Step away from the fast-paced, explosive action of Call of Duty and Battlefield and there’s plenty of space for developers to explore with more realistic styles of game. There’s everything from ARMA III’s ultra realism, to PUBG and other pseudo realistic Battle Royales, or more tactical shooters like Rainbow Six Siege. Within that sphere, New World Interactive are hoping that they can continue to grow their own niche with their upcoming game Insurgency: Sandstorm. This is a fairly hardcore, realistic tactical shooter, but one that treads its own path and maybe offers something a bit different to the mainstream.
In truth, they’ve been doing this for an awfully long time, with the studio having been running for eight years and with a few games already under their belt. They’ve grown from being a team of modders that collected around Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat, a total conversion mod for Valve’s Source engine, formally founding the studio in 2010 and releasing Insurgency as a standalone game in 2014. Last year saw them take a detour via the release of Day of Infamy (itself a standalone version of a WW2 mod for Insurgency), but now they’re back to the modern era with Insurgency: Sandstorm. For the first time, they’re working with Unreal 4 and not Source, and they’ll also be bringing their game to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next year.
There’s a great blend of pace and tactical play that puts this firmly on the more realistic end of the FPS spectrum, but it doesn’t necessarily feel it. The first thing to be aware of is the time to kill. Depending on the amount of armour they’re wearing, just one or two bullets will take someone down, immediately shifting the style of play toward the more tactical shooter genre. Situational awareness is vital because of this, as is thinking ahead and keeping an eye on your magazines when reloading – that half empty mag will go back on your belt for later use. Maybe you can get away with a little spray and pray luck every once in a while, but you really will be praying with no crosshair when not aiming down sights!
The ability to lean and move is quite remarkably nuanced here, with varying degrees and angle dependent on whether you’re stood, crouched, and if you’re moving or not. There’s even a slight context sensitivity when close to cover that will pull the gun up and out of the way. Importantly for a tactical style of shooter, that helps to make it not feel overpowered. It’s still indispensable for looking round corners, whether attacking or defending, but doing so while moving slows you down quite noticeably and doesn’t lean you as far, lessening the advantage it can give from lowering you profile.
We started off with the game’s co-operative mode (a damn good thing, if you ask me) pitting eight human players against a scenario that sees you moving through and taking objectives across a map, sometimes having to destroy an objective with remote explosives or having to fight off a counter attack. It took us several attempts as we got used to the game and there were more than a few hairy moments when it came down to one or two of us remaining, but we finally made it through to the end and a successful operation.
There’s a wonderful tension leant to this mode by the manner in which Insurgency handles deaths, reviving and respawns. It has lots of them, none of them, and only some of them, respectively. There’s no medic class in the roster and no way to pick up and patch up an ally, meaning that when you’re dead, you’re dead, but you can respawn under certain conditions. For the co-op mode you’ll return to battle if the rest of your team manage to capture the checkpoint, heaping pressure on as your numbers dwindle, while in Push, the main 16v16 multiplayer mode, gives each team a certain number of respawn waves to try and persist with as one side attacks and the other defends.
You’ve got several classes to choose from, each with different weapons in their potential load outs, and a clear divide between what the insurgents and security forces can equip. Most of these classes are limited in number across the team, while others bounce off each other and have to work together. The Commander and Observer, for example, team up for powerful off map attacks, on the level of score streaks from Call of Duty – I’m talking helicopter strikes, artillery, poison gas and the like. They’re kept in check by having limited uses and cooldowns, not to mention needing to have the Commander stick their neck out with binoculars, while having an Observer nearby to relay the command. It’s just one of several interesting twists to the classes in the game.
There’s tons of customisation in the loadouts, picking from a set of main weapons for that class and then attaching different optics, barrels, grenades, levels of armour, and so on. You have 15 points to spend, with all of these things weighted. What isn’t weighted is the visual customisation, where you’ve got tons of freedom over character model, headgear, camo patterns and clothing. I did ask about blue face paint and prosthetics, but no dice I’m afraid.
So far, so familiar for fans of the studio’s previous work, but what’s new is the Firefight game mode, which has been geared toward competitive multiplayer in response to the community’s requests. It’s a nifty little mode that stands out from competitive modes in other games, deciding to take Insurgency’s style and strip it back instead of lifting another game’s form. It even makes it more minimalist in its style with just three classes to choose from.
It’s round based with a trio of control points on the map, where whoever holds the most points as the timer runs out or can eliminate the entire opposite team wins the round. However, every time someone captures a point, it respawns all their fallen comrades. It forces you actually think about map control and encourages the risky sneaky play that gives the last man standing a chance to bring their team back from the brink, even against seemingly overwhelming odds.
Having not played Insurgency or Day of Infamy, Insurgency: Sandstorm is a wonderful surprise for me. New World’s focus right now is on the PC version of the game, which is out on 19th September and is geared to the large base of players that enjoyed the first game and mod, but there’s also a big market out there on consoles that they will tackle in 2019, with Unreal 4 hopefully helping them to smooth the jump.
The shooter market is getting really interesting once again. There’s historical shooters coming back in vogue, a step away from the double jumping science fiction of 2013 through 2016, and yet nobody’s really doing modern day shooters at the moment. Thematically that helps Insurgency carve out a niche for itself alongside a blend of gameplay that’s certainly hardcore, but feels fun and relatively accessible despite this. Whether you play on PC or console, this is one to keep an eye on for fans of more grounded shooters.
If Insurgency: Sandstorm has you intrigued, you can pick up the first game for free right now on Steam. Until 6PM BST on 15th August, it is free to download and keep.