insurgencyheadBUY IT FROM STEAM: HERE
PRICE: $19.99
DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: New World Interactive

One of the things this outgoing generation is going to be remembered for is the rise of the military shooter. When the 360 and PS3 debuted, Call of Duty was known as a PC franchise, Battlefield a cult PC franchise and any actual simulation of combat was considered an odd niche.

Today, Call of Duty and Battlefield are two of the world’s biggest franchises, with a plethora of clones and pretenders chasing their coat-tails, and while Ghost Recon and America’s Army provide their own niche tactical experiences, the ARMA franchise has risen to become the first choice in combat simulation.

insurgency1This leads us to New World Interactive’s Insurgency, and the question of where it stands in this new paradigm. The answer is ‘awkwardly’. On the one hand, its attempt to realistically portray ground combat is providing rare competition to the juggernaut that is ARMA, yet on the other hand the game, a standalone sequel to a Half-Life 2 mod of the same name released in 2007 and still recognizably Source-based, is thoroughly anachronistic in form and nature.

This standalone version, currently part of Steam’s Early Access programme, is as bare-bones as you might expect from a repurposed mod in beta form. Set in various hotspots in Iraq and Afghanistan, it pits squads of players against the titular native resistances in Battlefield-style territory capture matches, in competitive multiplayer and co-op varieties. There is no single-player campaign or, crucially, any form of tutorial or instructional material whatsoever, making for a learning curve so vertical it has its own Night’s Watch.  Slow map-learning and many, many one-shot deaths will ensue, and the newbie may find themselves spending more time in Spectator Mode, waiting for someone to take a checkpoint so they can respawn, than actually playing.

insurgency2Games like this are difficult to review, because they are made to appeal to a very particular type of player who’s looking for a very particular type of experience. There are plenty of players out there who want that realism in their shooters, who prefer true-to-life cautious movement through a space rather than run-n’-gun (Remember kids, Sgt. Apone says “Check Those Corners”!). Most of all, some people don’t want to be bullet sponges, but instead want projectiles to have all the one-time lethality they do in real life.

The problem is, I can see those players gravitating to ARMA with its sophistication and impressive engine, or America’s Army with its rather sinister but undeniably hardcore setup, or even Battlefield for a slightly arcadier tactical fix – not a rejigged, six year old Source mod that isn’t really doing anything all that special nowadays. Simply putting the game up on Early Access doesn’t automatically guarantee a new audience, especially when it does nothing to cater to newcomers. While New World are taking an admirable stance in avoiding the kind of dumbing-down that so often occurs when trying to sell a hardcore game to the public at large, it also drops the new player into its incredibly unforgiving environment and simply says ‘Act like a soldier’ without giving any insight as to how to actually do that. There seems a great opportunity here to train the new player in real-life strategies and techniques used in modern urban combat – how to move, where to be in relation to your squadmates, how to provide effective cover – that is thus far being squandered, and contributes to the feeling that you’re still playing a standalone mod as opposed to a full, legitimate release.

insurgency3Further souring the experience is the frankly terrible enemy AI in co-op, which seems to vacillate between being able to put a bullet in your head from half a mile away the split second you pop it out of cover, to running around like headless chickens in complete and total ignorance of you. Players crouching at a capture point, watching enemies literally run circles round them to be picked off one by one at point-blank range has been an unnervingly common sight, with it occurring in at least a third of the rounds played for review. While there are other less serious bugs at play, such as the odd crash to desktop, it’s the kind of non-gamebreaking stuff you expect from a game in the late beta stage. AI that actually fails to attack you a lot of the time is far more serious however, especially when this thing is still on the Source engine and has six years of mod development behind it.

Rolled in with its apparent determination to only cater to its own audience, it makes it difficult to recommend Insurgency unless you’re already a fan of the mod, or are into this very methodical style of FPS. While there are signs of polish amongst the jank, particularly a nicely handled blurring of the screen denoting suppressing fire that is far more effective than the somewhat garbled attempt at the same mechanic in Battlefield 3, you’re still faced with the prospect of a dated entry in a genre that’s advanced leaps and bounds in recent years. Only specialists need apply.




Out of a Possible 5 Stars