing a stat or set of stat upgrades, and the player has 10 bars with which to allocate towards the upgrades. The ability to use any unlocked item and assign upgrades in any combination also allows for more hybrid-style classes, such as a combat engineer with heavy arms and upgraded jet pack and repair capabilities allowing them to zip around and repair their structures and fend off armored assaults. There are a lot of possibilities, and most of the combinations make for very viable builds.

Tweaking becomes a big part of the game, and there are several pre-made loadouts for those who are starting out. For those who get a feel for certain weapons or have a preference based on whichever map they are on, custom loadouts can be created and renamed. This seems minor, but it’s extremely handy whenever an enemy starts pumping out mechs and tanks and there’s already a named loudout prepped to go with heavy-hitting weapons and the appropriate upgrades. Some upper-level unlocks modify this some, allowing for even more stat boosts, but most players I ran across didn’t have them yet.

There’s another aspect of combat beyond the structures and loudouts, and that’s the extra abilities the power armor provides. In addition to a rechargeable shield, the armor also allows soldiers to rush forward (Overdrive), access a jet pack, and lock onto enemies. All of the features, save for the shield, share the same power meter. Learning how and when to use the abilities really opens up the game and gives it a great arcade-style feel—timing jet pack jumps just right to skip across platforms or avoid incoming rockets is great fun. And for as much as the lock-on feature might seem to be ripe for abuse, I have found that very few people use it because the trade-off of not being able to use the other abilities severely limits combat effectiveness. There are also fatalities that can be automated whenever a knife is equipped, allowing for cinematic killing blows on AI- and human-controlled opponents; the attacker isn’t invulnerable, so it’s often a risky proposition, but the satisfaction of seeing an enemy crumble beneath the blade, or a mech downed by a savvy infantryman, frequently outweighs the risk.

Many of Prejudice‘s charms aren’t obvious, though, and require a fair bit of time before the game’s possibilities are fully realized. While the single-player component does help to ease in the weapons and abilities, it’s only through offline or online multiplayer that everything really comes together. But there are some downsides that start to become apparent as more time is spent playing, and they are primarily with balance and community health.

One item of note is that all of the weapons, even the heavier ones, lack that solid punch that goes so far in first-person shooters, and why Doom‘s arsenal is so enjoyable after all these years; it’s more Unreal than Unreal Tournament. While most of the weapons are completely serviceable from the get-go, there are a few that are in need of tweaking. The assault rifle is a nice medium-range weapon, but the machine gun largely outshines its smaller counterpart by being nearly as accurate when firing in short bursts and holding a much, much larger magazine. And since both have similar round mods, the assault rifle really comes up short. The shotgun also requires significant attention before it becomes worthwhile, which is somewhat at odds with the nature of the weapon itself—it’s strange to plug an enemy at point-blank range and have them shake it off. I wouldn’t call weapon balance a serious problem, as they do get the job done, but there is definitely some wasted potential.

While it might seem that Prejudice‘s biggest drawback might be the paint-drying single-player campaign, it’s not; it’s the paltry player base. By all accounts, the game is faring well on the 360, but it’s a different story altogether on the PC. There have been times when I’ve seen one player in Assault mode, and it’s not infrequent to see less than a hundred in Conquest, the main mode. Bots help to pick up the slack whenever they are enabled, and they can be decent, with high-level bots taking objectives, but they are still no match for human competition. The in-game chatter is uniformly positive, and the players who are playing want the party to continue, but it’s more than a little disheartening to see so few so close to launch. The four included maps are solid and milked as much as possible, broken up and selectable as they are into four (overall, middle, and by two directions), but their count is also a source likely to limit longevity; however, given the price, I find the set acceptable.

I wouldn’t count Prejudice out just yet, though. The recent Assault unlock event shows that TimeGame has some tricks up their sleeves, and the fact that multiplayer staples like Capture the Flag and Deathmatch haven’t been implemented means there are bound to be more events in the future. There can even be more exotic additions, possibly a take on the tower defense genre using the turrets—there’s a lot for the company to play with. I just hope that future events draw in more players, because I’d like to keep playing.

A dull single-player campaign and low player count might turn some people off, and that’s perfectly understandable, but Section 8: Prejudice has a lot going for it—least of which is the bargain price. While the game might look like a Halo knock-off, with some of the most pristine destruction seen this side of Reach, the combination of called-down structures, custom loadouts and upgrades, and an injection of quick platforming-style elements sets it apart from the pack. So yes, while the story is a disappointment and the future is uncertain (and Games for Windows Live is an abomination), multiplayer gamers will find a lot to like for $15.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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