Dark Pulse

Section 8's been a game I've been looking forward to for a long, long time, from the time we first really started getting info on it. I'll be level with you - class based shooters are, generally speaking, not my type of game. I like being able to approach something, however I want to approach it, with whatever I want to approach it, and when I want to approach it. In fact, the only real class-based shooter I own is Team Fortress 2. (A game which, admittedly, is damn fun, of course.) So right off the bat, Section 8 appealed to me with its promises of playing the game on your terms.

Section 8 promises to have something for everybody. You want a SP Campaign? No problem, follow Alex Corde and his fellow squad members of Section 8 through their story. You want offline play? No problem, Section 8 comes with full bot support, and they'll do everything a human can do, even the Dynamic Combat Missions. (We'll get into those a bit later.) And of course, Section 8's got online play support - 16 players on Xbox 360, and 32+ on PC. Sir Brizz and I have both hopped on a server with 40 players going at it, and there were even some 64 player servers - "chaos" would be the best word to describe it. And Section 8 has plenty of progress reports - it tracks your kills with weapons, as well as your all-time kills, deaths, and how many enemy deployables and base defenses you've destroyed, along with your rank and your all-time best records in a variety of categories.

The gameplay is no slouch, either. You start off every map - and every life - the same way, 15,000 feet above the battlefield. Here you can choose where to spawn, and it can be literally anywhere on the map. Yes, anywhere. There are no fixed spawns at all in Section 8 - if you want to respawn close to the action, you can, and if you want to spawn somewhere quiet so you can summon your tank or heavy armor in peace, you can also do that. And then you "burn-in" as the game puts it... hurtling towards where you picked to land from 15,000 feet up in a matter of seconds, viciously crashing hard into the ground when you land and ready for combat - what's more is that you can actually land directly on top of someone, instantly killing them! You're not fully invincible though... while picking where to spawn, you might see red circles on the map. These areas represent the range of Anti-Air guns, which besides being part of base defenses, can also be deployed by players. Attempting to spawn within the range of these can get you killed, and even veering into the path of one if you brake on your burn-in will get you shot up, so smart players will blow up anti-air guns of the enemy team so they can spawn much closer to the Control Points. You'll even have to be wary of AA guns being repaired or deployed where you're spawning - if they do, you'll begin getting shot up the second they're online, and if it happens shortly after you begin burning in, well, you'll be burning in again very shortly. After a certain point in your burn-in, however, you can activate brakes. When you brake, your rate of descent, of course, slows... taking you longer to get on the ground, but you can also use it to get out of the range of AA guns or perhaps land a bit more strategically. If you brake, you also don't crash into the ground on impact - something that takes a second or two to recover from, and can fully mean the difference between life or death in a heated battle.

Assuming you manage to survive your burn-in and not get killed by anti-air guns, you and your team will be tasked with holding Control Points in various places around the map. It can be as little as two points or as many as four, from our preview, but it's possible the full game will have more or less points in maps. These points start out as neutral, but by running up to them and using them, you will hack them for your team, during which time they will blink and fill with your team's color, which is always blue regardless of what team you're on. If the point fills with your team's color, you capture it, and all of the base's defenses - minigun and rocket turrets, sensor arrays, supply depots - will be available to your team and help them, by attacking enemies, seeing enemies as they approach, and resupplying your team. However, an enemy can rush in and, if the point is undefended or if the defenders are all killed, hack the point. When the enemy has hacked the point successfully, the AA defenses, unless destroyed, will instantly come online... so if you're killed defending a point, you can't burn-in again right next to it - you have to burn-in a little bit away from it, or risk being shot down. If the point is neutral, hacking a point the enemy has hacked will cancel out their hack and resume attempting to take control of it for your team... but if the enemy hacked one of your points, hacking it will stop their hack and keep the point under your control. It's important to note, however, that until a point is fully hacked, ONLY THE AA TURRETS go against you - other base defenses such as weapons turrets, sensor arrays, and supply depots still fully work for your team, so it pays a bit to heal up at a depot and get more ammo if needed before trying to siege the point, if you only have a little armor left.

That's not all, though. As every player plays, sooner or later they're bound to complete "feats." Feats include such things as healing friendly units, defenses and deployables, to hacking a certain number of control points, to, yes, burning in and landing on someone for an instant kill. Earn enough of these feats and your team will be able to do a "Dynamic Combat Mission" or DCMs. DCMs vary in what you have to do, as well as where they will happen - a DCM won't happen at a fixed point twice. You might be tasked to ensure a convoy reaches its destination safely, or to protect a VIP from enemy attack, or to get the enemy's intelligence, or to plant a bomb - and each time, even on the same map, the start points and end points (usually) change up, so while there are, say, preassigned places where you'll pick up and drop off enemy intelligence, you can never be sure beforehand where it will happen. While you're doing these, though, the opposing team is given opposing objectives - Destroy that convoy, kill the VIP, protect their intelligence, defuse the bomb. Succeeding these missions adds to your team's score - and likewise, failing them or ignoring them gives points to your enemies. So when the DCMs happen, you and your team have to carefully weigh defending your points, and meeting the DCM challenges.

Besides points for DCMs, every action you take - killing enemies, healing things, capturing points - earn you money. A kill, for example, will earn you $5. Hacking a point gets you $3, plus $10 more if you successfully capture it. Killing someone who killed you? That's an Avenger, worth $7. The number of things you can supply will help your team in different ways - you can put down any of the base defenses, as well as supply depots and even a few unique things - heavy armors and tanks. These things are awesomely destructive and heavily armored. Heavy Armors can shoot you with machineguns that seem to never, ever stop firing - and if they get close enough they can punch you or pick you up and slam you into the ground for an instant kill. And tanks? Well, you'd better bring some buddies to take that down. Even Heavy Armors will have a rough time against it. They take a beating, seat four people, and have enough firepower to be a threat to anyone and everyone at all times. These deployables can be deployed anywhere on the map where you can see the open sky, but be careful - they CAN be shot down by enemy AA guns, and if they do, you're out of not only whatever you ordered, but also the money spent ordering it, so think hard before you summon that tank next to enemy bases!

The best part about Section 8, however, is that even though there's "classes," at the same time, there also are no classes. Think of the classes in Section 8 as guidelines, or default classes if you will, because you're allowed to fully customize your soldier. The Recon kit, for example, by default has a Sniper Rifle, a Pistol, a Sensor Blocker, and a portable scanner. In my play, however, I found the Pistol to be too slow firing to compensate for its higher power, and I found the scanner to be fairly useless and the Sensor blocker to be completely so - so I traded them out for an Assault Rifle, some Grenades, and a Repair Tool. That's one of the beauties of Section 8 - if you feel you're lacking in some area, or if you feel the default equipment just isn't jiving with you, you're completely free to change it out to your heart's content.

That's just half the customization though - besides loadouts, you can change what's called "Passive Modules" in your soldier. You have ten of these to decide on, and like your loadouts, it's totally up to you. Want more damage? You got it. Need a longer lock-on time? It's there. Want to run faster and boost longer? No problem. Need a little more shields to survive that battle? They're yours. This allows for an incredible amount of customization, and with a little bit of trial and error, you're bound to find a perfect class that works for you, and plays to YOUR strengths and weaknesses, rather than being shoehorned into something that makes you say "Gee, I wish I had something with more firepower to fall back on."

Gameplay was very smooth and playable - even on servers where I pinged 150, I still didn't have to lead my targets all that much. On my system, which is much faster than Sir Brizz's, I was able to run the game full-tilt at 2048x1152, maxed out on details... but to be fair, I also have an overclocked Core 2 Duo E8400 and a GeForce GTX 285. Your mileage may vary, of course, but you should get roughly similar performance in Section 8 as you would in any other UE3 title, such as UT3, Bioshock, Gears of War, and so on. The game does come with a benchmark you can run, so if in doubt, you can always run that, see if performance is acceptable to you, and if not, adjust the settings.

All in all, Section 8 is a game both Brizz and I have enjoyed immensely, and we'll be sure to go into excruciatingly full detail once we review it. Section 8 is the first game to really hook me like this since Fallout 3 - it's a game where one match turns into "one more match" and before I knew it, three, four, even five hours had vanished into thin air, even though the preview we were part of had maybe three or four maps at most. Before I knew it, I'd racked up nearly 40 hours of play in a week and a half. Section 8, to use a quote from the back of the Unreal Tournament GOTY box, has me addicted like a crackhead on payday. I keep coming back to it for more and more and more. Not many games can do that. And I can't wait to see what other surprises TimeGate has in store for us in the full version.

Images used by permission.