With the expansion of the digital download platforms in full flow, it’s interesting to watch the shift of some developers towards the advantages on offer. Section 8: Prejudice, the follow up to Timegate Studio’s 2009 Xbox retail release, is a good example; digital distribution was something they tried via PSN in 2010 and clearly it was enough of a success for them to go download only this time for both XBLA and PSN.
Prejudice is a mixture of single player and multiplayer modes, with a heavy slant towards the latter. Reminiscent of aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the single player campaign follows the Section 8 space troopers as they tackle an unknown enemy, in an adventure that lasts for roughly 4 – 5 hours. It plays as an extended tutorial, during which the player is gradually taught how to use the different weapons, tailor their armour and load-out how they’d like, how to use vehicles and learning the combat skills which are essential to survive in multiplayer.
These include hacking turrets or objectives, deploying sensors to scope out enemies, or even climbing into huge mechanised suits in order to dish out some major punishment. There’s also the necessary basic skills of mastering the jet-pack which allows you to boost into the air for a period of time, or Overdrive. This is triggered by sprinting over longer distances and is essentially a powerful charge move that comes in handy for covering wide open spaces and bashing anyone silly enough to get in your path. Given all that speeding around over land and air there’s also a handy lock-on which temporarily allows you to make sure your bullets hit your target with relative ease.
As short as the single player side of things might be, it’s pretty well realised using the Unreal engine. Visually a little rough around the edges, there are a number of locations to visit and it features that rarity of having full voice acting in the cutscenes, even if it will drive you mad with endless “cor blimey Mary Poppins!” Cockney accents. It’s also impossible to look at any character being voiced by the distinctive gruff charms of the Crackdown advisor, without expecting him to start barking out commands to “Catch that Orb, Agent!”
The single player portion is ultimately pretty forgettable and the plot is certainly meaningless to those who aren’t really vested in the game’s universe. However there is the opportunity for extended solo play using the available bots, something which the majority of games don’t bother with anymore so it’s to Timegate’s credit that they’re included. These can be used in the 32 Player Conquest matches (a mixture of deathmatch and mini-objective based gameplay), or the 4 player Swarm type. This is essentially a variant of the Gears of War Hoard mode, where the player must defend an objective against waves of increasingly powerful enemies until the timer runs out. Fun though these modes are when playing solo, the game naturally comes into its own when playing with and against other people.
Matches end up as frantic skirmishes regardless of whatever mode you’re playing and there’s always something happening, even if it’s just visually. While you’re busy trying to co-ordinate with your squad to complete mini-objectives, dropping and repairing turrets, dodging incoming air strikes and scrambling for fresh ammo, there are resupplies, enemies or even your team mates dropping from the sky left right and centre. There’s nothing quite like Section 8’s particular take on respawns which sees players plummeting from a drop ship onto the map, slamming into the play area all guns blazing; it certainly beats the hell out of just sitting there waiting for a timer to count down. As fun as it sounds, this high speed descent isn’t without its dangers for the reckless. Drop into an area where there are enemy AA defences and the chances are you’ll be dead long before you hit the ground. Dive right into a cluster of enemies and there’s a chance you’ll be dead shortly after hitting the ground.
While there’s a lot going on with Section 8: Prejudice, both on the surface and in the way it plays, the game does very little to advance things over the previous Section 8 release and follows pretty much the exact same path as before. While that isn’t automatically a bad thing, it does make you wonder what the release brings to fans of the original (other than perhaps a wider audience and a new set of friends to play with). So it’s safe to say those that missed the Section 8 experience the first time around probably have the most to gain from this title.
Currently the main menu features a section which is closed off for future content, so Timegate clearly have plans to support the game after release. However it’s facing some already deeply embedded competition in a fiercely competitive space, so the important question is whether it does enough to make itself an attractive enough position for a purchase. One thing it undoubtedly gets right is the inclusion of dedicated servers which will hopefully be enough to avoid the connection problems, stuttering and lag which plagued games like Breach upon its general release and effectively crippled a title that had a lot of underlying potential.
Section 8: Prejudice contains all the gun-toting and fast paced ingredients needed to make it a thoroughly enjoyable multiplayer blaster to while away the hours. In fact it’s a modern day version of the Tribes series, managing to beat that particular franchise to the punch before it’s scheduled return later this year. All that remains for this version of Section 8 to prove is whether it can garner enough of a community to give it the longevity it needs.