New World Interactive have left it late for 2018, releasing Insurgency: Sandstorm today for PC, Mac and Linux, but their game could still manage be one of the high points of the FPS calendar. It manages to be both tightly focussed on a particular style of deadly tactical play, and yet broad enough to offer up a broad selection of contrasting unit types to play as, and with long matches in either multiplayer or co-op.
Prior to release, with the with the game in a pre-order beta phase since the end of last week, we’ve focussed on the co-operative side of the game, with the ruthlessness of the combat making this a much better place to get started. In the vein of Rainbow Six, you will go down in just a couple of hits, and so will your enemies, so unlearning your corner and doorway rushing habits will be key to survival. Instead, you’ll be learning to lean around corners – the game excellently reduces your leaning angle if you start to move at the same time – and cover your angles.
If you’re coming from more mainstream shooters, you’ll also have to unlearn some of your other gaming habits, with a leaning toward realism. So you only have a limited amount of clips of ammunition, as opposed to a set number of bullets, and those clips retain the amount of ammo within them if you reload. Habitual reloaders might find that they’re unexpectedly left with two-thirds empty clips while trying to storm a capture point. That’s practically a death sentence.
Even having played the game back during its alpha stages this summer, and just having come from something that leans toward the tactical like PUBG, there was still an adjustment period. Again, you die very, very quickly here, and while the enemy AI might not be the smartest bunch, they only need a couple bullets to land. With no revives and only one limited way of respawning, that makes getting through to the end of one of the long and gruelling co-op missions particularly challenging.
Set across long, sprawling maps, these see you taking on a string of objectives, whether to capture a point or destroy a weapons cache. The difficulty is that you’re always stepping into the unknown of urban warfare. Around any corner, there could be a prone insurgent or security forces AI tucked into a corner, or lying prone, waiting to ambush you. Sure, they’ll be concentrated around the objective, but they also spread out and come at you.
Even when you reach the objective point, they’ll keep spawning in, sometimes launching a counter attack that forces you to defend the goal and nervously flit from checking one access point to another, other times throwing a helicopter or artillery barrage at you. Thankfully, every time you complete an objective your fallen teammates respawn, but a team wipe or the enemy managing to retake the point will see you sent all the way back to the beginning of the mission.
But while it takes some getting used to, I did start to find my groove alongside a steady group of allies. I also donned my headset and – shock, horror – offered words of encouragement, tips, pointers via the push-to-talk game chat. After stumbling at the first few hurdles two or three times, we managed to push through a war torn city to what felt like one of the final objectives. We still failed in the end, but it showed how quickly you can improve, learn to expect certain behaviours, and start to work better as a team.
Of course, this is really just preparing me for the greater challenge of multiplayer, where a similar style of attack and defence play across different modes, but also brings the different classes to the fore – such as the Commander and Observer duo that can call in artillery barrages – which don’t feel as necessary to the co-op.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is hard, but whether you’re coming from other tactical shooters or having to adapt to something a bit different, it’s a rewarding game. There’s still a major challenge ahead of me, but just from the co-op, I’m already enjoying it.