Full player immersion is clearly the goal sought by New World interactive with their next title, Insurgency: Sandstorm, as this isn't just a war game in a fictional Middle Eastern setting, but also a simulation game. Published by Focus Home Interactive, we had a glimpse of the game at February's "What's Next Focus" event, and recently we got the chance to get back into the fight at the Parisian office just as the pre-launch beta kicks off.
The PvP maps, although limited in number (six in all), are rather big, more so than in any conventional first-person shooter, and for good reason: they're designed to accommodate up to 32 players simultaneously. However, it's disappointing that they look very similar. One can easily get lost in the muddle of buildings that sometimes form real mazes, so much so that one almost expects to be ambushed at any time in these tight places. In some other places though, the map opens up, creating perfect positions for snipers. In short, the pressure on the player mounts as the risk of taking a bullet always weighs heavy.
Indeed, every bit of the gameplay is designed to be lethal. Here there's no health bar or armour; one single shot can take you down. The goal of the developers is to recreate the dynamism of Battlefield combined with the realism of Arma III. Unfortunately, this comes with a downside, as we sometimes felt like playing a simulation game that's too explosive, or a game with a lot of action that's slowed down by its mechanics. New World Interactive is aware of this, but wants to deepen and perfect it to give Insurgency its own identity.
We started playing Insurgency Sandstorm with a co-op game alongside seven other players. We had to advance on a huge map taking possession of strategic points, one by one, while the Insurgent AI had to defend the territory and repel our attack. At first, we would die after a few minutes as we were getting used to the controls and the game, and an added difficulty lies in the respawn mechanic, as you have to wait for one of your teammates to capture the objective to reappear.
To help us in our mission we had at our disposal a very varied arsenal in the shape of dozens of assault and sniper rifles, different grenades, rocket launchers, etc. Unfortunately, even if the range of weapons available is very wide, we had the same sensations regardless of the weapon we used. One thing you have to consider is your ammunition too, as with each of your bullets able to kill an opponent, they're precious and very limited. If you reload before the end of your clip, you lose the remaining ammo, for example, which means that if you're not careful, you tend to end up with a shortage of bullets.
You also have the opportunity to involve your faction in the battlefield. This isn't a deployment of reinforcement on the ground though, but rather something like "death comes from the sky," with a massive barrage on the positions of your opponents. These two skills are the result of two specific classes of the American forces: the commander and the observer. One selects the target, the other gives the order to launch the attack. There are also other classes, but we'll come back to that later.
Cooperation is undoubtedly a major aspect of Insurgency Sandstorm, as communicating with your teammates and teamwork are a prerequisite for surviving on the ground. However, one must know how to limit the use radio communication; at the beginning of our game, the volume of our headphones was a little too low, but once we turned it up, we were literally immersed in the action of the game. This shows that sound design was successful, but sometimes a bit too busy: explosions were sometimes deafening. That being said, the immersion remains, and after all, we are in the midst of a battle.