The first Insurgency title, which released on PC back in 2014, was made using Valve's Source Engine. Today, New World Interactive has opted for the Unreal Engine 4 to develop Insurgency: Sandstorm, a title expected to land sometime this year. This modernisation has notably improved the graphics and scenery, but the ballistics simulation and the size of the maps have also been positively affected by the change. This update means that the game is also set to be released on PS4 and Xbox One, and the devs at New World Interactive are no doubt hoping that the higher level of polish will further enhance its competitive prospects. After a short presentation during the What's Next event, held in Paris by Focus Home Interactive, we had a chance to play it for a few minutes, and we have to say that we liked what we saw.
Sitting halfway between an arcade FPS like Battlefield and a simulation game like Arma, we find Insurgency: Sandstorm and it's simple yet hard-edged appeal. By that we mean that it offers deadly and particularly immersive gameplay, uncomplicated by many of the trappings we've seen in other titles. Indeed, in this promising first-person shooter, there's no health bar or regeneration, and a single bullet can easily put an end to your life.
You have access to a large arsenal to achieve your goals, most of which focus on capturing objectives and dominating the map, as well as an exhaustive list of accessories that can really help you in a pinch. For instance, there are several different rifle sights on offer, so you can pick the one most suited to your style/taste. In the game you can, when certain classes team up, call in air or artillery support, and there's nothing like ordering a small bombardment over your opponents to create some chaos on the battlefield.
The controls are simple and if you know your way around the genre then you'll feel instantly at home. You can switch between your different options while in battle: a rifle, a handgun, and a knife for close combat. Considering the lethality of the weapons in the game, you're probably not going to get too close to your enemies, so you might not use the knife all that much. The most useful action is undoubtedly the fact that you can lean slightly to the side, hence shooting while staying in cover. Leaning out of safety to dispatch enemies makes it feel like playing a simpler version of Rainbow Six: Siege, albeit without the destructible elements.
Like its predecessors, Insurgency: Sandstorm focuses on teamwork. Indeed, if a bullet can kill you, it is nice to know that your teammates can cover your back too. Cooperation is a key factor in moving forward and achieving your goals. In the game mode we played, we had to wait until our teammates captured the point to respawn in it. Working in tandem with the other players on your team really puts you in the moment and dials up the atmosphere, but there are also tactical reasons for sticking together, whether that means using some of the light vehicles being added in Sandstorm, or calling in airstrikes with the aid of class-specific teammates.
The in-game atmosphere is heavy, the tension constant. This is reinforced by the improvements that have been made to the audio system. If you have a decent headset, you'll jump every time a bullet whistles past your ear. The noise of bullets impacting on walls is nothing short of stressful, to the point that moving between cover becomes a nerve-racking experience, helped no doubt by location-based audio to really ground you in the environment. The minimalist interface also contributes to the immersion, which we think is an indisputable success and should help the series make a smooth transition from PC to console.
That said, we missed the inclusion of a killcam, and if you too find it annoying to die without knowing why, you might miss it as well. There were several occasions during our hands-on time that we would have appreciated seeing the angle with which our opponent had been able to aim around our cover. In terms of graphics, everything looks solid, but it's not exactly spectacular either, and the visuals aren't that much better than those in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, for example. That said, the beautiful animations of the explosions and the convincing gestures of the characters in-game are to be commended. And don't expect to find Team Deathmatch here, as the game modes are always exclusively goal-oriented, even if they are quite varied.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is leaving behind its PC-only roots and New World Interactive will no doubt be hoping for a similarly enthusiastic reception from the console crowd when they take their first steps on PS4 and Xbox One later this year. When the game does land, it's going to do so without any single-player campaign, with the studio instead opting to focus on the multiplayer side of things. Maybe they'll revisit the abandoned solo content in the future, but we're not banking on it. If the studio can deliver an experience more polished and immersive than the one we've already seen on PC, that decision may well prove a wise one.