Can TimeGate Studios possibly succeed with the downloadable sequel to a retail first-person shooter that nobody played in the first place? Find out in the Section 8: Prejudice Frankenreview.
Released late 2009 for the Xbox 360 and PC (a downloadable PlayStation 3 version came later), Section 8 was a first-person shooter with a strong focus on online multiplayer. The game had some big ideas and a nifty spawning mechanic that saw players dropping out of the sky onto the battlefield, but in order to appreciate such a spawning mechanic you actually need players to spawn, and Section 8 didn't gather many.
Can Prejudice's beefed-up single-player, a lower price, and the downloadable format make a difference? Let's ask the assembled video game critics for their answer.
Section 8: Prejudice is an underdog story – a small developer (in this case, Timegate Studios) trying to fulfil the promise of its original idea while making the transition from retail to full-fledged downloadable title. It has a cool hook in its "soldiers fired from a space cannon" premise. It brings a retail title's worth of modes and content to a downloadable title. The pieces are all there. But Section 8: Prejudice can't seem to fit them together into something more than sort-of interesting.
There is a story that revolves around the inherent prejudice space marines have to deal with, but its underdeveloped characters make it difficult to care about the high-stakes events. It's the gameplay in Prejudice that's worth caring about. On the surface, Prejudice looks like a cheap Halo knockoff. The bulky armour your fellow soldiers wear gives off a serious Master Chief vibe, and the rock-formation paths that make up most of the single- and multiplayer levels look like they could have been created in a Forge editor. But once that aesthetic familiarity wears off, you're treated to a shooter that has its own identity.
Anyone who's played a FPS will feel right at home with the game. The basic controls are pretty standard, though there are a few twists worth noting. First, there's the jetpack, which allows you to leap tall buildings in a single bound and glide for a few seconds. It's a bit reminiscent of Tribes, but that's only meant as a compliment. On top of the jetpack, you also have access to a couple of other useful features. First, there's an auto-lock system that can even be used in the game's multiplayer modes. This is especially useful when using a sniper rifle to track an enemy at a distance. Second, there's an "overdrive" mode that kicks in after you have been sprinting for more than a few seconds; basically, the sprint turns into a hypersonic long-distance run that is useful for zipping around the game's large maps.
Prejudice plays like the arcade-style love child of Red Faction and Halo. Besides a cheesy off-world storyline similar to Red Faction (you must overthrow an oppressive military power), Prejudice offers a beefy online component that gives gamers plenty of choices. "Swarm", akin to Halo's Firefight, is a four-player co-op mode where gamers work together against enemy AI. "Conquest" is Prejudice's online versus mode. What makes both of these multiplayer features work so well is the game's Dynamic Combat Missions. Players will have the standard deathmatch and capture-the-flag missions in those, but during every round there are a number of side missions - recovering wreckage, escorting a VIP, etc. - that gamers can complete to earn rewards. This keeps multiplayer fresh, since no two games play the same way.
It's a frankly staggering suite of options for a downloadable game, yet Section 8: Prejudice never loses sight of its balance. Even when you're getting creamed, it's always because the other team is using all of the battlefield to its advantage, choosing its drop zones carefully, spending its points more wisely, adapting its weaponry more shrewdly and making full use of the DCMs to keep the points rolling in. That's a lot to keep track of, but it's to developer TimeGate's credit that so much of it feels intuitive and logical.
There really is a staggering amount of content and options in S8:P, and I wont lie – at first it's intimidating. Thankfully though – with a budget price, so much content your brain may explode, and so much balance that even a tightrope walker would be amazed; TimeGate Studios has struck digital gold and I commend them for sculpting Section 8: Prejudice into a fine experience. It's a solid and unique model that a copycat shooter market should stand up take notice of. TimeGate president Adel Chaveleh famously said that "Content is king." Apparently that mofo wasn't lyin'.
Thank goodness for playable demos, right? Section 8: Prejudice is now available on Xbox Live Arcade. PC version drops May 4, PlayStation 3 this (northern) summer.