Hands-on with 2018’s most in­tense mil­i­tary shooter

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For­mat: PC, PS4, XBOX one | Pub­lisher: fo­cus Home In­ter­ac­tive | devel­oper: new world In­ter­ac­tive | re­lease: 2018 | Play­ers: 1-16

In many re­spects, In­sur­gency: Sand­storm feels like the di­rect an­tithe­sis of the Bat­tle­field mul­ti­player ex­pe­ri­ence. For one of these ti­tles, the oft-shouted phrase “Play The Ob­jec­tive” has be­come some­thing of a run­ning joke in the com­mu­nity – with play­ers largely ac­cept­ing that the vast ma­jor­ity would rather en­gage in a thinly veiled Team Death­match vari­ant over work­ing to­gether in any ob­vi­ous fash­ion. For the other, it’s a creed that runs to the very core of the game’s theme and com­po­si­tion – where do­ing any­thing but play­ing the ob­jec­tive is the fastest route to fail­ure and frus­tra­tion.

In­sur­gency: Sand­storm is a chal­leng­ing mil­i­tary shooter in­spired by the glory days of the genre. It pushes play­ers to re­mem­ber the majesty and dif­fi­culty that could so of­ten be found in­ter­twined in the ear­li­est Ghost Re­con and Op­er­a­tion Flash­point games, up­dat­ing it for the mod­ern era in an Un­real En­gine 4 ex­trav­a­ganza that’s as pun­ish­ing to play as it is beau­ti­ful to be­hold.

Devel­oper New World In­ter­ac­tive, then, has taken that for­mula and ex­panded it. In­sur­gency: Sand­storm shines in its co-op­er­a­tive modes, an ex­cel­lent show­case of how ob­jec­tive-based game­play can in­deed be di­rectly re­in­forced through me­chan­ics and sys­tems. High lethal­ity keeps play­ers in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion, push­ing for­ward to­wards cap­ture points through the mod­ern war­fare-in­spired lo­cales as a sin­gle unit.

The dis­tinct lack of weapon spread and crosshairs en­sures that shots need to be placed del­i­cately – the bul­let goes where the bar­rel of the weapon is pointed – while lim­ited am­mu­ni­tion and no dis­cernible HUD will quickly push you to make sure that ev­ery time that trig­ger is pulled, it will have to count for some­thing.

In­sur­gency: Sand­storm is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing as it’s dif­fer­ent to the shoot­ers you’ll cur­rently find – par­tic­u­larly on con­sole. While it’s a far cry from your ar­cade FPS games, the likes of Over­watch and Counter-strike, it isn’t quite a sim­u­la­tion shooter ei­ther, veer­ing away from the im­pen­e­tra­ble sys­tems of Es­cape

From Tarkov, SWAT 4, and ARMA III. In­stead, In­sur­gency falls some­where in-be­tween the two pop­u­lar sub-gen­res, ex­ist­ing as an al­ter­na­tive for those look­ing to come away from a chal­lenge with­out a blood­ied nose.

We went hands-on with Check­point, a co-op­er­a­tive mode that saw us team­ing up with six other mem­bers of the in­dus­try in an ef­fort to take back enemy-con­trolled lo­ca­tions on the TOWN map (which some of you may be fa­mil­iar with from In­sur­gency’s time as a Counter-strike mod back in the day) to, even­tu­ally, de­stroy im­por­tant or­di­nance with an IED. One or two hits and you’re down; with no medic class to speak of and no di­rect respawn sys­tem, it forces you to be wary of your move­ment and track­ing – with play­ers only re­turn­ing to the field should you hold down a check­pointed area or suc­cess­fully de­fend one from as­sault by the smart enemy AI.

Push­ing slowly over a bridge, across an open space, or through claus­tro­pho­bic back­streets is a con­sis­tently tense af­fair – death can (and of­ten does) man­i­fest it­self from all sides. Hear­ing the pep­per of gun­fire across cover – the shriek of team-mates be­ing flanked – never failed to get the blood pump­ing, with the squeeze of the trig­ger feel­ing as pow­er­ful as it did del­i­cate.

In­sur­gency: Sand­storm is an in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence that barely let up dur­ing our time with it. Air sup­port and ve­hi­cles are lim­ited, and so the em­pha­sis is placed on do­ing the best with what you’ve got – you’ll have an op­por­tu­nity to tinker with your load­out af­ter you die, though at­tach­ments and am­mu­ni­tion vari­a­tions will only make so much of a dif­fer­ence here. The big­gest change to get your head around is the lack of any dis­tinct weapon meta, the learn­ing curve ex­tend­ing lit­tle fur­ther than man­ag­ing the re­coil and fig­ur­ing out the cur­va­ture of your bul­let tra­jec­tory. This is a game where team­work is es­sen­tial, where the dif­fer­ence be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure is de­cided in a sec­ond.

In­sur­gency: Sand­storm is a promis­ing FPS in its star­ring co-op­er­a­tive mode, but how its tight play trans­lates not only to con­sole but also to the larger-scale 16-verus-16 ob­jec­tive-based skir­mishes be­ing teased will likely de­fine its longevity in the mar­ket. For now, how­ever, you’ll want to keep your eye on any chances to get into the Al­pha or Beta (we’re told they are “com­ing soon”). It’s se­ri­ously worth try­ing this one out for your­self.

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