Platforms: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PC (tested), PS3 version coming Q3
When Robert Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, he probably didn't think that it'd inspire (or so it appears) one of the most fun respawning mechanics I've seen in a multiplayer shooter: dropping down from orbit, your power-armoured boots aimed towards some unlucky fellow below.
So begins a typical round of Section 8: Prejudice, which was released on PC late last week. Unlike the first Section 8, it has been released solely as a downloadable title, first on XBLA, and with a PSN release scheduled for Q3 this year.
What makes its downloadable nature impressive is the fact that it’s a fully-featured FPS. While the multiplayer is the star here (and rightfully so), the game features a solid campaign mode, a massive variety of weapons and equipment, and a generous amount of polish.
The campaign follows Captain Alex Corde of Section 8, a power-armour infantry division tasked with suppressing the Arm of Orion, a colonial militia turned terrorist group. While the campaign is clearly meant to ease gamers into how the multiplayer works – it emphasises the basics players need to succeed online, and familiarises them with each of the four map environments – it’s able to stand on its own due to the large number of intense and quite fun moments the game throws at you.
The power-armour design, including elaborate officers’ pauldrons (shoulderpads) and the Romanesque names used by the multiplayer bots might give a certain impression (specifically, that the game is taking more than a few cues from a certain tabletop franchise). Thankfully, that isn't the case, and with the exception of a few officers, the game's fiction and visual style is largely unique.
However, the basic enemy soldiers are only really challenging in large numbers, and a few of the major fights rely too much on rote-pattern recognition. These issues don't detract much from the game as a whole, but they are annoying.
Completing a campaign level and winning a multiplayer practice game against the bots, earns you "stars.” Stars unlock equipment that normally requires experience points earned in ranked online play. It’s a nice way to reward people who play through the campaign first, and it’s also nice that unlocks only need experience points, which are gained from practically every action online; you unlock more items by playing the game however you like, rather than fulfilling needlessly specific criteria.
At the time of writing, there are two multiplayer modes: Conquest, and Swarm, with a third (Assault) set to be released as free DLC when a total of 10 million multiplayer kills are made.
As I said earlier, the multiplayer is the star of Prejudice. Conquest is effectively a game of territory control fought between Section 8 and the Arm. Swarm, on the other hand, pits four players against hordes of AI-controlled enemies, the goal being to survive 15 minutes.
Both game modes are incredibly intense, have a great variety of ways to play, and, like the campaign, feel satisfying to complete.
While there are only four maps (technically there are 12, eight of them being smaller versions of the main four), they are fairly well-designed. The maps work especially well with the player's jetpack – yes, you get a jetpack – with terrain features well placed to encourage its creative use, despite its relatively low amount of fuel.
The multiplayer is further spiced up with Dynamic Combat Missions, or DCMs. These are essentially objectives that are activated at random throughout a match, shaking up the normal pattern of assaulting and defending control points with the opportunity to earn powerful effects.
Lag isn't much of an issue either, and TimeGate has a number of Australian "on-demand” servers that are sure to serve the Australasian gaming community well.
Unfortunately, the Conquest mode has a tendency to "snowball.” What this means is that when a side gains the upper hand early in a match, they tend to keep it. The lack of team scrambling between rounds doesn't help this.
Overall, the multiplayer in Prejudice is a blast. As with the campaign, it has some minor issues, and some users may object to the need for a Games for Windows Live account.
Even with these issues in mind, at US$15 it is a must-buy for multiplayer shooter fans. Section 8: Prejudice is a sci-fi shooter done right, and the low price point will only help to draw in the attention it deserves.
Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10