As online shooters are getting less and less realistic, one game tries to buck the trend with an intense simulation of modern warfare.
It might be the final week before Christmas but in the last few days weve already had one of the best-looking games of the year and now we have one with some of the best sound design weve ever heard. There are a number of interesting elements to Insurgency: Sandstorm, with its back-to-basics, more realistic approach to modern day first person shooters, but the first thing that hits you is the absolutely terrifying sound effects.
Not that wed know from personal experience, but movies have always seemed to give a very unrealistic impression of what it sounds like to be in a warzone. Insurgency: Sandstorm though seems much more like a documentary than it does a movie or video game, and thats clearly entirely intentional.
From the simulated tinnitus to the shouts and screams from nearby people to the short, deadly bursts of gunfire it all sounds worryingly, impressively real. Every artillery shell feels like a nuclear bomb going off, when youre right next to it, and is equally as terrifying. Although the silence, when you have no idea where the enemy is hiding, is even worse…
It would barely have seemed possible a decade or so ago but realistic, modern day first person shooters have very much fallen out of fashion this generation. They still exist, but generally only as low budget titles or fan projects. Insurgency has its roots in a Source engine mod by many of the people behind hardcore Second World War game Red Orchestra, although Sandstorm is at least a little more accessible than that.
Theres nothing particularly arcane about the games controls or set-up and while it does attract more skilled, veteran players than the average online shooter theres little in the game itself that is too off-putting. It has the small maps and close quarters combat of Call Of Duty and the vehicles and sober attitude of Battlefield, although PC classic Counter-Strike feels like just as strong an influence.
As such, teams of security and insurgent fighters are pitted against each other as they use a limited resource of in-game money to purchase sidearms and equipment prior to a match. Sandstorm is less conventional when it comes to classes though, as amongst the usual suspects are unique roles such as commanders and observers – who are able to call in artillery and air support.
Where the game begins to flex its hardcore credentials is in its user interface, with no mini-map or in-game stats to help you know where the enemy is and only the most basic information about your own team. Considering the recent furore over Battlefield V the TTK (time to kill) is ruthlessly short and needless to say theres no recharging health or other artificial aids.
But theres also not any unnecessary gameplay complications in an attempt to increase the realism – which is instead simulated perfectly well by the fact that weak fleshy bodies dont react well to gunfire and that when anyone starts shooting at you most people fall into a blind panic.
Theres certainly something undeniably old-fashioned about Sandstorms approach to multiplayer combat and as ever when anything falls out of the limelight that does make it seem surprisingly refreshing to go back to. The biggest obstacle for less experienced players is probably the punishment for death, which can leave you waiting an unusually long time for a respawn.
It would be wrong to see that as a flaw, but it is certainly disappointing that the promised story campaign was cut simply to make a 2018 release date. Its promised for next year, and will presumably be available at launch for the console versions, but its unfortunate as it wouldve given some welcome context to the battles, as it follows the story of a female Iraqi fighter and her friend.
Hopefully that omission will be forgotten in time, but even as it is now we can see the game earning itself a sizeable cult following. The graphics arent nearly as impressive as the sound but the whole thing works much more reliably than many other, much more high-profile, releases this year.
Sandstorm is notable not just because of the realism but because it creates a very different atmosphere and tempo than the average online shooter. The caution with which seasoned players will creep round the map is more akin to Dark Souls than Call Of Duty and that in itself is interesting. Although the real secret to success in the game is communicating with your team via voice chat and if you dont do that youve almost certainly lost before youve started.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is aimed at a very specific audience and if a realistic, modern day military shooter is what youre looking for it doesnt disappoint. We are curious to see how the campaign works, and how the game will play on consoles – especially without the benefit of a keyboard and mouse – but as an initial release this has to be seen as a success. Even if it is the least Christmassy game of the season.
In Short: The obsessions with realism and old school action dont come at the cost you might imagine, in this tense and well-designed online shooter.
Pros: Incredible sound design and an impressive sense of realism without over-complicating the controls or rules. Emphasis on team-play is heightened by unique class types.
Cons: The game attracts the kind of hardcore player that can make matches very difficult for new players. Unimaginative game modes. The promised story campaign is missing.
Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: New World
Release Date: 12th December 2018 (consoles TBA)
Age Rating: N/A
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