Version tested: PC
TimeGate Studios has a habit of doing things differently. The developer's real-time strategy series, Kohan, was greeted with a mixture of glee and puzzlement by the gaming community: it was good, but it was somehow unfamiliar. TimeGate hadn't bothered to ape what everyone else was doing and had created something mechanically unusual, if thematically stuck within the same old fantasy tradition. The same seems to be true of Section 8.
While gun-toting soldiers in space-armour seems like the most generic subject imaginable, the execution and delivery is rather unlike that of this game's peers. Jetpacks might suggest that Section 8 is taking cues from the linear nature of the Tribes games, but it doesn't play like them. The closest in terms of pace is probably Halo, but Section 8's broad multiplayer palette is entirely unlike anything Bungie have attempted. It's akin, in many ways, to Sony's MMOFPS, Planetside - but it's not an MMO, more a Battlefield-like shooter.
Section 8 is a multiplayer combat game which does not seem to have learned that lesson about improving on what the last guy did. TimeGate is, once again, doing something that doesn't quite fit into our familiar gaming templates, and that is both the crowning strength and undermining weakness of the game.
Multiplayer is what Section 8 is all about, but there is a single-player element. It's called Corde's Story, and it consists of a series of missions on the planet of New Madrid, the science fiction setting for the game. As earnest warrior chap Corde you play your way through a series of cutscene-framed objectives, working with various characters to tell the story of what Section 8 (the titular space marines) are doing here and who they are fighting.
As a single-player shooter it's not great, largely due to the way the AI bots handle themselves. They're only scripted at the most rudimentary narrative level, and you're playing across the wide-open multiplayer maps. Thanks to the way the fights unfold the experience is never particularly tight. You soon realise, however, that Corde's Story is simply a gigantic tutorial sequence designed to introduce you to the many different elements and ideas the game will throw at you. Play through Corde's Story and you'll have a basic idea of how to approach multiplayer - and good thing too.
An extended tutorial is useful because Section 8's multiplayer has a number of esoteric aspects to it. The first, and most dramatic, is the fact that you do not respawn on the map. Instead you fall to Earth at a location of your choosing. Much of the map will be off-limits thanks to anti-aircraft guns, but the "burn-in" dynamic means you can pretty much arrive anywhere you like on the map.
This means that strategic awareness is difficult for any player, anywhere on the map, because you can't tell where the enemy is going to come from. You have to continually watch your back, and also the skies, for signs of new arrivals. This alone is disconcerting enough to put off some player but once you've adjusted to the idea of an enemy coming down on your head where-ever there isn't air cover, there's plenty of scope for clever, inventive play.
While you're up in the sky you have another option, too: loadout customisation. At face value Section 8 is a class-based game, with an engineer to repair stuff, a sniper to recon and strike stuff, an anti-armour guy, and so on. But with the loadouts being totally adjustable by the player you enter a grey area of infinite mix and match. Pretty much anyone and everyone can carry the repair tool, and even the basic "assault" setup can be fine-tuned for different methods of play.