How do you compete with Juggernauts like Call of Duty and Battlefield? How do you go from having previously relied on a publisher for support, to going at it alone? How do you succeed in a market that hasn't been fully mapped out yet? Industry veterans TimeGate Studios have been pondering the answers to these questions, and they feel like they've got a pretty decent attempt at an answer – Section 8: Prejudice.
The original Section 8 was the studio's first original-IP FPS game, and while it didn't exactly make waves, it was definitely an interesting title that tried its best to compete in a very saturated market. When the game was re-released as a download only title on the PlayStation Network, its apparent success caused the studio's eyes to wonder to the as-of-yet untapped AAA download market.
At the moment, when you think of “download-only” titles, you think of mainly indie games that haven't got the same resources as Triple-A products, but the recent (even if ill received) Blacklight: Tango Down, the recently released Breach, and now Section 8: Prejudice are all experimenting with delivering a quality, AAA experience with the price-point and accessibility of a cheap indie title. It's one of the few 'final frontiers' in gaming today, and it'll be interesting to see how they get on. At 1200 MS points (and the monetary equivalent) across the board, you can certainly say this will be really good value for money.
At the preview stage though, it's fairly easy to think well of a game: everything is up for improvement, you don't quite know what the final build is going to be like, and it's easy to get caught up in the developer's 'wish-list' promises. A sequel's true test is whether a developer takes on board the criticism and feedback they receive to truly make their next game that much better. So far, TimeGate are showing a healthy degree of attention to community feedback. It's also a testament to the confidence the studio had in the franchise on a whole that they had already worked out the basics of Prejudice even just after the first game was released, and a prototype of a third game is reportedly already being worked on.
TimeGate are very committed to this series, and it's refreshing to see such dedication in the face of so many unknowns. As a sequel, Prejudice is looking ok: with a solid five-hour single player campaign, a fully fledged and improved multiplayer component, and the ability to play all MP modes offline due to the robust bot support, they surely have all the angles covered - it's just a matter of how good the content is.
On the single player side of things, we played a couple of missions of the campaign map – the story takes place immediately after the end of the first game, and it's clear to see that the studio is at least trying to flesh out the universe and give it more depth. If we're being brutally honest, we still have some concerns over it turning out shallow or slightly uninspiring, but the campaign is supposed to span nine unique maps, so perhaps the environments at least will prove interesting. Still though, as a colleague put it: “If I have to plant one more C-4 charge on some turret in an FPS, ever, that's it, I'm done”.
Prejudice is unlikely to stray too far from the conventions and habits gamers can expect from an FPS. How disappointing this is really depends on your expectations. In our opinion, so long as they deliver on the contextual substance they said they would, then everything else can be forgiven, or at the very least, tolerated.
Like last time, multiplayer is where the game should really shine. Keeping the GFWL framework, TimeGate have improved on their matchmaking, as well as what modes are on offer. In Prejudice, there's Conquest – which is the main mode and just involves two teams fighting for control of various points in order to accumulate a score. First to reach 1000 wins. Then there's Swarm, which is basically a Horde mode. However, due to the fact that you can drop in deployables at whim, there's also an added element of Tower Defence which we think will help distinguish this part of the online gameplay from similar modes in similar games.
We went hands on with the multiplayer as well, and it's still as fun as we remember it. There have been some tweaks, but apart from the major changes listed above it feels pretty much the same as before. Hot-dropping has changed to a third-person perspective, Anti-Air is more powerful, and the kills moves look alright. We wonder though if the game will be able to attract new audiences. It's a standard sci-fi shooter, on the Battlefield end of the spectrum, but it does have a few things that make it unique. If you didn't like what made it stand-out in the original though, you're still not going to like it.
A studio's enthusiasm for their product is always nice to see, and TimeGate's drive and energy is almost touching, but it'll all be for naught if they can't get the content right. That, and timing. Even though the digital market is a good move for them, considering the heavy-weights they will have to go over with, in all genres not just FPS, they will need to make sure they release at the right time. Still, we think it will do well, and we're definitely looking forward to its release. Section 8: Prejudice will be releasing on PC, PlayStation Network, and the Xbox-Live Arcade in Q1 2011.
Most Anticipated Feature:Discovering all the kill moves you can do, especially in the mechs.