If you're able to ignore the bland art direction and cliche sci-fi setting, there's a lot to get out of this downloadable first-person shooter.
Over the past three-or-four years we've been carefully trained about what to expect from downloadable titles. While retail products include hefty single-player campaigns, robust multiplayer components and platinum trophies, downloadable games typically have a more condensed experience to correspond with their lower price-points. There have been some anomalies — Wipeout HD and Siren: Blood Curse immediately jump to mind — but on the whole downloadable games have offered much more digestible experiences than their boxed counter-parts.
Section 8: Prejudice grabs the rule-book and tears it in half.
One thing that continued to astound us as we played through Prejudice is just how close it comes to feeling like a retail product. The sequel to Timegate's flawed-but-functional Section 8 is a fantastic first-person shooter with an even better price-point. For just £9.99 / $14.99 you're getting a massive slice of content.
But first we should probably back-track and establish exactly what Section 8: Prejudice is. It's a first-person shooter clearly born out of the popularity of Halo and Killzone. Unlike virtually every other first-person shooter available right now, Prejudice is not a modern-military affair. It's a sci-fi shooter. You play as an elite super-soldier facing off against a faction of wishy-washy genetically modified foes. The back-story, narrative and context is cliched nonsense, but at least it opens the pathway for some neat gameplay touches.
Playing as a super-soldier you're able to complete a number of actions the latest Call Of Duty protagonist can't. For one, you can jump out of satellite pods, leading to Prejudice's biggest defining feature. Here you don't simply respawn in multiplayer, you base-jump. It's one of the game's most staggering effects, as you hurtle towards the ground closing in on the dynamic battle happening beneath you. But more on that later.
Your character can also run rather fast. Hold down the sprint button for long enough and the camera will pull out of the game's standard first-person view, opting for a third-person angle that best showcases the scenery hurtling past you. Combine that with a jet-pack and timed lock-on mechanic and you at least have the basis for a first-person shooter that does things a little bit differently. Your 2:1 KDR in Call Of Duty is not going to instantly transcend to Section 8.
Section 8: Prejudice is not the first game to attempt to capitalise on the potentially lucrative downloadable shooter market. Both Blacklight: Tango Down and Modern Combat: Domination have had stabs at the market, but Prejudice simply does a better job. Not only is the execution much more polished, but the gameplay also feels distinctive.
Prejudice is also a much bigger game than you might initially perceive. Unlike the aforementioned titles, the game includes a complete single-player campaign with cut-scenes, varied locations and its own unique set-pieces. The dialogue between characters is dry and poorly acted but the campaign is rock-solid, providing the training wheels for Section 8's biggest attraction: the multiplayer.
The campaign does a good job of disguising its intentions, by gradually drip-feeding you with new weapons and environments that keep the game feeling fresh. One scenario sees you take out a base on the back of a futuristic motorcycle, while another places you inside a mech and tasks you with the defence of an important satellite array. The game falls back far too often on "stay here and defend this" type objectives, but it's a functional romp and value for money over the six or so hours it persists.
Once you're done with the campaign though, you're going to want to learn how the toys you've messed about with transcend into the multiplayer experience, and the answer is very well. By introducing the freefall spawn mechanism, Timegate's done away with one of the oldest problems in multiplayer FPS history: spawn-camping. In fact, Prejudice is a far more varied online experience than any other game currently available. With each player given the ability to sprint and jet-pack across the map, as well as dive into the overworld, the maps are opened out into huge, changing battlefields. There's simply no time to sit in a building with a sniper rifle and watch your kill-count increase. And that's refreshing.
Prejudice also gives you the options to tune the experience to your strengths. And it does so without being overwhelming. Loadouts allow you to choose between a variety of weapons — rifles, machine guns, pulse cannons — and then customise them with ammunition types. You're then able to adapt your character further by spending ten points on a very specific roster of abilities. What's great about the game is how well everything's been balanced. There are advantages to picking certain upgrades for sure, but they each come with their own disadvantage too. The key is to experiment and pick the upgrades that appeal to your own personal play-style.
You'll unlock new goodies as you progress too, including armour types and weapon options. The game drip-feeds you enough to make you feel like you've always got options, even if you've already poured a significant number of hours into the game.
The multiplayer game modes themselves are fantastic too. Swarm is a co-operative mode for up to four-players in which waves of enemies will try to overwhelm your strong-hold and steal your base. Surviving the fifteen minute battles is not easy, and you'll need to make use of the game's currency system to build turrets and upgrades that can further fortify your base.
You'll earn currency for completing feats in the game, and this can be spent on a variety of items from turrets to mech suits. If you work as a team you can really fortify your defences.
Other game modes include Conquest, where factions duke it out over four control points; Skirmish, a combination of Conquest and Team Deathmatch and; Assault, another twist on Conquest with an attack and defend mentality. It's certainly worth adding that those purchasing Section 8 before August 3rd will also get the game's first DLC packs for free, strengthening the game's map roster by two and adding some bonus goodies to your arsenal. PlayStation Plus members will even get a bonus piece of armour.
Competitive multiplayer is enhanced by dynamic missions that occur randomly in the heat of battle. By completing these objectives, teams are able to enhance their score tally. But they don't put the modes main objectives on hold, meaning you'll need to be organised as a team in order to control the battlefield and complete these dynamic missions too. They also add variety to each map, causing teams to change strategies on the fly and keep everything tense and balanced.
It's a lot to get your head around, but Prejudice somehow comes together exceptionally well. The matchmaking is slick and fluid, replacing empty spots with bots to keep matches full and exciting. The netcode also works staggeringly well for a downloadable release, with the game's free-fall mechanic a technical marvel.
There are some concessions to bare due to the game's budget. Locations can look a bit bland, with flat lighting and somewhat grainy textures. It still represents great value though, offering a dense multiplayer experience that's complimented by a variety of modes and options. Not to mention, there's an entire single-player campaign packed into the game as well.
Section 8: Prejudice might not be the most original title from an artistic stance, but it's still one of the most refined and enjoyable multiplayer shooters available on the PS3. Honestly, at £9.99 it's comparable with daylight robbery.