Section 8 by TimeGate Studios is one of the deepest and most dynamic games I've ever played, studied, or heard of. In an industry innundated with Halos and Call of Dutys, first person shooters like Section 8 are easily pushed out of the social consciousness. Like Metroid Prime Hunters, the single player of Section 8 is mainly a retooling of the multiplayer gameplay. Many have faulted the game for the single player and its lacking story, but none of these shortcomings matter to me. Section 8's multiplayer has innovated on many fronts, yet the game was not a break out hit (to say the least). Perhaps the art (which I think is quite decent) wasn't gripping enough. I think that the stark learning barriers/curves due to the shear amount of gameplay complexities is the main reason for the limited success. Regardless, as part of the appraising combat series, it's my intention to convey what it's like to play Section 8 competitively on a team with some of the most experienced and skilled players in the world.
You really need to understand the core gameplay and main features before I really get into things. Instead of reading a long description of the game, I've rounded up some video from the developers themselves. Though this first video is of an upcoming sequel "Section 8: Prejudice", it's a good explantion of all the basics of Section 8 gameplay.
This following video explains the spawning feature called "burning in" and the character customization called "loadouts."
The following video explains the "dynamic combat missions" or DCMs and deployables.
Core Gameplay: Moving and Shooting
- core dynamic = 3D space. The environments are designed with hills, buildings with multiple floors, and most of the geometry is solid. Even more impressive, players and deployables drop out of the sky fully rendered with hitboxes. With careful aim, you can even snipe out targets out of the air.
- decay dynamic of ammunition. All guns use up ammo and must reload. All grenades are limited. Many other abilities have cool down.
- gunplay (interplay with guns). As you might expect, the standard arsenal of guns (pistol, shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle, rocket) each have an optimum range and damage type (see guns here). Some are better on vehicles, others on shields, and some on armor (body shots). This design inherently creates varied gunplay as players vie for positional/tactical advantages.
Customization and Variation
- Because players can run quickly (overdrive) and jetpack around, hitting targets can be very difficult. Customizing your loadout to compensate for your DKART deficiencies is the next layer to combat, and it's also one that adds a lot of complexities/variation to the game. By customizing your loadout you can boost your base damage, armor, shield, speed, flight time, cool down time, lock on time, etc (see full list here). The lock-on ability (default) is a powerful aim-assist tool, but it can be countered by breaking the line of sight between you and the enemy, or using a sensor blocker. Weapons that pierce shields well can be countered by boosting armor. The examples are many. Since there is a limit to the amount of passive boosts you can equip, there's a natural balance between power and versatility. Ie. the most specialized players have obvious weaknesses that can be exploited.
Now that you understand how moving and shooting works, we must consider the layers of the one multiplayer game type available in Section 8.
- All Section 8 matches are team battles. Teams can be auto balanced with bots. This eliminates the system stressing effects of free-for-alls. Team skills are stressed for each player in addition to their DKART skills.
- Victory points are the value scale that all actions are measured against. If you're team earns 1000 VP first, you win. If the match time reaches an end before either team earns enough points, the higher team wins. There are 3 ways to earn VPs.
- Kill opponents. The core gameplay of the game is never minimalized. killing opponents always gets your team closer to total victory.
- Capture a Control Point (CP). These bases are built into every map. If you get to a neutral CP you can take it over in one step. If you infiltrate an enemy controlled CP, you have to hack their system first before you can take over. The more CPs under your team's control, the more VP you earn over time.
- Complete Dynamic Combat Missions (DCM). In the mid game (a phase of combat defined by the oncoming of DCMs), missions are dropped into the match (sometimes literally). If one team has to escort a computer AI controlled VIP, then the other team must assassinate the VIP. If the enemy team has to deliever a bomb into your CP, then obviously you should prevent this from happening.
In the mid-late game there is a lot of action happening across the map. Because all the previously listed objectives all earn varying amounts of VP, they are all means to the same end. Therefore, even when there's multiple DCMs, CPs, and enemies you can aim for there's still only one goal. Before moving on, I have to explain just how dynamic the DCMs are.
Dynamic Combat Missions are a key reason why Section 8 is one of the most dynamic games ever. There is almost nothing you can do in the game that doesn't influence the phases that affect everyone. Every action in the game is organized into 4 categories; assult, recon, siege, support. Just about everything you do scores a point under one of these categories for your team. When enough points in any category are amassed, a DCM is dropped into the match. So your team playstyle (which includes your personal playstyle) affects the type of missions that will drop and in turn what the opponents will respond to. For a full list of such actions or feats see here. If that isn't complex enough, consider that the strategies the opposing team uses can be interplay barriers that force you to use specific counter playstyles. This in turn will influence the DCM and possibly create a larger trap.
The dynamic design of the DCM is affected by decisions small and large on the battle field. What's more interesting still is that the DCMs are also designed to vary the gameplay and as comeback missions. To put it simply, if you're team is doing a great job defending a single CP by staying walled up inside a base, eventually you will earn a DCM that will drop a mission far away from your "comfort zone." You'll then have to decide if you'll try to complete the DCM, who you'll send, and how you'll compensate. If you don't send anyone, the enemy can easily counter the mission and earn some easy victory points. For another example, if your team is having a hard time securing a CP (one of the basic ways to gain a somewhat slippery slope advantage) the game might activate a Commando DCM. This mission gives the player a Rambo style AI aid to help storm a particular CP (base). If you can't comeback with this guy's help, then little will save you.
So far, I've explained how custom loadouts and DCMs add a lot of variation to the game. My favorite part about competiting in Section 8 is that I don't have to engage in FPS gameplay all the time. In fact, Section 8 is the closest I've seen a FPS come to seamlessly incorporating RTS features. By earning requisition points (money) you can purchase deployables to aid your team. From turrets to tanks, if you have enough money you can significantly change the battle field (see list here and here). Earn money by playing to the 3 main gameplay objectives detailed above. You'll also automatically earn money slowly over time (like an RTS). If you're so inclined, you can be your team's traveling repair man and set deployables tower defense style without ever shooting another player.
Bringing the discussion back to interplay (depth), Section 8 has all of the core FPS interplay like gunplay, cover, tactical formations, and stealth. In addition, there's a lot of RTS type counters. The Control Points (bases) capture design function like RTS bases. The more you have, the more resources you'll earn over time (VP and money). Each is defended with static defenses that counter burn ins, large vehicles, and infantry. There are also sensor towers to give allied players key radar data of enemy positions. Factor in defensive human players and you've got quite a defense. If you think this is too formidable, then consider these counters...
- The static defenses can be destroyed. Rockets are specially designed for vehicles and static defenses.
- Enemies can repair their destroyed static defenses with repair tools. Otherwise, they will be repaired slowly by auto repair bots. You can also destroy the auto repair bots for more harassment.
- You can use stealth abilities to sneak past auto-turrets and sensors unnoticed.
- You can create an armored loadout designed to withstand anti-air gun fire so you can burn in just about anywhere on the map.
- You can run a contain strategy by placing deployables around a well defended base. You can back up the deployables further by actively repairing them.
- You can always overpower a base with any one of the two vehicles in the game. The mech suit and the tank are very powerful, but they're also very expensive.
So what's it like playing Section 8 with all of the above nuances and complexities well learned? Dropping into the field from sky high gives you a sense of the scale of battle like nothing else. You hit the ground having already chosen a customized loadout. You wield a powered up a sniper rifle so you know 1v1 combat is not your role. It's about mid game and you can begin to see how the actions of both sides will begin to spiral into a victory or a loss. Your teams has been great moving across the field as a diverse group of soliders, but you've struggled to capture more than 1 of 3 control points. The enemy has held 2 bases for a while and soon their economic advantage will kick in. Any moment now, the DCMs will drop and everyone will be pushed out of their comfort zones.
You see it all playing out in your mind. But more importantly, you see that the tide turner will not be out near the convoy or the tanks. While most are distracted, the key to victory is running an infiltration mission on the far enemy base. You make the call outs to two of your best teammates and you put together an impromptu plan. You're confident it'll work. You haven't spent much of your money, so you have enough for a mech and a supply depot. As you run in overdrive around the side of the map as a squadron of 3 you wonder what would happen if you failed. You wonder if someone else on your team will see the cogs turning and step up.