Appraising the Art of Combat pt.7
Monday, January 17, 2011 at 1:14PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Combat, Depth & Complexity, Dynamics, Emergence, Interplay, Section 8, Variation

Section 8 by TimeGate Studios is one of the deepest and most dynamic games I've ever played, studied, or heard of. In an industry innundated with Halos and Call of Dutys, first person shooters like Section 8 are easily pushed out of the social consciousness. Like Metroid Prime Hunters, the single player of Section 8 is mainly a retooling of the multiplayer gameplay. Many have faulted the game for the single player and its lacking story, but none of these shortcomings matter to me. Section 8's multiplayer has innovated on many fronts, yet the game was not a break out hit (to say the least). Perhaps the art (which I think is quite decent) wasn't gripping enough. I think that the stark learning barriers/curves due to the shear amount of gameplay complexities is the main reason for the limited success. Regardless, as part of the appraising combat series, it's my intention to convey what it's like to play Section 8 competitively on a team with some of the most experienced and skilled players in the world.  

 

You really need to understand the core gameplay and main features before I really get into things. Instead of reading a long description of the game, I've rounded up some video from the developers themselves. Though this first video is of an upcoming sequel "Section 8: Prejudice", it's a good explantion of all the basics of Section 8 gameplay. 

This following video explains the spawning feature called "burning in" and the character customization called "loadouts."

The following video explains the "dynamic combat missions" or DCMs and deployables.

 

Core Gameplay: Moving and Shooting

 

Customization and Variation

 

Now that you understand how moving and shooting works, we must consider the layers of the one multiplayer game type available in Section 8.

 

 

In the mid-late game there is a lot of action happening across the map. Because all the previously listed objectives all earn varying amounts of VP, they are all means to the same end. Therefore, even when there's multiple DCMs, CPs, and enemies you can aim for there's still only one goal. Before moving on, I have to explain just how dynamic the DCMs are.

Dynamic Combat Missions are a key reason why Section 8 is one of the most dynamic games ever. There is almost nothing you can do in the game that doesn't influence the phases that affect everyone. Every action in the game is organized into 4 categories; assult, recon, siege, support. Just about everything you do scores a point under one of these categories for your team. When enough points in any category are amassed, a DCM is dropped into the match. So your team playstyle (which includes your personal playstyle) affects the type of missions that will drop and in turn what the opponents will respond to. For a full list of such actions or feats see here. If that isn't complex enough, consider that the strategies the opposing team uses can be interplay barriers that force you to use specific counter playstyles. This in turn will influence the DCM and possibly create a larger trap.

The dynamic design of the DCM is affected by decisions small and large on the battle field. What's more interesting still is that the DCMs are also designed to vary the gameplay and as comeback missions. To put it simply, if you're team is doing a great job defending a single CP by staying walled up inside a base, eventually you will earn a DCM that will drop a mission far away from your "comfort zone." You'll then have to decide if you'll try to complete the DCM, who you'll send, and how you'll compensate. If you don't send anyone, the enemy can easily counter the mission and earn some easy victory points. For another example, if your team is having a hard time securing a CP (one of the basic ways to gain a somewhat slippery slope advantage) the game might activate a Commando DCM. This mission gives the player a Rambo style AI aid to help storm a particular CP (base). If you can't comeback with this guy's help, then little will save you. 

 

RTS Interplay/Dynamics

So far, I've explained how custom loadouts and DCMs add a lot of variation to the game. My favorite part about competiting in Section 8 is that I don't have to engage in FPS gameplay all the time. In fact, Section 8 is the closest I've seen a FPS come to seamlessly incorporating RTS features. By earning requisition points (money) you can purchase deployables to aid your team. From turrets to tanks, if you have enough money you can significantly change the battle field (see list here and here). Earn money by playing to the 3 main gameplay objectives detailed above. You'll also automatically earn money slowly over time (like an RTS). If you're so inclined, you can be your team's traveling repair man and set deployables tower defense style without ever shooting another player.

Bringing the discussion back to interplay (depth), Section 8 has all of the core FPS interplay like gunplay, cover, tactical formations, and stealth. In addition, there's a lot of RTS type counters. The Control Points (bases) capture design function like RTS bases. The more you have, the more resources you'll earn over time (VP and money). Each is defended with static defenses that counter burn ins, large vehicles, and infantry. There are also sensor towers to give allied players key radar data of enemy positions. Factor in defensive human players and you've got quite a defense. If you think this is too formidable, then consider these counters...

 

So what's it like playing Section 8 with all of the above nuances and complexities well learned? Dropping into the field from sky high gives you a sense of the scale of battle like nothing else. You hit the ground having already chosen a customized loadout. You wield a powered up a sniper rifle so you know 1v1 combat is not your role. It's about mid game and you can begin to see how the actions of both sides will begin to spiral into a victory or a loss. Your teams has been great moving across the field as a diverse group of soliders, but you've struggled to capture more than 1 of 3 control points. The enemy has held 2 bases for a while and soon their economic advantage will kick in. Any moment now, the DCMs will drop and everyone will be pushed out of their comfort zones.

You see it all playing out in your mind. But more importantly, you see that the tide turner will not be out near the convoy or the tanks. While most are distracted, the key to victory is running an infiltration mission on the far enemy base. You make the call outs to two of your best teammates and you put together an impromptu plan. You're confident it'll work. You haven't spent much of your money, so you have enough for a mech and a supply depot. As you run in overdrive around the side of the map as a squadron of 3 you wonder what would happen if you failed. You wonder if someone else on your team will see the cogs turning and step up. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.