Insurgency: Sandstorm Is Lethal, Gripping And Somewhat Uncomfortable

Insurgency: Sandstorm Is Lethal, Gripping And Somewhat Uncomfortable
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

The first time I died in Insurgency: Sandstorm, I had just dashed into a building to backup my teammates. Watching a nearby alley, all I could see was dust and smoke. All I could hear were bullets and explosions. Then there was a crash and a gout of flame as a Molotov sailed through the window.

Within seconds, I burned to the death. It was intense, exciting, and a little unsettling.

Insurgency: Sandstorm, out now on PC, is a sequel to the 2014 tactical shooter Insurgency. It is set in an unspecified but perpetually war torn Middle Eastern nation where two teams—private military security operatives and insurgents – face off.

It combines all of the action one might expect from Counter-Strike or Battlefield while adding a more realistic slant where ammo counts and bullets are lethal.

It is a slower and more methodical kind of shooter, filtering multiplayer action through a hardcore military simulation lens into an incredibly compelling experience. Players looking for a hardcore alternative to Black Ops 4 or other games can find it in this game. Insurgency: Sandstorm is tough but incredibly rewarding.

The game’s main mode is a variation of point capture where one team of 14 players has a limited amount of lives and needs to hold off the enemy team, also of 14 players, while they try to capture locations. The enemy has small number of lives as well, but those will restock if they capture a point. It’s a familiar structure, but Insurgency: Sandstorm’s commitment to a more realistic gunplay means that each engagement is incredibly violent and costly.

Whether it’s from the sudden blast of a shotgun, a stray shot through smoke, or an artillery strike, you’re probably going to die. Not only that, but you’re going to die fast. This isn’t a game of beefy soldiers and armoured marines. You are a flesh and blood soldier and the slightest bit of misfortune will leave your corpse on the battlefield.

That extra fragility encourages deliberate gameplay and a lot of coordination with teammates. This isn’t a game where you just run off on your own and ace an enemy squad. You need to know your role and stick together. Your teammates will certainly expect it of you, and it feels good to reward those expectations.

Rolling up to a building with a shotgun, having a buddy ask your to take point, and then teaming up to clear rooms is an intoxicating experience made all the better for the knowledge that the tiniest mistake could have ended in tragedy. Executing proper tactics feels good and requires you to really think about what you’ll do next.

Taken on those terms, Insurgency: Sandstorm is one hell of a multiplayer shooter. When you look at it closer, things become more uncomfortable.

My relationship with first-person shooters has become more complicated this year. I haven’t stopped playing them, but I feel more aware of what it might mean to play these games. The format and the framing of the action in these games makes it strange. They present realistically rendered violence but often fail to engage with the complexities of their settings.

This came up, to an extent with the recent Battlefield game’s expansion and here again in a game that makes me either a private military contractor at war in a Middle Eastern country or a walking cliche of an ‘insurgent.’

It is strange to play a hyper-realistic shooter knowing the weight of American imperialism on the Middle East. This is cop and robbers, except the “cops” are corporate killers and the “robbers” are ethnic groups and countries. And while I’m not suggesting that Insurgency: Sandstorm needs to pause for a modern day history lesson,  there’s no denying that the video game structure flattens real world complexities into something basic.

It’s a military shooter, yes, but it’s hard for me to see this setting and not think about the politics that are involved in real world events that inspired it, especially in light of how much the real War of Terror and America’s various interventions abroad have cost civilians throughout the Middle East.

Is it possible to play this game without worrying about that? Sure. Is that how I find myself approaching it? Absolutely not.

Even if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t ignore those thoughts. This is a brutal game, with some of the most gut-wrenching sound design and raw combat I’ve played through. Each moment is harrowing, every death accompanied by pitiful screams and forced, choking gurgles.

This is standard for many multiplayer games today, but whereas Battlefield V’s self-seriousness is drowned out by the arcade-y gameplay, Insurgency: Sandstorm plays things straight. This is a hardcore game for hardcore people where you shoot people in hardcore ways. The end result is usually a hallway caked in blood and dotted with bodies that have fallen into unimaginable arrangements, like marionettes who had their strings cut.

It’s spellbinding to experience and a bit fucked up if you pause to think about it.

The end result, like Battlefield V, is a game that I will undoubtedly pour countless hours into and whose guns specificities I will learn in tight detail. Insurgency: Sandstorm scratches a very particular itch for me. It provides a slower-paced, highly lethal variation on the multiplayer matches that I already enjoy so much.

This is 100% my kind of shit and I can’t really get it from other kinds of games. That it comes coated in a layer of military fetishism probably won’t stop me from playing, but it does add an unavoidable element of discomfort in every match that can’t be ignored


  • Fantastic shooter
    Problem I’m having with it is the lack of populated servers.
    I go to join a server and there is just no one ever on which is a real shame because it’s a gem. Anyone finding the same?

  • And while I’m not suggesting that Insurgency: Sandstorm needs to pause for a modern day history lesson, there’s no denying that the video game structure flattens real world complexities into something basic.
    No of course not… You’re only suggesting that it doesn’t conform to your OPINIONS on ‘American imperialism’ and ‘military fetishism’, while acting as though it should.

    Could you imagine if every video game had to acknowledge the current world climate for no other reason than ‘just because’?

    My god we’d end up with some shit games bogged down in pointless meandering that had nothing to do with the game itself, but was shoehorned in for the sake of appeasing people who go looking for problems that don’t even relate to actually playing a video game.

      • So I’m the un-fun party guy… Yet the author is the person who goes to a party looking for problems, then complains about those throwing said event because they’ve organised a party that is not in accordance with the author’s personal opinions.

        You have a strange idea of what’s fun at parties.

  • I had a really good chat with the devs about this at Gamescom, and was super looking forward to it (and then it got delayed to a pretty rough time of year).

    Lot of love for the first standalone Insurgency, so keen. Also: these kinds of games are *the absolute worst* to play at a convention. Totally unsuited to the environment (can’t hear shit, nobody’s communicating, nobody knows how to play, it’s a total shambles). That’s not the dev’s fault, though.

    • Will you be grappling with your conscience the entire time, like Heather?

      Concerned that every mouse-click of expended ammo is a tactile endorsement of American imperialism?

      I simply cannot stand Heather’s work. She is the absolute worst type of reviewer. One who’s been enabled by a famous gaming website to clumsily insert her own social views when reviewing a game a (significant) number of people have poured their heart and soul into.

      I don’t mean to attack a colleague of yours directly.. but it’s just so disappointing to see Heather was given this tremendous game to review. We all know by now that she can’t keep her politics out of anything.
      Which once again reminds me to request that our accounts allow us to filter out posts by selected writers.

      P.S. Please review Mechanicus in the January slowdown.

      • I know what you mean. Of all the journalists on kotaku Heather’s work comes across less unbiased or nuanced and more based around her mortality.

        Not saying the majority of her pieces are poor just that the viewpoints taken are almost token and NPC.

      • Stop being obtuse, the idea that a game named “Insurgency: Sandstorm” isn’t politically charged after nearly 2 decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is utterly ridiculous. It seems to me that you would probably just like to filter articles by the authors gender…

        • Yeah. You got me. Wave away any legitimate journalistic concerns as mysogyny. Pretty much what I expect from a typical closed mind.

          How about this. What if Kotaku had a writer who was very Christian and couldn’t stop themselves from inserting their views and values into every article and review?

          Or hell – I’m vegan. Say I reviewed for Kotaku. How about I insert my animal welfare views into every game I play and review? Should my Far Cry 5 or Red Dead 2 be heavily trained by my grappling with my conscience? Or is this just disrespectful to the developers who spent years working on these games?

          How is it different when a reviewer, every time without fail, managed to bring up some typically ideologically left point of view and squeeze it into their review?
          Are you so indoctrinated by an ideology that you think this is okay? Or do you hold your own complex, unique set of view and values, and don’t require preachy politically trained reviews to help you select games to purchase?

          Nah. I’m probably just a mysogynist.

      • That’s the thing, this wasn’t ‘Insurgency: Standstorm – The Kotaku Review”, this was an editorial opinion piece written by Heather about a viewpoint she has on the game. Surely you know at this point that you don’t like Heather’s views, so why click on her articles? Just skip them.

        If you find yourself reading them anyway, then surely you have the critical reasoning abilities to see a paragraph like this:

        The end result, like Battlefield V, is a game that I will undoubtedly pour countless hours into and whose guns specificities I will learn in tight detail. Insurgency: Sandstorm scratches a very particular itch for me. It provides a slower-paced, highly lethal variation on the multiplayer matches that I already enjoy so much.

        … and say, ‘OK she’s obviously saying it’s a good game, and I don’t feel as strongly as Heather about the politics that she also discussed, so chances are I will enjoy this game as much, if not more, than Heather’.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!