Once on the ground, the idea is to try and gain control of all the various zones on the map, which obviously involves striking a balance between protecting what you have and going on the offensive. Fortunately, getting around these (rather large) maps is made slightly more straightforward thanks to the 'Overdrive' system built into your suit, which ensures that you break into a super-sprint after around five seconds of commencing your run. Even better, you come equipped with a jetpack, allowing you to boost yourself around for a couple of seconds, adding a welcome degree of verticality to the proceedings. Another temporary power is the weapon lock-on, allowing you to zoom in and establish a more precise target for a few seconds - but, like the other ability enhancers, you have to wait a while before you're allowed to use it again.
Finding capture points is always a simple process, as they are not only marked on the game's helpful mini-map, but via waypoints which show how many metres you are from them. Once you've located them, Section 8 has you hack them for a few seconds until a bar fills up, and then a secondary bar creeps up, allowing your opponent a few precious seconds within which to reverse the situation: cue a tense stand-off. With the base under your command, that ensures that your team can now safely burn-in, while the various rocket and minigun turrets now point to your enemy rather than at you.
Another element of Section 8 which helps protect your base is to call in deployables, such as anti-aircraft turrets, miniguns, rocket launchers, tanks and mechs. You don't get them for nothing, mind you: each of these handy death-dealing items cost Requisition Points, which you earn for killing people, hacking bases, or destroying turrets. Particularly useful is the ability to buy your own tanks, a mechanic which TimeGate presumably brought in to stop the amount of team-killing and queuing prevalent in multiplayer shooters when players rush for a powerful vehicle. Tanks also have space for four players: one driver, one missile controller and two others on one of the turrets.
One other interesting feature of Section 8 are its DCMs, or Dynamic Combat Missions, which operate in tandem with the overarching goals of capturing control points. There are six different types of DCM in total - Bomb, Intelligence, Commando, Convoy, Outpost and VIP, and each costs Feat Points, which you earn from different elements of gameplay, such as healing a team-mate, mending a vehicle or successfully sniping someone.
Once you've earned enough Feat Points, a Dynamic Combat Mission will be triggered. For example, in the Bomb mission, a bomb will appear on the map, and one team has to go off and collect it and deliver it to an enemy base. If they succeed, it will destroy all the gun emplacements and things like that in the base. But if you're on the opposing team, you get a rival DCM mission telling you to stop the delivery of the bomb. Likewise, for a VIP DCM, a VIP will burn into the field, and you'll be tasked with escorting him to safety, while the rival team will have to try and kill him.
While it probably sounds risky for members of your team to go off and complete/defend a DCM, the successful completion of one of them adds 100 points to your team's overall tally. With perhaps 1000 points to win a round, it acts as a shortcut to victory - assuming you don't just all charge off and leave your control points undefended.
The plan is to ship with 18 maps in total, each designed to accommodate different-sized matches. 64-player support is mooted on PC for those playing on a dedicated server, while the Xbox 360 will support up to 32 players under the same conditions. Without a dedicated server, the figures are likely to drop to 32 and 16 respectively.
With only a couple of hours' play under our belts, most players were simply getting to grips with the basic mechanics, and there was little opportunity to really operate as a team, nor figure out the subtleties of meddling with the Passive Modules, and the like. What we can say, though, is that Section 8 has a stack of interesting ideas which go a long way to addressing a lot of the perennial niggles many of us have with multiplayer shooters. It's solid, intuitive and the sort of game that you can have a lot of fun with even when you haven't spent hours memorising the layout of a map. Technically it feels robust and polished, but perhaps lacks a degree of artistic spark. Overall, though, it feels like the sort of game where that shouldn't matter a great deal. It's not so much doing different things, as doing the same things differently, and sometimes that's enough.
Section 8 is coming to the PC and Xbox 360 later in 2009. The beta program is currently underway in the United States and Canada, and is due to launch in Europe on 10th August.