Section 8: Prejudice

By: Craig Lam

Published: May 26, 2011 Posted in: Review

How can I go back to boring old spawning after this? I think, as I send my character smashing down like the fist of Marduk on a sniper who apparently hasn’t realised that camping is a bad idea—the worst idea—in Section 8: Prejudice.

How can I go back to normal sprinting? I wonder, as my supercharged dash obliterates an enemy like Usain Bolt in armour tackling a sandcastle.

There’s something liberating about the toys Prejudice gives you, something fresh. It’s a case of maximalist game design: a seeming willingness on the part of the developers to give the player more. I can’t help but think that half the ideas in Prejudice wouldn’t make past the drawing board for a AAA title, yet here they are in a £10 game.

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Unshackled from even faux-realism, there’s something delightfully old school about Prejudice. The main neat trick it pulls off is to give me the illusion of piloting a power armoured super soldier, rather than the regular bullet’n'bomb fodder I feel like in Bad Company 2 or Red Orchestra. I probably die almost as much in this, but I don’t feel the same sense of confusion and fragility.

There are a couple of factors beyond sheer mobility that contribute to this feeling: the rechargeable shields, and the limited lock on feature. Being an arsehole elitist PC gamer, I was extremely sceptical of both of these features, which seem like cheap console gimmicks at first. The shields actually make things more complex since different weapons and ammunition with vary in effectiveness against them, while some are better against plain armour. This makes it almost necessary to soften up shielded foes with something like EMP rounds before moving in for the kill with, say, the shotgun, or a napalm rocket. As for the lock-on, it only lasts a few seconds, but strategic usage can turn a duel instantly. In a game where much of the combat is spent attempting to nail hyperactive leaping targets, while also dodging wildly yourself, the lock on is a great boon. And why wouldn’t a super soldier of a dark future have a targeting computer? We can’t use the Force all the time.

As with the shields, the upgrade system adds satisfying depth to all the shooting. Not only can you unlock new weapons, but each gun has several types of ammunition that can make a tangible game difference. As far as I’ve seen, no one loadout seems to be the de-facto choice and the variation of styles is occasionally bewildering. It’s common to go through much of a game without being killed in the same way twice. At first I felt somewhat wary of the unlocks. I felt disadvantaged and small when I was destroyed by a fucking napalm rocket. Then I unlocked the napalm rocket and realised that it only works well in select situations. The balancing means that unlocks seem to benefit you more in terms of options than in sheer power.

section8 - mechcombat

Everyone can purchase turrets and vehicles in exchange for the space bucks that accrue with each kill or successful action. The minigun and missile turrets are surprisingly effective, and I was equally surprised to find that their auto-kills impart the same points as doing it manually. The limited range of vehicles (speeder bike, mech, and tank) disappointed me, though they each fit well with the balance of the game. That they are bought with a player’s hard earned money makes it all the more satisfying to blow up a mech that I know someone has been saving up the whole match for.

The design of Prejudice is generic. There isn’t much to excuse it: little in the game looks new or unique. I have a feeling this is one of the reasons its predecessor flew so low under the radar. Vehicles, armour, and weapons have detailed textures, yet their look is just…familiar. I’ve seen their like in dozens of games about space marines in space: hard metal, jagged edges, swollen shoulderpads. I don’t care though. When the game is actually in motion, the bland styling becomes irrelevant: things move too quickly to leave much time for stopping and staring. And, in motion, there’s interest and dynamism in the action, if not beauty. Reinforcements, instead of simply spawning out of nothing, speed down from the heavens like testosterone fuelled angels, leaving streaks of fire and smoke in their wake. Tracer bullets streak across the tundra and dancing flame laps at the feet of wrestling mechs. Speeder bikes bounce gracelessly, delivered on high from dropships. There’s a charm and liveliness to Prejudice’s chaotic warfare that eclipses its generic models.

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Swarm mode reminds me of a wilder Killing Floor crossed with tower defence, with the 4 human players facing off against increasingly troublesome waves of bots. The 15 minute rounds make it a great mode to pick up and play. Placing turrets and deciding whether to splurge on a mech add a bit of strategy to the blasting, while some of the combat missions from Conquest mode are included to spice things up.

Assault mode has one team attempting to defend its bases from subversion within a time limit. If the enemy takes one of the bases, the defending team cannot retake it. There’s an interesting push and pull that can be viewed on the drop ship map: the locations of drop points changing as each team looks to bolster its positions throughout the battle.

Whatever mode you play in, each team are randomly given dynamic combat missions throughout, which push a match beyond the standard hold-and-activate/destroy mechanic that seems to be the norm in large scale war games. The missions range from regular destruction jobs like blowing up command centres, to more complex exercises like trying to survive in a suit that changes your appearance to that of the opposing team. Each of these missions is double sided and you can gain points by scuppering the plans of your opponents: you might escort a VIP across the battlefield in one game, and in the next you might have to assassinate him. Tactical opportunities arise from the distraction that these missions provide and little is more satisfying than to undertake a solo mission to hack an enemy base while they’re out worrying about blowing up a convoy. I can’t overstate how much these mini-missions add to the game, and I sincerely hope to see other developers shamelessly copy the idea.

section8 - hurl

Of course, I can’t let Prejudice away with unalloyed praise. It hates alt-tab, for one thing: totally inexcusable. Almost every time I alt-tabbed, it would crash, and once this meant I lost my singleplayer progress. Several other players on my Steam list reported similar problems. Many servers seem to be jam-packed with serviceable-yet-predictable bots filling in for absent players. The bots work well enough—they certainly kill me enough—yet they can’t compete with humans for fun. The singleplayer campaign adds value to the package, but it isn’t much of a distraction from the main event of multiplayer. Voice acting and narrative compete aggressively in awfulness, while the slower pacing only highlights the blandness of design.

It also utilises, for some reason, Games for Windows Live, which I will grudgingly admit works. Yet I can’t help feeling irritated by it when I’ve already logged into Steam and need to do the same for GFW. It also means that Section 8: Prejudice has the most idiotic usernames I’ve seen in server lists in a long time. It’s infuriating to be stomped by “s0l1ds44444k3″, or sniped by “nikkelbak”. I play PC games to avoid this buffoonery! –
not that I haven’t seen stupid names in other PC games, but these GFWL tags have a certain smell about them. The smell of a 15 year old’s bedroom: of moldering pot noodle, fermented energy drinks, and misdirected passion.

There’s so much I like about Prejudice, though. I love how I can watch people duelling on the minimap as I launch in, knowing exactly what they’re doing as they circle, leaping to avoid rockets. I love the surprise and delight I feel when, at the termination of dropping in, I land on someone’s head. It’s upsetting to me that so many of the servers are unpopulated and that people dismiss it as a bland Halo clone. Section 8: Prejudice deserves to be the runaway hit Killing Floor was. It’s bold in ideas, generous in entertainment, and light on the wallet.

Craig Lam
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