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If you asked me to describe Section 8 before I played it, I would've said "Well, it's the shooter that lets you drop from orbit that isn't Halo 3: ODST." If you asked me to describe the game after I played it, I would've said pretty much the exact same thing. Nothing else about the game really sticks out in my memory.
Like Halo 3 (and whole lot of other shooters), Section 8 stars a group of heavily armed, well-trained space marines. The space marines of Section 8 aren't fighting some mysterious alien race, though. They're fighting other space marines with different colored armor. Seems that sometime in the distant future, mankind gets itself in a civil war (insert lack of surprise here) and you're one of the jarheads who's got to put a stop to it.
Section 8's space marines go out of their way to remain nondescript. They've got jet packs but they run out of fuel in four seconds flat so there's no high-flying Tribes action. They only wield guns you've seen in other games (shotgun, assault rifle, machine gun, pistol, sniper rifle) and these weapons operate exactly as they do in other games. Well, there is one difference: the weapons are all weak as hell in Section 8. The good space marines and the bad space marines both wear really thick armor and have portable shielding units so it'll take you about four or five sniper blasts to take a single one down. Even the rocket launcher can't one-shot a guy.
One cool thing that Section 8 and Arm of Orion marines (just looked up the names of the factions) do is drop into battle from orbit. After choosing a drop zone, you free-fall in. About halfway down, you can hit some sort of air brake and steer yourself toward the desired position. I guess this is cooler than watching a respawn timer but the flashiness wears off quickly. Part of the problem lay in the fact that the environments look pretty jagged and bland from up high. The other part of the problem is you can't land on people and crush them, Super Mario style. That would've been great.
Single-player is listed third on the game's main menu, below Multiplayer and Instant Action (multiplayer matches against bots) and that should give you a sense of the game's priorities. I appreciate that they did put a campaign into the game but they all just feel like multiplayer matches except with objectives and bots. In fact, the campaign maps are usually just several multiplayer maps pasted together. Despite the ultimate size of campaign levels, though, they're strikingly linear. You're restricted to only a small part of the map at the beginning of the mission and then it gradually opens up more and more as you complete objectives. For example, once you blow up the generators in one base you'll be able to travel across the way to the other base to hack a computer.
Linearity isn't a bad thing in general; Call of Duty's single-player campaign keeps players on a tight leash but this enables them to create some amazing scripted events. The single-player missions in Section 8 are just a bunch of generic small tasks strung together, though. The game alternates between making you steal data files, blow up a turret/capacitor, retrieve items, and clear an area of enemies. While there may be pages and pages of background information on Section 8's setting and characters tucked away in TimeGate Studio's office, the gameplay itself is just devoid of storyline. I'm never thinking "Man, I need to steal these files because..." - my reaction is more often "The game put an exclamation point over the computer over there so I'd better run up to it and press the A button." It's just a series of chores that you put up with to get Achievements.
The multiplayer's a bit more tolerable if only because you've got real people to kill. There's also a couple interesting features at work. The first is the player's ability to call in supplies from orbit. You get to do this to an extent in single-player but only when the game wants you to. In multiplayer, each kill or objective completion gives you currency that you spend on summoning these supplies. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of interesting stuff to summon. There are sensors to track enemy movement, small supply depots to let you choose a different equipment load-out, a few turrets, a tank, and a mech. The equipment is basically the same no matter which faction you're playing as in the multiplayer, by the way. "Wait," you might be saying, "A tank and a mech? Those must be fun as hell to play." Well, not so much. The tank has lots of shiny weapons for you to control but steering the thing is awkward as hell. The mech is a bit easier to handle but it just doesn't have the fun factor one expects from a large military-grade robotic walker. It can punch people and fire some impressive machine guns but enemies will focus fire it down pretty quick. Ultimately, the equipment dropped from orbit doesn't add enough to the skirmishes. It just litters the battlefield with a few extra targets for enemies.
Multiplayer matches have two teams competing to rack up 1000 points first. While you'll get a lot of those points from simply killing opposing players and holding the map's control points, you also have the option of performing Dynamic Combat Missions. Throughout the match you'll complete a variety of goals (for example, killing 3 players with a shotgun) and once you have achieved certain combinations of these goals, you can choose to begin a DCM. One example of a DCM is called VIP - a heavily armored commander from your team crash lands onto the map if you successfully escort him to safety, you earn additional points. The enemy team, meanwhile, can gain points by killing the commander. Other DCMs include escorting a convoy or stealing valuable intelligence. Killzone 2 did something kind of similar, with multiple game types (assassination, capture territory, etc.) played one after the other in a single map. In Killzone 2, however, the process was automated and central to the matches whereas the DCMs are optional and often ignored by players altogether.
Section 8's problem is not an overabundance of flaws but a shortage of strengths. It has a lot in common with some of the best shooters on the market but Section just seems to do everything a half-step slower than the competition in all areas. There's no hook here, no unique aspect that can make me honestly recommend it. Those orbital drops are kinda fun, though.
Players: 1-32 Players
Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: SouthPeak Games