Hands-on / Section 8 multiplayer

Back on Thursday, I, and a couple others, got to spend a little time experiencing the multiplayer component of Section 8 by Timegate Studios. I mentioned it in my debrief but here I’m going to delve a little deeper into the mechanics and play I experienced.

Robert Siwiak, the game’s Producer, walked us through some key points. He took a brief period of time explaining the story in the single-player campaign, how Section 8 is the name of a sort of 101st Airborne of the future fighting a faction called the Arm of Orion who’s been taking over space colonies. He then transitions, saying the campaign is a springboard into the multiplayer campaign.

As it turns out, there’s a lot of things about current multiplayer shooters that Timegate takes issue with and are addressing in this game. First up is bots. They are aiming for bots that players won’t be able to distinguish rather than the usual filler for empty servers or quick solo matches. Second up was class systems. They don’t like being constricted to a set of weapons for each class, so they’re offering loadouts. Basically, they’re customizable classes. Not as strict as Team Fortress 2, but also not as loose and free as an Unreal Tournament game. Then, Siwiak talks respawn and how “immersion breaking” it is to them to have to wait twenty seconds until you can get back in the action. “Hogwash!” they say, and let you “burn in” anywhere that enemy anti aircraft guns can’t you (read: on top of or right next to their base), and immediately after dying. The burn in effect is a cool one, kind of like a view from an asteroid about to hit earth. Hit the breaks or you face a two second animation of landing and getting up. Or better yet, skip the dropping sequence all together, unless you want to try and land on a tank, killing it instantly.

Most of what Siwiak was telling us was reactions to current trends in multiplayer shooters. Then he started talking about the lone sniper who props himself on a hill just waiting for enemies to cross the unfortunate path of his crosshair but no one ever comes. Timegate decided to do something for this guy. Enter Dynamic Combat Missions, or DCM’s. DCM’s are, essentially, randomly generated side missions that can occur amid the frenzy of the primary base conquest missions. For our sniper hero, an enemy general may be riding into town to check out the action. All of a sudden he has something to do and helps out the rest of his team. Of course, the other team will get a counter DCM that would be to protect and escort said general, so all of a sudden our sniper will have a lot more on his mind. It’d be a great way to change the pace of a battle for at least a short period, and work in those players whose skills are maybe more specific to things like that. Hopefully, it doesn’t just change the location of a big shootout. That wouldn’t be so big a deal.

Finally I got to play the game myself and get a feel for it. The demo they had set up was a very basic one. Three of us were on a team, and we were facing some of the dumbest bots in the universe. I ran up to more than a couple, stood face to face, and the thing that would get them shooting me would be if I shot first. Otherwise, I could galavant through their base at my leisurely pace for a good while until some enemy figured out I wasn’t on their team. But that’s not the point. I was supposed to get a feel for the game, and it feels pretty damned solid. The overdrive mode, where you get a mega speed boost, is definitely a handy thing in these huge maps. You can even charge into enemies, but every time I did that I died, so it’s not recommended. The burn in is fun the first few times. One thing about it, though, is you basically click anywhere on an overhead layout of the map, and if you don’t realize a certain point is a higher elevation than others, you may find yourself farther from the action than you think. It’d do them well to suggest some kind of elevation on the map.

I was also guided on deploying my own personal mech suit with which I could mow down infantry with ease. I liked that suit I did.

If you’ve played any Tribes game, you’ll get the feel of the game real fast. You have the deployables, weapon dispensers, vehicles, all of that. I like that even vehicles can be deployed where you want them to be. The weapon set will be familiar to anyone that’s played a shooter in the last year… probably less time. All the features listed work well. One interesting thing is that grenades aren’t timed. If you throw one at a guy, it will blow up right when it’s close to them. I thought that was cool, but took the skill out of grenade throwing.

And that was probably my main concern with all their features — it may be all a little too friendly. If you hold down the grenade button, an arch appears showing what trajectory route it will take when you throw, and combined with their blowing up when near an enemy, it’s practically a gun with a crosshair. Siwiak said that “we never want you to feel helpless,” and to that end there are several measures to survive many different situations. There’s a part of me that thinks that’s great to always offer a fighting chance, but then having too many options could mean that the value in teamplay could diminish. Don’t get me wrong, this game is fun and I enjoyed my time with it, but Timegate’s walking a tight rope here. Their big task will be to balance these convenient aspects while still keeping a sense of danger to everything to keep things fun. I think they can do it, and will be watching this game with eyebrows firmly raised.