Play the game as you would any other FPS and you'll only get so far. Run-and-gun tactics are of limited use here, and there's thankfully little room for grenade spammers. The freefall spawn system ensures that camping is a waste of time, as players can drop into the action anywhere on the generous Battlefield-style maps.
Indeed, any sniper who stays still for too long can expect to be crushed by a vindictive foe aiming size 12s at his or her skull while skydiving. Making full use of the "overdrive" sprint and jetpacks opens out the space completely, so players who simply jog around on the horizontal plane are only of limited use.
It's in the unlock options that Section 8 becomes something genuinely special. Unlike other games, which either restrict the good stuff to higher-level players or favour quantity over quality by cluttering the loadout screen with dozens of pointless items, the selection available here allows ample customisation without overwhelming you.
Seven basic weapons are backed up with six supplementary items, ranging from an all-in-one repair/medkit tool to portable mortars and radar beacons. Different upgrades can be applied by distributing ten points between modifiers that enhance bullet damage, armour efficiency and recharge times.
Unlockables include new armour and ammo types, enabling you to improve preferred items for specific functions. There are lots more options that become available as you level up, but right from the start even a new player can come up with a unique mix of weapons and abilities and save it as a custom loadout.
This proves essential, as the two multiplayer game modes become richer the more you invest in the customisation. Swarm is for co-op play, as you and your teammates defend a command post against an escalating assault. Surviving the 15 minute countdown is no mean feat. Conquest is the competitive mode, mixing up base-capture and deathmatch mechanics with a more free-form, objective-based mission structure.
There are nine of these dynamic combat missions, or DCMs, and they can be triggered by either side depending on how many bases have been taken by the rival factions. Marking targets for bombing runs, infiltrating enemy outposts, guarding a convoy there's admirable variety, and each one changes the tempo of the game from the familiar deathmatch scenario.
Success in the DCMs earns large amounts of Victory Points, the in-match currency that already offers up small change for each kill or assist. These can be cashed in for equipment drops, and these too impact the strategy of the game immensely.
Supply points let you restock ammo or change your loadout on the fly. Turrets can be deployed, raining bullets and missiles down on incoming enemy forces. AA guns can shoot down respawning players who drop inside their fire zone. The mech suit, hoverbike and tank from the single-player mode also appear here, and can change the dynamic of the entire game.
It's a frankly staggering suite of options for a downloadable game, yet Section 8: Prejudice never loses sight of its balance. Even when you're getting creamed, it's always because the other team is using all of the battlefield to its advantage, choosing its drop zones carefully, spending its points more wisely, adapting its weaponry more shrewdly and making full use of the DCMs to keep the points rolling in. That's a lot to keep track of, but it's to developer TimeGate's credit that so much of it feels intuitive and logical.
Were it not for the outdated visuals and functional presentation, Prejudice would easily be worth a full-price purchase. It is, quite simply, the best multiplayer shooter since Battlefield: Bad Company 2. As a budget digital download, it's ridiculously good value.
Section 8: Prejudice will launch 20th April on Xbox Live Arcade, 4th May for PC, and sometime during Summer 2011 on PSN.