Many people think that shooters are the most lucrative genre in the gaming industry. Annual Call of Dutys vie for commercial dominance and every publishing company seemingly uses shooters as tentpole games to shore up profits. The truth is that unless your shooter has “duty” or “gears” in the title, it is probably going to be lost in the shuffle. Section 8: Prejudice stands out from the crowd by offering everything those shooters do and more, at a quarter of the price. The Xbox Live Arcade shooter is easily worth more than your average full-priced AAA game.

None of that is to say the game is perfect, far from it, but it delivers a deliciously fun package, without all the annoying packaging. The campaign does not skimp on content, and the story is entertaining if not enlightening. You play as Captain Corde, a decorated member of the 8th Armored Division of the military, which you are told in the opening voiceover is a special unit designed to keep the peace on the planets colonized by humans. The events of Section 8 (2009) dealt with an uprising called the Arm of Orion, but in Prejudice everyone soon realizes a greater force is manipulating the rebels. There follows a planet-spanning story that pits Corde and his 8th Armored cohorts against fiercer and better equipped opponents than they might be accustomed to fighting. The plot isn’t spectacular, but it’s a lot better than the dreck on which most shooters hang their unimaginative set pieces. The characters, while still the usual military tough guys, are at least well-formed and the dialogue doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. Shit, the frank banter even made me chuckle a few times.

Mechanics-wise, Section 8 is just dang fun. Like every sci-fi shooter since Halo, you have an armored suit with a shield, but so does each opponent. The suit has “exo-muscles” which gives you a minute of “overdrive” that lets you quickly close distance and even damage enemies if you collide with them. You also have a jetpack with a limited burn which is pretty useful to jump up onto high platforms, leap over obstacles or avoid fire. The last little spice added into the shooter stew is the ability to lock onto a target for a short time. Before you start dismissing this as proof of the relative skill of console gamers, the lock-on has a long cooldown – around 30 secs – and only lasts for a brief moment. It’s long enough to finish off a moving target, but not to take down an opponent at full health.

The missions of the single player campaign in Section 8: Prejudice are refreshingly well-designed. The objectives are spelled out simply – take out these guys, defend this area, hack that terminal – and it’s up to you to figure out the best way to accomplish those tasks. You usually have to consider the situation tactically to find the best way to proceed, which I found a welcome departure from just being able to run forward with my best gun blazing away. The larger battles to end each mission don’t usually feel like overwrought boss battles. My favorite had me and my team prepping a bunker for an aerial assault with waves of defenders dropping in. I had to shoot the pesky guys jetpacking around, in between hacking consoles and blowing up defensive turrets before I was finally able to bring down the shield.

The campaign encourages the player to use the supply depots peppered around the levels to switch loadouts regularly. You can pick which two weapons you bring with you and what ammo that gun is loaded with while also filling up two equipment slots – reserved for a repair tool or a large complement of grenades or delayed detonation bombs. You can also fine-tune where you place ten “talent” points, choosing faster recharging shields or maybe increased run speed. At first, I scoffed at such granularity, but I soon needed to switch up my loadout after every other fight in order to be effective. Up against a lot of fast moving infantry? You’d do better to use the machine gun with napalm bombs to burn up their armor. Facing a lot of turrets and entrenched defense? Go for the launcher with crash missiles that do extra damage against structures. The preset loadouts work fine, but you can save your preferences simply in the loadout menu.

The campaign is not without flaws, some of them glaring. The space between checkpoints is frustrating, especially when you get stuck on a particularly difficult section. It may be a symptom of my familiarity with modern game design, but I absolutely hated that I had to replay cutscenes or long unfun sequences to get to the hard part. I also don’t understand why sometimes an area was accessible, but covered in red diagonal warning lines on the minimap. If you stray into these areas, an annoying buzzer sounds and you have ten seconds to return to where the level designer wants you to be or you die. I hate artificial boundaries in games as much as the next guy, but this isn’t the solution.

Playing through the campaign not-so-subtly introduces you to concepts useful in the multiplayer modes, but I actually found that refreshing rather than contrived. Using supply depots to switch up loadouts is just as important, and the custom sets you carefully craft in single player carry over to multiplayer. In the campaign, you’ll learn how to call down other equipment like defensive turrets and even big mechanized suits and other vehicles, which works exactly the same in multiplayer. The objectives of the campaign also somewhat mirror the multiplayer; I enjoyed defending a point from waves of bad dudes just as I would defend it by bad dudes online.

Like the recently released Brink, Prejudice‘s multiplayer rewards you for teamwork more than straight kills. The leaderboard reports the number of kills, but players are ranked based on the XP they receive and you definitely get more for healing your pals, assisting on kills, and completing objectives. It can’t be a coincidence that the time I spent online in Prejudice was filled with wonderfully coordinated and helpful teammates; people who haven’t met before are more likely to work together well when the game incentivize them to do so.

Section 8: Prejudice “shipped” with two multiplayer modes: Conquest and Swarm. In Conquest, two teams totaling up to 32 players compete to hold points and complete random objectives. Swarm has your team of four guys repelling wave upon wave of increasingly badass AI attackers. The new Assault mode switches teams between attack and defense to control points for a long as possible. Figuring out the particulars of each mode is a little tough. The game doesn’t hold your hand here, but, once you know what’s what, you can find tons of joy in shooting your fellow man in nuanced battle.

TimeGate Studio’s gambit of offering a full game for $15 on XBLA seems to working out. Even a month after the game’s release, I had no trouble finding matches so it seems Prejudice is filling a niche amongst shooter fans.

Bottom Line: Section 8: Prejudice offers a fun set of shooter mechanics, with a complete campaign and robust multiplayer package without costing you a full $60.

Recommendation: If you’ve been salivating over the latest rash of shooters but didn’t want to drop 60 bones, download Section 8: Prejudice for well-designed multiplayer action and a decently fun campaign.

[rating=4]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Section 8: Prejudice
Genre: Shooter
Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: TimeGate Studios
Platform(s): XBLA, PC

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