Section 8: Prejudice
2009's "Section 8" seemed to rack up generally middle of the road reviews and silently fade into obscurity, never really making a name for itself. Jump ahead two years and TimeGate Studios has decided to release the sequel "Section 8: Prejudice" as a downloadable title. While I have never played its original full retail predecessor, the time I’ve spent with "Prejudice" has redefined how I look at downloadable titles.
When it comes to quality, NEW, first-person shooters on the Live Arcade platform, only two titles jump out: "Battlefield 1943," which was a limited, but engrossing multiplayer only experience and "Breach," an initially promising offering that was plagued with problems once it went live for the general public and was seemingly unceremoniously abandoned by developers. "Section 8: Prejudice" is hands-down the new king of XBLA shooters, offering both a consistently enjoyable single player experience as well as a multiplayer experience that is lean, mean, and fine tuned. This game doesn’t just take the FPS crown, it makes a legitimate grab for the crown of best XBLA game; only time will tell how that battle plays out.
"Section 8: Prejudice" opens with little fanfare throwing players in the role of the previous game's rookie, Alex Corde. Now a veteran of the 8th Armored Infantry, your initial task is to show a new batch of rookies the ropes of using the powered suit of armor both you and they sport. It’s a not so cleverly disguised tutorial mode, but it's par for the course as the story of "Prejudice’s" campaign is painted in cliché, shallow in depth, but heavy on action. It's not long before, just conveniently after you finish the training course, a group of similarly armored foes attacks your base and your thrust into a quest spanning two planets and a multitude of both small scale and large-scale skirmishes.
The slick game play is what keeps "Prejudice" chugging, even when the story languishes between missions consisting of "go here and kill these guys" or "go here and defend this point." Despite the repetitive nature of the missions, the designers are always pushing to make the terrain or locale seem fresh, forcing you to continually change how you engage the enemy. For the most part you’ll engage in standard FPS combat against AI infantry, but there are a couple of little boss fights that pit you on the ground against a shuttle, your squad against some heavily armored engineer class foes as well as pilot driven mechs, and one final mano-a-mano stand against the game’s big villain.
Your arsenal slowly unlocks as you progress through the eight missions of the campaign and range from assault rifles, machine guns, and pistols, to heavier duty fair such as a missile launcher and energy driven weapon. All the weapons from single player make it into multiplayer and both modes allow players to customize what their weapons do with selectable mods. So you may have one player using a shotgun that does major damage to armor (i.e. health) and little to shields, while another does moderate damage to both but with the added boon of having incendiary rounds that continue to do damage after the trigger’s been pulled. It takes a little longer to unlock all of these weapons in multiplayer than it does in single player, but that ensures everyone isn’t a walking tank from the get go.
Additional customization options come in the form of stat points for your armor. Players have 10 points total to work with and can apply them to a variety of categories (for a maximum of four points per category). This leads to players whose overdrive (the game’s speed boost) and jetpack last longer and recharge quickly, making them cheetahs on the battlefield, while those wanting to be juggernauts can boost their armor and shield ratings and give a bet of a boost to their weapon damage. Towards the upper limit of the multiplayer rankings, the opportunity to earn a few more skill points unlocks and those in the game for the long haul will have their dedication rewarded with the slight advantage. Rounding out your in-game kit are two inventory slots that can be filled with a handy knife, repair tool (more on that in a second), or any number of explosive aids (grenades, remote mines, targeted air strikes).
All these little components are not just necessary to complete the single player campaign, but more importantly find success in the game’s, as of now, two multiplayer modes: Conquest and Swarm. Both are designed around team game play; with the latter putting 4 players holding their position against three separate waves of enemy bots. I do applaud TimeGate for their inclusion of bots in multiplayer, as not only does it provide a way to play offline, but should players not be able to fill out their squad in Swarm or Conquest, bots can fill the ranks until human players drop in (if a player drops out, a bot takes their place as well). As fun a mode as Swarm is, Conquest is easily the best part of the whole gaming experience.
Like Swarm, Conquest is team-based allowing for 8 vs. 8 or 16 vs. 16 matches, depending on what map you pick (the game has 4 epic-sized distinct maps, each of which are available in sections for smaller scale combat). The team that scores 1000 points first wins and points are awarded by capturing control points (there are 3 on each main map), getting kills and completing Dynamic Combat Missions or DCMs. DCMs spring up and provide mini objectives for both teams. Many are based around one team protecting a piece of equipment for a set amount of time, while another tries to destroy it. The DCMs are a wonderful addition allowing for multiple approaches to success and a strong encouragement to work as a team.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn't mention that once you spawn, or in "Prejudice's" case, orbital drop (a feature I’ve never encountered in a game and can often make dying more bearable, especially when you land on an enemy) onto the battlefield, it isn't just you, your wits, and arsenal of weapons; as you personally perform actions on the battlefield you earn money, which can be spent on deployable including combat drops, auto turrets, anti-air guns (for taking out orbital dropping foes), as well as three unique vehicles: a jump jet equipped hoverbike, a slow but tough mech suit, and a tank that allows three other teammates to man the various weapon stations. These deployable elements are the final pieces of the puzzle to success and all have their advantages and disadvantages. As mentioned above one piece of equipment you can equip is a repair tool and should you keep it handy, you can make quick repairs to any of these deployables as well as speed the recharge and repair of your suit or that of your allies.
"Section 8: Prejudice" is just a great game, there’s no other way to put it. It’s its own beast, not the "Halo" knockoff that some naysayers attached to the original title. For the value and glitch-free game play TimeGate has packed into a $15 title, it’s nearly criminal this wasn’t a disc-based title for double the price. The menu shows promises of future multiplayer modes to come, but so far, there’s more than enough to do in Conquest and Swarm. These two offerings are the meat of “Prejudice” and should TimeGate support the game after release, people will be talking about this one for a long time to come. Add unto all that, a decent single player campaign that will take around 5-6 hours of your time, and there’s no reason “Section 8: Prejudice” shouldn’t be in your FPS library.
- For a downloadable title, "Section8: Prejudice" sports some impressive graphics. It can’t really compete with a full fledged retail game that has 3x the storage space for high-res graphics, but it’s no slouch either, blowing "Battlefield 1943" out of the water.
- Slowdown is little to non-existent, even when action gets hectic, with only slight texture pop in on weapons upon switch being the most noticeable flaw.
- The environments look good, and although many elements are repeated, the landscape design makes up for any repetition.
- Weapon sounds are distinct, but just a tad underwhelming, however amidst the chaos of battle you won’t notice it. Other ambient effects do add to the immersion in game play.
- Voice acting is average to above average, but there’s no attempt to make the campaign some epic original tale; just enough dialogue to get you from point A to point B.
"Section 8: Prejudice" is a must-own XBLA title. It’s what developers should be striving to do, instead of rehashing the same tired, tame ideas or sprucing up the graphics of a vintage game selling it at an over inflated price. Like "Shadow Complex" before it, "Prejudice" is going to make gamers reevaluate what a $15 game is and just how much other titles don’t hold up. A decent single player experience will get you ready for a great multiplayer experience that will hopefully establish a steady core of players. Videogame Talk Collector Series.