“Burning”: Hands-On With Section 8

By Jim Rossignol on August 3rd, 2009 at 11:11 am.


The past few days I’ve been absorbed by Timegate’s closed multiplayer beta for sci-fi shooter Section 8. I understand that there’s actually some single-player element to the game, which will explain some of the sci-fi story which underscores the action, but what I’ve seen so far is a multiplayer game of fair complexity. It’s a Unreal 3-powered amalgam of jetpacks, drop-pods, and guns that go dakka. I want to say up front that I’m having great deal of fun with this. It’s the kind of game I go into for five minutes to take a screenshot, and emerge from two hours later. Read onwards for why.

When people were throwing the “Tribes” word around to explain where Section 8 sat in the big scheme of things, I was unconcerned and not particularly inspired. I assumed it would be another vague sci-fi squib that wouldn’t really satisfy anyone. Tribes-alikes have a habit of not quite hitting the best things about multiplayer gun-violence on the head. As much as I respect the original games, their weapons, physics and environments never quite grabbed me in the way they did so many other people. So you can imagine that I was pleased to find that despite some similarities in the sci-fi, jetpacks and vehicles sense, Section 8 is very much its own game. The feel of Timegate’s project is chunky and solid, and rather traditionally PC multiplayer, while the tactical play is a strange mix of perhaps half a dozen games, including Battlefield 2, Crysis Wars, Team Fortress 2, Quake Wars, PlanetSide and Tribes itself. It’s hard to know if this will be one of those games that captures the imagination of a swathe of gamers, but it’s certainly got many of the right ingredients for greatness.

A the most basic level it’s a classical reds vs blues team game. The central contest is over the control of a number of bases spread across the map, which build up your victory points. The round is over once one team hits the victory cap. It makes for some nail-biting games, where teams finish with in a hairsbreadth of each other. The bases need to be hacked to be controlled, and you can counter-hack if you get there quick enough. The more bases you control, the faster you speed to victory. It rapidly ramps up from there, because there are also a number of secondary missions, such as protecting/killing a VIP NPC character, escorting/destroying a convoy, or deliver/intercepting intelligence, which can all add to your overall victory quotient. It’s as if other game types occasionally break out on the map, and have to be dealt with as you play. For a team game, there’s a whole lot of variety in a single game type.

It’s the player’s own combat experience that Section 8 handles best, however. That begins with a loadout screen on which you have a formidable array of options. Everyone gets a force-shield equipped suit of power-armour as standard, but how you take that into battle varies. There’s a basic set of classes, including the stealth guy, the sniper guy, the missile guy, the engineer, the medic-type, and the standard guy-with-machinegun. But you can swap out elements of any of these in a way that reminds me of how we used to play around with our setups in PlanetSide. Once you’re set up you select somewhere on the map to drop and – also like PlanetSide – you come hurtling out of the sky to deploy. Choosing where to deploy is a bit of a trick: you have to avoid the firing arcs of the anti-aircraft pods, and it’s possible for enemies to deploy more of these. You can also choose to take a bit of a hit on impact and hit your “air brake” late, meaning you come in faster and are at less risk of being shot from the sky.

Once down on the ground you begin dealing with the battlefield challenges. Working as a squad is, as in any game like this, often crucial to victory. The fights centre around the hackable facilities which, once hacked, have AA and anti-infantry defences of their own, and can also be fortified by the deployables of the two teams. The combat can be become appropriately hectic, with grenades, gunfire and missiles crackling back and forth. Yes, that’s the crucial bit: how does the fighting feel? Well, combat is noisy and suitably violent. Things don’t explode vigorously enough for my liking, and the guns could be just a little more brutal and mechanical as they fire. However, they are at least all noisy projectiles weapons, rather than pew-pew lasers, which is something I like in a world of forcefields and starships. You do feel solid and chunky too: you are definitely a big man in half a tonne of power-armour, especially when you’re in control of the mech suit, which can grab, crush and hurl any infantry who get too close. Of course, having a jetpack means you can scale heights and make quick exits too, but it doesn’t lead to the skiing motion of the Tribes games. Instead you have a kind of super-run, where a few seconds sprinting causes you to put away your gun and simply leg it.

And all this goes well beyond simply being a good firefight, because there’s several other layers of abilities and modifiers to take into account. You can patch stuff up as an engineer, you can call in vehicles (tank, mech), and you can use a whole range of “passive” modules, which give you some advantage in the field. A sensor jammer, for example, stops automated turrets from shooting you or nearby chums, making your entrance into enemy-held bases a little easier. This is the kind of thing that’s going to be excruciating for TimeGate to balance, but could make for exhaustive strategising by the gamers who start taking Section 8 seriously, and want to play competitively.

Although it does violence well, has some lovely armour designs, and is packed with little details, visually Section 8 is not particularly surprising. We’ve seen many variations of this very glossy Unreal science fiction sheen over the years – but it can nevertheless be very beautiful. One of the maps is set within the skyscraper-sized burning wreckage of a crashed starship, and the entire landscape is a sight to behold when you’ve got the game ramped up to maximal prettiness. Ash and fiery particles wisp through the air as drop pods come crashing down into the wreckage: it’s exactly what I want from my far-future spacewar battlefields. I’m actually really excited to see what TimeGate come up with for the full range of maps, because there’s said to be 18 in total, with player totals ranging from 16 to 64 on a map. And being Unreal-powered, of course, that maximal prettiness is pretty easily obtainable with even slightly older systems. New, buff PCs are going to handle everything this can throw at it, with sizzling particles and wafting smoke effects aplenty.

I’ve seen a wide range of criticisms of what we’ve seen from the beta so far, such as it not having unlocks – which I personally don’t give a crap about, because games like this are about skill and victory, not loot – not having enough vehicles, and even the netcode being a bit troublesome. Well, on that last point, I’ve been playing on North American servers with what is normally a fairly wonky connection, and it’s been stable, solid and reliable. Overall the game has a huge amount of promise and – unusually – I found myself certain I’d be playing much more, even after the first few minutes I spent in the game. I think this could be pretty popular and, from what I’ve seen so far, it deserves to be popular.

I believe and open beta for Europe and North America is due for around August 10th. I’ll expect to see a few of you in there.

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57 Comments »

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  1. CMaster says:

    It still LOOKS almost identical to planetside.
    Hell, in that last trailer I swear I saw a Galaxy and a Vanguard.
    Still, the fun of Planetside without a silly monthly fee for it would be great.

  2. Adrian says:

    Sounds incredible! I’m sold on this! Love the idea of landing on the battlefield instead of just spawning somewhere!

  3. Jim Rossignol says:

    PlanetSide’s general ugliness and clunky design does not compare well to this. Section 8 is sleek in UI, physics, and pretty much everything else.

  4. Forak says:

    This is no doubt a shameless copy of Planetside, but it may actually be a good thing. Fancy graphics and the omission of some of the things that made Planetside a substantially worse game as expansions were released is very welcome, although the lack of the MMO feeling may hurt its longevity.

  5. Glove says:

    Every time I read an article on RPS that strikes me as satisfyingly similar to myself on the finer points of gaming preferences and taste, I always check to see who wrote it, and it’s always Jim Rossignol.

    HE CAN ENGLISH PRETTY GUD TOO

  6. CMaster says:

    @Forak -f if anything, I thought Planetsides MMOiness hurt it in a lot of ways. This big, persistent world with levels and everything. And none of it mattered. Those you killed were back in second, and after spending hours taking a continent, it would be back the other side the following day. You could never win, never really acheive anything. Planetside was a massive simulation of a completely pointless war. You also ended up having to pay $15/month for a fairly repetive game. The only good thing about it being an MMO was the sheer scale of the battles.

  7. Forak says:

    I think you are right. The persistence was in no way perfect, but what appealed to me a lot was the fact that you always ended up fighting the same people, with the same people. And the ‘Command rank’ system was actually fairly well thought out. Reputation mattered quite a bit in that game, with a regular FPS you end up with a lot more … idiots, which would hopefully be an appropriate word, as nicknames have no meaning and can be changed in an instant, bans have no meaning as you can change server, you catch my drift.

  8. Ansob. says:

    I am so very, very happy that this is getting fairly decent previews. Around two or three months ago, the one or two previews that came out were overwhelmingly negative, but the Eurogamer hands-on and this have restored my hope that this might finally satiate my Battlefield craving (BF2/2142 are buggy as hell, but I’ve found another game that actually makes you feel like you’re actually part of a battle and not just shooting people with guns; holing up with three guys to hold a flag while under fire from an advancing tank squadron while gunships dogfight above you is seriously one of my best memories in gaming ever; which reminds me, I should really get ArmAII).

    I still regret missing the PlanetSide boat. :(

  9. Lilliput King says:

    Thanks for the inside tip Jim, looking forward to this.

  10. Jon says:

    I want this!

    It looks very much like the game of Starship Troopers (the book, not the abysmal film), with big stompy armour suits and drop pods, and the added fun of you being evenly matched with your opponents.

    I didn’t see any mention of it, but I’d love to see some Chromehounds radar/radio range fun going on as well. I don’t think any game has managed to make voice chat quite so tense.

  11. dtgreen says:

    Looks like one to try out, never did get on the Planetside bandwagon.

  12. Tei says:

    The graphics on Planetside are just perfect for the gameplay. You could add eyecandy, we all love eyecandy, but everything that the gameplay need is already there, on the game, in his basic form. The basic form is easier to understand than the “ultra-hardcore-2009-ish” form.

    You can’t Make Chess Better With More Lens-Flares!.

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    Planetside’s UI, base design was clunky. It wasn’t just a case of how it looked. It could have played better.

  14. Tei says:

    My problem with a tribes like game, is that the abism between a bad player and a decent player is huge. AND, I am in the wrong side of that abism. This make playing a tribes like game boring. I don’t want to be the prey. Well.. not for all the minutes of the gameplay session.

  15. Surgeon says:

    Cheers for the preview Jim, I’ve been hoping that this would be good.
    Does it capture any of the epic battle feeling of Planetside?

  16. Jim Rossignol says:

    On the epic front: I don’t know, the server population has never been high enough. Hopefully the open beta will demo some 64-player battles.

  17. Andy says:

    Looks pretty neat, hopefully someone will make a Starship Troopers mod based on the book for it.

  18. EyeMessiah says:

    Looks good to me. As a T2 player I always thought PS could have done wish less unlocks and more jetpacks.
    Jim, how does respawning work? Is it fairly fast & fixed length, or is there a punishment timer?
    Also how quickly can you prep with vehicles and whatnot?
    Finally what kind of squad-play supporting mechanics are there?

  19. EyeMessiah says:

    @Andy hopefully someone will do a 40k mod and not get sued into oblivion!

  20. Psychopomp says:

    @EyeMessiah

    I don’t remember the respawn timer, but it takes about 5-10 seconds for a vehicle, or deployable to come down.

  21. Senethro says:

    I’m gonna get in on this I guess come Aug10. Is there friend/clan list functionality for us to make an RPS crew to roll with?

  22. Quine says:

    I’ll have some of this.

    Is there a nice range of shooty weaponry, and more importantly- grenade launchers?

  23. cyrenic says:

    Looks interesting, I’ll definitely check out the open beta.

  24. krazyman says:

    @EyeMessiah
    There is sometimes a very short timer before you can start your drop again. Most of the time there is no timer.

  25. Jim Rossignol says:

    We’ll have to organise for this when the open beta hits. I’ll start a forum thread or something.

  26. tentacleraep says:

    They can’t have the open beta for the tenth! I’m in block C for the MO beta which means I’ve been planning on playing that on the 14th, and I have been looking forward to Section 8 for a while now, now I don’t know what to do!

  27. Flappybat says:

    The way this has been NA only really chafed me as they went to so much trouble to restrict it. Not only would you need a proxy for signup and download it also ties to your fileplanet account. There were less hoops on the Windows 7 beta.

  28. rock badger says:

    the tribes comparisons come from the art design as much as the jetpacks. it blatently rips off the tribes look that tribes probably ripped from something else like warhammer.

    imagine battlefield 3142 (including the bugs from 1942) and you’ve got section 8. the one unique thing about the game is being able to spawn almost anywhere, but once you’re down the gameplay is the same.

  29. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yeah the gamespy/fileplanet tie-in is completely rubbish.

  30. Lucas says:

    Sold! I’m ready to move on to something new after 400+ hours of BF2142 and 300+ in Quake Wars. Wow, I want to play this.

    Great action games also have to be good strategy games, and not everybody can pull this off. Kohan 2 (also by Timegate) had some great gameplay design.

    I really like the sound of integrated “on the fly” objectives, how the world dynamics influence your spawning choices, and the lack of unlockables. I love vehicle games, deployables, and crunchy mechanics of this nature. Also there seems to be no mention of flyable vehicles (besides drop-podding), which have always been a sore spot in this kind of game, so jet packs seem like a sound compromise there.

  31. mujadaddy says:

    Intriguing, for sure. Been mucking with Battlefield Heroes, but they’re having some server/connection issues. And hey, I’m in North America!

    Lucas: Sold! I’m ready to move on to something new after 400+ hours of BF2142 and 300+ in Quake Wars. Wow, I want to play this.

    Pff. Amateur. I’ve easily got 1,000 hours in Wolf:ET…probably a jillion, actually …and a big dick, if you’re actually measuring. ;)

  32. Lucas says:

    @mujadaddy

    The XPsave mods ruined Wolfenstein:ET for me.

    I really don’t care about anybody’s playtime, trophies, etc, and only mentioned my 2142 and ETQW time because I really like these kinds of games and those 2 are my most played on PC. Xfire has me clocked at 3462 hours in the last 5.5 years, and of course that’s only PC games.

    Uninformed name calling is pointless, and nobody cares about your dick.

  33. Zakan says:

    Being one of those vets that still playing PlanetSide, I’m both thankful that someone finaly had the knowlege in genre to say that some thing in Section 8 are not innovative, but rather borrowed from one of the most underapreciated games. And at the same time – slightly annoyed to hear some people thinking it could replace PS. I’m not being the blind fanboy here – I would like to move to some other MP shooter long ago, but there is not a single one (except maybe WW2online, but thats too bad for me) that come close to the options PS offers. Its not somy puny 32/64/256 players. Its much, much more. And the most (imo) important part — there are no “missions” or “maps” — you fight on continents, and fight can happen potentialy everywhere.
    About how PS plays — its the only *massive* FPS that’s action is actualy works. Infantry combat have its flow, vehicles, Aircraft and even BFRs have their place and tactics to it. Battlefields and their clones look like kidsplay compared to massive strategies PS requires. Yes, sometimes you have to wait or walk your way to action, but the win and lose in each firefight is actualy meaningful and have weight.
    So far Section 8 doesnt looks like it will bring those elements to the table. I sure hope that I’m mistaken here, though. Game does look very nice visualy, I love UEngine and the general power-armor design is to my liking. However if it will end being same “DM-TDM-CTF” on closed one-time timer maps — I’ll pass

  34. Fullbleed says:

    I’ll admit that this has got me more interested in the game and I loved Tribes, when my friends were playing Unreal Tournament or Quake I was playing Tribes. But I still can’t quite get over how uterly generic “spess marine” they all look.

  35. suibhne says:

    I was enthusiastic about the beta, but there’s a new patch every few days (sometimes every day) and each one requires a 20-minute queue at friggin’ Fileplanet before it will even start to download. Total crap, that. Tying beta-testers to Fileplanet is one of the least inspired moves I’ve seen.

    Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed the game and look forward to playing more, but it doesn’t feel like it has good “flow”. Granted, I’m accustomed to competitive gaming with much smaller teams sizes (6v6, 4v4), but this game gets awfully confusing awfully quickly – it doesn’t seem to do a good job of naturally organizing player activity. With good teamwork, tho, it seems like lots of fun.

  36. Wooly says:

    Jon says:

    I want this!

    It looks very much like the game of Starship Troopers (the book, not the abysmal film), with big stompy armour suits and drop pods, and the added fun of you being evenly matched with your opponents.

    My thoughts exactly! It just needs some bugs.

  37. Messiah Complex says:

    The shooter elements (as opposed to the tactical, mission-oriented stuff) seemed underdeveloped to me, and because of that, I think the best analogue for Section 8’s game play is Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. I liked the moderate complexity of the mission system, but the combat mechanics felt stiff and trivial, even with the jump-jets. It doesn’t help that the level design is rather austere: the layouts of the various combat spaces are mostly repetitive and uninteresting.

    I expect an early population explosion at release, followed by a mass migration to Modern Warfare 2 two months later.

  38. Hump says:

    They seemed to have picked up a fair amount of inspiration from XMP (Unreal 2’s criminally underrated multiplayer)

  39. jonfitt says:

    Ooh, I’m in definitely.

  40. DMJ says:

    I wonder if it has the same open-ended skill progression that Tribes had. By that, I mean the fact that the better you were, the more jaw-dropping the aerobatic feats you could accomplish as you exploited every niche of the frankly weird physics system.

  41. Scandalon says:

    So, I’m in the beta (though haven’t touched it in a bout a week). How are you able to post this? Did they lift the NDA? Special press-code? Just not care because you’re on the other side a big bunch of water? :P Previously they were smacking people down for even posting screenshots in the bug-report forum!

  42. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    Well, I’m now sold on checking out a demo/open beta.

  43. Funky Badger says:

    Sounds like BF2142… which is a good thing. Does it have Armoured Trousers?

  44. Premium User Badge

    Chaz says:

    All sounds very promising. I’ll be honest until this preview I wasn’t really all that interested in this as it sounded and looked like just another shooter, but now I’m liking the sound of what Jims just written about it.

    As for the lack of unlocks, good ridance I say. Can’t bloody well stand the things myself either.

  45. esoj says:

    wow cool preview good to read another positive one about this game. if it can come remotely close to how much fun I had in tribes 2 and battlefield 1942 I will be happy. the whole north american beta thing with fileplanet has sucked but hopefully we will all get our chance on august 10th to play this game.

  46. Premium User Badge

    DarkNoghri says:

    I’ve been in this beta for a few weeks now, and have yet to actually play it. Hmmmm.

  47. Grey_Ghost says:

    So can you drive the Tank and Mech you can call for?

  48. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Lost me at wonky netcode.
    You know how when you play Battlefield, or whatever and realise (after incredible frustration) the guys that have been killing you are hacking? Netcode that doesn’t work well feels kinda the same “WTF?! I just emptied my clip into that guy and he spins around and kills me in a second.”

    Also, they will be unable to properly balance classes/kit/suits/whatever though player beta testing, for that same reason.

  49. DK says:

    “So can you drive the Tank and Mech you can call for?”
    Yes. Although the Tank would be an incredible waste if you called it just for yourself.
    It has room for 4 people, each person controlling one weapon system, from airburst mortars to minimissiles. A fully manned tank is a beast, a 1-person “I am awesome” wannabe tanker is rocketfood.

  50. johnny_cuts says:

    Do you mention how large the maps are? I’m wondering whether, like Planetside, you’ll end end up wandering off to explore or and completely missing the battle because the playing field is so massive.