When I dropped into the Section 8 Open Beta this weekend, I was initially put off by how it managed to feel like I'd played it before, yet simultaneously feel confusing and a bit unfamiliar. "Really?" I asked myself, groaning. "I'm a badass space marine one-man army in a suit of face-concealing power armor sent to fight a far-off, interplanetary war?" And then, I was shot out of a spaceship into the middle of a war, and had no idea what to do other than shoot everyone whose name showed up in red.
Sure, in absence of the single-player mode, Section 8's multiplayer beta could have really used a tutorial, but I don't think that's really fair to hold against the game in this current state. It is fair to say that FPS gamers will be accustomed to most of the set pieces here: You play as a space marine in power armor fighting for either the eponymous Section 8, or the rebellious (presumably nefarious?) Arm of Orion. You have regenerating shields, the standard complement of weaponry - pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher - and you have to kill everyone not on your team.
While the set pieces are pretty standard, Section 8 has some cool twists - your suit not only lets you sprint very fast after a short warm-up, but it has a built-in jetpack, and there's a very primal satisfaction to sprinting across the map and launching into the air to get the drop on an enemy. Victory in any given match isn't decided just by kills or flag captures, but by whichever team is first to accrue a set amount of Victory Points - earned by killing enemies, taking over strategic points, and either completing various missions (often variations on the "escort quest" archetype) or by foiling the missions your foes are attempting.
The main gimmick in Section 8 is that you're an orbital drop trooper - and so every time you "respawn," it's rocketing down to a spot of your choosing on the map. This is actually a pretty cool system, meaning that you can get to where the action is, or try to sneak into a less occupied area of the map to attempt to seize an opponent's base. Having reinforcements suddenly fall from the sky - literally - can turn the tide of a battle, and it's both thrilling or dismaying, depending on whose side the reinforcements are on.
You can customize your different "Loadouts," comprising the weaponry and equipment you take into battle, as well as the perks your armor has (more armor, more shields, does more damage, you move faster, etc). You can switch between different Loadouts or tweak them as you choose at any time in the Dropship, even mid-match. That, along with the fact that there are different medals and different sort of points earned for, say, killing opponents with different weapons means that there's a good amount of variety there, but players will probably find their favorite Loadout of choice and stick with it.
The biggest problem in Section 8 right now (other than general balance and polish, but hey, Beta) just seems to be a lack of readily-available information about what things do, and this could easily be remedied with a proper tutorial. For example, I am in a large suit of mech-like Heavy Armor, and I am spraying my opponent with its machineguns. Why is he not dying?
It's certainly a competent shooter right now, but - in this early stage - there's nothing really mindblowing or attention-grabbing. At least in this particular stage of the beta, there were only two maps available for play; one can hope (and expect) that the developers are planning on adding more. If you like FPS games with a reliance on teamwork, keep an eye on Section 8 - or try out the Open Beta for yourself, but don't go in expecting it to revolutionize the genre as we know it.
Bottom Line: Same-old set pieces with some unique twists. A FPS that encourages teamwork, with a good amount of personal customization and a nifty system that makes even respawning feel strategic.
John Funk doesn't get the whole "space marine" thing.