What would you rather have in a game? Good ideas or good execution? Does being good at one excuse being poor at the other? Section 8: Prejudice seems to make a case for both sides of the argument. In pure gameplay concepts, this is one of the best shooters in recent times, but due to poor execution, most of that ends up being wasted. And yet, despite all of that, the good ideas shine through to save it from utter desolation. So we end up at the first question again. Would you overlook flaws for a good concept?
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The meat of the game is definitely multiplayer, but single player is surprisingly decent. It starts off seeming like a tutorial to get you acquainted to the gameplay mechanics of multiplayer, but picks up soon after to evolve into something better. Dont get me wrong; its not going to win any awards, but in a market bursting at the seams with corridor set-piece shooters, the campaign is an enjoyable experience. The levels have enough breathing room in them to try a few different approaches and the AI is competent enough to give you a decent challenge throughout. Even though the difficulty goes up in the last one third due to sparse checkpoints, its still a fun ride throughout. It is short enough (and smart enough) not to overstay its welcome even though the ending seems to arrive without much in the way of resolution to the story.
Also thrown into the mix along with the campaign and multiplayer is Section 8’s take on Gears’ Horde mode called Swarm. Four players face off against wave after wave of enemies and try to defend a control point, but the ability to spawn equipment like turrets and sentry towers (more on them later) gives it a wonderful twist as opposed to the regular Horde/Firefight modes from other games. As with competitive multiplayer, the game can fill up any empty slots with bots, something I wish more games supported (and something I bet people are wishing Gears of War 3 did not support right now).
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Moving on from all of that, we come to the main course of the game – the multiplayer. Imagine Battlefield-like gameplay, where you are in a match with 31 other players fighting in large open maps to capture and hold control points across the maps. Throw in a health and shield system very reminiscent of Halo, and tons of customisation in weapons, and add the ability to spawn vehicles and equipment like the Engineer class from Team Fortress. Oh, and did I mention it has jetpacks? The multiplayer is like an evolution of all good games from recent years. The maps are smartly designed and there is a wonderful flow to the gameplay, and every piece of equipment and vehicle you can spawn has a smart counter to it. Every now and then, the game throws Dynamic Combat Missions (DCM) into the middle of a game to spice things up even more. The DCM’s are side missions that come up in an ongoing game that reward your team for completing them. It’s a cool little addition to an already engaging multiplayer component.
So there you have it; decent single player, enjoyable swarm mode, and downright brilliant multiplayer. What could (and did) go wrong? Not much except a few critical flaws. The first and the most annoying one is that the multiplayer lags very noticeably and quite often. There are 32 players and it does supports dedicated servers, but from what I have found out so far, there aren’t any servers in Asia; at least none that I could connect to. Searching for games inevitably throws you into a European server, which might or might not be laggy depending upon your luck. On some occasions, I have even ended up on North American servers and the experience was unpleasant to say the least.
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My second biggest gripe is with the controls and the weapons. The problem with controls is that the aiming never really feels right. That’s mostly because there is very little in the way of aim assist. There is an aim-lock mechanism you can engage for short periods of time, but aim assist is by and large off. To add to that, aim acceleration feels a little weird as well. As far as the weapons go, all of the guns (with the exception of the sniper rifle) seem to lack impact. Even when you are shooting a heavy machine gun, it feels like its firing pellets. It doesn’t help that they sound rather timid as well. The game looks decent on the visual front (like an early Unreal Engine 3 game; think Mass Effect 1), but there is the occasional frame rate problem when the action gets too hectic.
Add all those things up and the result is that the shooting part of the game feels rather bland and dull, and for a first-person shooter, that is a rather critical flaw. Granted none of those things are bad enough to be considered game breaking, but considering that the game does everything else rather superbly, its astounding that something so important feels so sloppy.
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What we have here is a game that is full of good ideas, but the execution is full of flaws. On the few occasions when things click for you, you can see the underlying genius of it all, but more often than not, the small niggles turn into flaws that you just cant seem to ignore. I am still undecided to the question I posed at the beginning, but Section 8: Prejudice has made me lean towards the conclusion that that good ideas are good, but good execution is better.