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Section 8: Prejudice preview: Turn on, drop in, tune out


Though many are now realizing its beauty in multiplayer shooters, the jetpack is a woefully underused tool in the FPS developer's work box. My love affair with the jetpack began many years ago on the PC with Dynamix's Starsiege: Tribes -- unfortunately, that love affair has taken a near 15-year, involuntary hiatus.

Halo: Reach went a long way in sating my desire for airborne multiplayer combat, but it looks like Section 8: Prejudice will go even further toward addressing that desire. Jetpacks abound -- like they did in the original Section 8 -- as do a glut of other variables to turn the objective-focused multiplayer into a rock, paper, scissors playground. But while I was excited by a lot of the gameplay ideas I saw in Prejudice, I was just as concerned about the dated visuals and subdued personality.

Gallery: Section 8: Prejudice (Preview 10/26/10) | 15 Photos

Look no further than one of the first conversations I witnessed, said to be from early in the game, to understand why Section 8: Prejudice might come across as generic:

Interrogator: "Where are you getting your technology? Who's been manufacturing your weapons?"

Interrogatee: "You think you'll get answers? You don't even know the right questions!"
While the writing in this scene isn't necessarily representative of the entire game, it certainly worries me that the rest of the single-player campaign could be laden with such silliness. One potential saving grace is that your commander is voiced by Michael McConnohie, better known as the voice of the Agency in Crackdown (among many, many other things, apparently).

Timegate Studio reps explained that the first game's campaign mode was a "glorified tutorial" for multiplayer, so this time around the developers wanted to flesh it out more. Oddly, neither mode seems more fleshed out at this stage. The campaign is estimated to last roughly five hours and the multiplayer comprises two modes (Conquest, from the original, and Swarm, a co-op survival mode). When asked, Timegate reps wouldn't say for sure how the game will be distributed, so it's possible the seeming lack of content could be attributed to a digital release's constraints -- that said, the first game debuted at retail.

Bungie's goal with Halo -- a franchise that Section 8 closely resembles, I might add -- has always been short bursts of exciting, varied gameplay. Halo games mix up action frequently and, at their best, dole out chunks of gameplay that keep the pace rapid. From what I saw, Prejudice employs typical environments (a sand level, a volcanic level, a snow level, etc.) with long segments of unexciting firefights. Outside of fighting the occasional mech, the enemies I saw weren't varied or interesting enough to support sustained excitement in the same way Halo does.

The game's multiplayer component, bare bones as it is, is far more intriguing. Outside of the shorter gameplay experience keeping things fresh, a highly customizable leveling system can be found hiding behind the game's trappings. Want your jetpack to last a lot longer? Upgrade it. More health? Upgrade. Rather than employ specific classes, Prejudice's customization system allows for lots of player flexibility -- I much prefer this concept to pre-determined classes, in case that wasn't clear. You're still able to create the classic definitions of a heavy or a sniper, but this system instead gives players the ability for far more variation between each extreme.

The various armor abilities (jetpack, fast run), combined with the ability to buy turrets and vehicles on the fly, is sure to keep multiplayer frenetic. Each kill earns you money to spend on anything from a hoverbike (replete with missiles and machine guns) to a missile launching turret -- this component is crucial when defending against wave after wave of enemies in the game's Swarm mode. Like the first game, multiplayer objectives change dynamically, going quickly from "defend the base" to "escort this important dude who will help you," and Timegate says we'll see many more in the game. Also of note, the first game's unique spawning feature -- wherein you experience the soldier falling from a dropship in the sky, potentially landing on and killing an opponent -- has been altered so that you see your character from a third-person perspective, making it at least appear far easier to sky stomp fools.

To be clear, Section 8: Prejudice still has another half year before it's set to be released, so many of my gripes could be assuaged over the course of time. Even if not, the game's multiplayer is worth checking out. There are jetpacks, you know.

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