Insurgency Review

It seems as if modern military themed shooters are a dime a dozen. Call Of Duty 4 turned the series into a nearly guaranteed seller every year. So big a seller, that over the last decade many games have taken that theme. Even games that never competed directly with its mechanics, or action movie narratives. EA’s Battlefield certainly altered itself over the years to compete with it. Other games crashed, and burned in their attempts to clone Activision’s 800 pound gorilla. So here comes an indie game looking to nip at the heels of those big budget war shooters.

PROS: Challenge. Gear mechanics. Stellar map design. Old school tactical mechanics.

CONS: High difficulty. Graphics won’t satisfy those with unreasonable expectations.

MOD SQUAD: This joins the list of video games that started life as mods for popular titles.

The developers started Insurgency as a mod for Half-Life 2. Over time, and setbacks this eventually led to the creation of an entirely new game in Source engine. If it sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is. Many other games in recent memory have followed a similar path. The original Counter-Strike is probably the biggest example, launching not only an entirely new franchise, but the careers of developer Gearbox Software.

Only time will tell if New World Interactive will follow the same trajectory. But Insurgency has the potential to  become a pretty big franchise if this title is any indication. Let’s get one thing out of the way, the entire focus here is multiplayer. There is no story driven campaign of scripted events to really speak of. There is a tutorial that has a little bit of exposition, and context. But it doesn’t go into any deep territory. There’s nothing that will remind you of more serious war movies like Platoon. It just explains that you’ve joined up with some contracted mercenaries who have been hired to fight off terrorists. The game doesn’t reference any groups or nations in order to avoid too much controversy. But just like Call Of Duty, Battlefield, and Counter-Strike you’ll be fighting in environments inspired by real world locations.

While there’s no doubt Insurgency borrows from other games, it seems to take out loans on only the good modes. There are several different modes to choose from in both , competitive, and cooperative styles of game play:

Push is fairly similar to the Rush mode you’ve likely played in any of the last few Battlefield games. There are three objectives on the map for the attacking team to claim, while the defenders have to stop them. If the attacking team succeeds, the defenders are pushed back, until they either successfully hold a position. Or, until they’re pushed back to their final position, and destroyed. There are no nodes to destroy in this mode, but the game mode works largely the same as in BF’s Rush.

Ambush is much like the Escort mode you’ve seen in Team Fortress. There are extraction zones on the map, and one team has to escort an assigned player to one of them. The assigned player has a limited load out to defend themselves. The opposing side wins if they can manage to kill off that specific player before they can make it to an extraction zone.

Firefight, and Skirmish are similar to the Conquest modes you’ve played in Battlefield. The difference between the two is that Skirmish adds a weapon cache to the mix. If destroyed, it deals a blow to the opposing team’s ability to have reinforcement tickets. Firefight replenishes tickets for a team when they capture a node on the map.  In both modes though, capturing all three nodes is essential to keeping the enemy team from being able to replenish tickets.

Strike changes things up from the other modes. By making an attacking team go after weapon caches, while defenders try to stop them. If the defenders can’t stop them they lose. They’ll also lose if they are wiped out while trying to stop the attacking team. It’s a little bit higher on the stress factor than some of the other modes as a result.

Occupy is essentially a king of the hill mode, where both teams try to hold a single position on the map. When your team is holding the position, you don’t have to worry about losing waves of lives. But the second you’re on the losing end, trying to reclaim it you do. So the game goes until time runs out, or until one side is out of lives.

But the game doesn’t end with these modes because there are a few cooperative ways to play as well. The most noteworthy mode is Hunt mode which feels like it was heavily inspired by Rainbow Six 3. In that game teams would enter a map, and plan a way to use stealth to take out computer controlled terrorists. If all of the players failed to do so they lost the game. But if even only one person was left standing at the end, the mission was successful. This mode is very similar except the maps are much larger, being a war game. It can be especially tough when dealing with night versions of the various maps, and ridiculously accurate snipers. But if you can pull it off it feels very rewarding.

The other cooperative modes aren’t quite as fun, but they will still have their fans.  Checkpoint is a lot like Push except you’ll have all of the human players fighting against the computer. In addition to that mode is the Survival mode which is effectively a horde mode. Teams try to survive against waves of computer controlled enemies for as long as humanly possible.

Once you’ve decided what kind of game you want to play you can either use the Source browser list, or you can invite friends into a group, and have the game find, and connect you to a server by itself. Having the game do it is a lot easier, and more convenient. However, it won’t always find you the closest possible server in proximity to everybody. So doing this does mean you’re going to end up on the occasional lag ridden game. Purists will want to use the Source browser to find a server to mitigate this possible problem.

When you do connect to a game you’ll be assigned to one side by default, and it is here you can choose to either switch teams or choose your class. This is where Insurgency really starts to veer away from the path taken by other team based shooters. In most games, you are given a choice of four classes, each with its own weapon tree. Over time you level up, and have access to more weapons, and upgrades for that specific class. Insurgency abandons that formula. Instead of only four classes, there can be several. Classes are dependent on the map in question, as well as the mode that is being played. They are also different in number. So there may only be three openings for say, snipers, one for an engineer, and two for other classes. Another interesting spin is that there are two sub groups in each army rather than squads of four people. Each of these subgroups can have one player lead them.

Once everyone has a class chosen, and the match is about to begin players can then choose their load outs. Each player is given a number of points to use. Each weapon, attachment for a weapon, explosive, armor, pouch, and so forth has a point value. You cannot exceed the number of points given. So you have to really think about what you want to sacrifice. Do you want to beef up your shotgun at the expense of body armor? Would you rather have extra grenades, and a side arm instead of a beefy machine gun? Perhaps you want to extend your life above all else, and you put more of your points toward armor, and pouches, instead of primary weaponry.  It’s a refreshing change from the weapon tree system so many games have used over the past decade. It hearkens back to the days of Rainbow Six where tactical games let you use whatever you wanted so long as you were going to be okay with the trade offs.

Once everyone is settled with their load outs the game will begin. Insurgency makes a lot of use of voice chat. It’s built into the game, and it’s highly recommended you take advantage of it. It’s a lot easier to be able to communicate with everyone than trying to type in the chat box. For those who don’t have a headset, you can still type, just remember you’ll need to find a good spot to hide. The game does allow you to mute individual players too though. So for those times you find you have an abusive or annoying player, you don’t have to listen to them. The game also makes very good use of Valve’s VAC anti-cheat system. It really cuts down on the number of cheaters. No game is cheater free, mind you but it does seem to be one of the better systems in place.

That said, you can expect to die an awful lot in this game. Because it does not hold your hand at all. Many of the things we’ve been trained to expect simply aren’t here. If by some miracle you survive being shot you will not regenerate health. Oh you may cease experiencing blur, but that’s only because they’re no longer shooting at you. One or two more hits from another combatant will probably finish you off. Most of the weapons in this game will put you down in three hits max. If you have the maximum amount of armor you may take a few more, but you’ll also move slower. There are no crosshairs. That’s right. No crosshairs. You’re going to have to really use your eyes, and learn to lead your targets here. You can use iron sights to make aiming slightly easier, but it is also slower. You also won’t always find time to use it when engaging three or four enemies at the same time.

Fortunately, some of the attachments for weapons like foregrips, and scopes can help you. But again, you will have to sacrifice something else in order to use them. The same can be said during night maps, where you’ll want to use night vision goggles in lieu of something else. Suppressive fire is almost as important in Insurgency as scoring frags. One of the cool features the game has to offer is the effect of debris. The game doesn’t have destructible environments, but it does have dust, and particle effects flying off of surfaces when bullets hit them. This can overwhelm people because they can’t quite figure out where they’re being shot upon from. So often times suppressive fire can lead to a retreating enemy, allowing a teammate to get them if you couldn’t. Which leads to another difficulty. Unless a server is equipped to do it, there are no notifications. If you kill someone, you won’t know without checking for a body. There are no kill cams. If you die, you won’t see a spy cam or a replay revealing who took you out. Again, a server may run a program that displays who got the jump on you, but it isn’t going to tell you where.

If all of this sounds frustrating, and difficult, that’s because it is. Very much so. But in a good way. When you think about it, it leads to much more careful plotting, and communication with your team. As opposed to other games where it’s easy to place a spot marker on someone, or consult a mini map to find an objective. In Insurgency you’ll have to pull up a large map, and risk being shot. It’s better to memorize the maps after several plays to remember where objectives are. There’s something really compelling about the ramped up difficulty. Especially if you’ve played a lot of the classic tactical games like Rainbow Six, Counter Strike, or Battlefield 1942. Doing well feels a lot more rewarding here than in many other modern shooters. Even if you do end up feeling frustrated, it’s still fun. You’ll still want to succeed, and you’ll probably want to keep playing until you do.

Insurgency doesn’t have all of the bells, and whistles of a major AAA title. Being a Source game, there are some rough edges here. Simple geometry in some areas. Decidedly, lower quality textures in others. If you’re the type who obsesses over what a game looks like rather than how it plays, you may be a little turned off. Nevertheless, Insurgency is not an ugly game. The game does a pretty respectable job at displaying lights, reflections, and shadows. The parking garage section in the Ministry stage comes pretty close to the look of the one in Battlefield 3: Close Quarters’ Operation 925 stage.  Player models aren’t highly detailed, but are on par with the ones seen in some of the older Call Of Duty games. There are also a decent number of options in the graphics menu. Making this something quite scalable.

As a matter of fact, the game has some of the lowest system requirements compared to many other games that have come out over the past 12 months. The minimum requirements list a Core 2 Duo E6600, (A processor that came out in 2006), a Direct X 9.0c compliant Video Card with 512mb of memory on it ( This version of DX came out around 2004), and 6GB of space on the hard disk. Suffice it to say, if you have a fairly old computer that can’t run most new releases, you may be able to run this. Albeit on the lowest settings.  Which still look surprisingly decent all things considered. Even in the world of independent B games, it’s rare for a new game to run okay on a nearly ten-year old computer. The game also runs on Macintosh, which should please those on Apple boxes.

But Insurgency does have some technical issues that keep it from dethroning the ARMA, Call Of Duty, Counter-Strike, and Battlefield franchises of the world. The worst problem the game has is lag. To be fair, all of those other great games certainly have issues as well. But this is a crucial area for competitive games. Being on par with the others isn’t going to help it climb the mountain. The lag issues aren’t nearly bad enough to make the game unplayable. But there seem to be nights when the hosting servers can’t seem to keep up with the traffic. It’s about as infrequent an occurrence as it is with many of the AAA shooters. But it will annoy you if it does happen during a play session.

The other problem it has comes up very rarely, but it will still infuriate people. Sometimes the game will simply close, and exit to the desktop on its own. You won’t see a box show up explaining that it has crashed. You will just see your desktop as if you had never launched the game. Again, almost every other game it competes against has bugs, glitches or crashes. It’s a shame though because it could be another chance for New World Interactive to have one over on its peers. One can only hope these connection issues, and random crashes are solved soon enough. One thing that is very encouraging, is the fact that NWI has been frequently supporting this game with updates. So hopefully they can iron out these problems.

Insurgency may not have the best in visuals, drivable vehicles, or an action packed campaign with Hollywood set pieces. But it has plenty of modes to keep you busy, a large variety of maps, weapons, and a very good communication software feature. It also has very low system requirements, widening the potential player base. The lack of hand holding is going to be very compelling for those who tire of red splashes, and kill cams. Players looking for a really good team based tactical shooter will really love Insurgency’s many competitive modes. Players who want a great cooperative mode will love the Hunt mode.  If you’re looking for a great shooter, with a ton of replay value you should definitely take a look at this game. So long as you don’t mind average graphics, and a high level of challenge. Insurgency kicks ass, and it will certainly kick yours.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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