Bravo Six, Going Dark
Insurgency: Sandstorm’s latest free update provided the perfect platform for me to spend my Saturday night diving back into the game. Yes, it may not have been glamorous, but after two hours I was already getting that all too familiar feeling of grief as I expertly navigated a corner only to be met by a volley of bullets.
The aptly named ‘Operation Nightfall’ update brings darkness to the war zone. Each map in the game receives a special night variant that is available in the co-op game modes. You’re also given the right tools for the task with new night vision goggles, infrared scopes and flashlights to help light up your surroundings. Five new weapons have also been included to the arsenal, with the pick of the bunch being the AS Val and Honey Badger assault rifles. Lastly, a few new pieces of cosmetic gear have also been added to the game. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, you might be asking yourself some basic questions like ‘is this game worth the price tag?’ or ‘should I take a break from Modern Warfare to try this out?’. Without further ado, I’m going to tackle these hard-hitting questions with my review of Insurgency Sandstorm.
I believe the most important part about Insurgency Sandstorm is understanding what type of shooter this is. This game is not Call of Duty. If you attempt to play it with reckless abandon, running and gunning from one end of the map to the other, you’re going to end up spectating. A lot. At its core, Insurgency is a team-based tactical shooter that rewards good teamwork and precision. You’ll need to check every corner and make every shot count. There’s no snazzy pop up on your screen when you get a kill. There’s no XP meter telling you how close you are to your next unlock. Instead, the only way you’ll confirm an enemy is dead is by seeing their lifeless corpse with your own eyes. This has the effect of making every decision an important one. The difference between life and death can be reloading at the wrong time or forgetting to check a corner. When death does arrive, there’s no death cam to look at; instead, you’re met with the view of your own twitching body. This game can be brutal and it knows it.
Piggybacking off the above points, teamwork is essential to ensuring success in this game. Having a good team that makes use of the different roles in the game is key to pushing an objective. Every ‘class’ in this game comes equipped with its own specific style of weaponry, and there’s often a limited amount of these classes available per team. Need to clear an area with explosives? The demolition class has all your explosive needs. More of a close quarters shooter? the breacher class has all the SMGs and shotguns you need. All the classes full? you can always choose ol’ reliable and stick with the rifleman class for a more well-rounded playstyle. Once you gain the necessary experience, you may also wish to dabble with the harder classes such as the commander class, an all-seeing team leader who can use binoculars to call in aerial support and mortars. To successfully finish co-op missions or win in PvP matches, you will need everyone performing in their given roles. Fail to do so and you’ll be staring at the post-match accolades and wondering what could’ve been.
Okay, so you have a squad ready. Bobby from accounting is going to be playing commander. What now? Should you choose to play co-op, you’ll need to gather your squad of hateful eight and drop into a map. Once you load in you’ll be given a chance to customize your loadout with a point system. You’ll be given a maximum of fifteen points and every weapon or attachment you take will spend some of these points. This design choice is quite interesting as it makes you weigh up every decision you make. Do you go for heavier armor or do you take a suppressor on your gun? Once you pick your poison you’ll need to tackle a series of mission-based objectives such as capturing a point or destroying a cache. Mixed into the equation is some challenging enemy AI that is not afraid to end your life with a small hail of bullets. The AI intelligence swings wildly from Stormtroopers who wouldn’t hit a barn door to the relentless killing machines you might expect to find in Escape from Tarkov.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the PvP game modes. This includes the bog-standard single life game modes you might expect from other modern shooters to the more interesting objective-based respawn systems found in modes such as ‘firefight’, which involves three territorial objectives with your team only respawning when an objective is captured. Fans of Battlefield may also enjoy the ‘frontlines’ mode which is strikingly similar to breakthrough from the Battlefield games. Furthermore, the game also contains a ranked mode should you wish to test your skills against players of similar skill levels. A robust community server selection means finding your favourite mode is never too arduous a task.
Now we reach the meat of any FPS game. The gameplay. Thankfully, Insurgency feels great in this regard. A short TTK leads to frantic and tense gunfights. There’s a variety of different weapons and attachments and every gun feels different with its own recoil pattern and distinct visuals. The movement system is fluid, combining some modern FPS staples such as proning and leaning to add more choice over where and how you position yourself. Vaulting through windows is simple and intuitive. The servers run at 60 tick rate and the netcode seems quite good. The sound design is also excellent, with directional audio providing enough information so you can know when an enemy is just around a wall. One point about Insurgency that does often go under the radar is that it does contain vehicles. However, the land vehicles often serve as moving coffins, as they are very susceptible to gunfire. As such, they are often underused in many of the maps.
Now it is time for the elephant in the room, the optimization. This can be hit or miss for many people. Full disclosure, I tried this game for a few hours when it initially came out back in 2018 but was put off by the poor optimization, with constant stuttering being the norm. This was widely reported at the time and many people were plagued by a myriad of issues. Going back into it nearly two years later, I can appreciate the work the developers have put in to fix most of these issues. My time with the game was a lot smoother, with far less stuttering or freezing. But as always, your mileage may vary. For any of the optimization faults with the game, the developers have been by large quite responsive to these issues and patches are deployed frequently.
Nearly two years has past since release and Insurgency: Sandstorm remains a tight and tactical shooter. Definitely recommend this if you have a group of friends to play with. The co-op missions can be frantic and tense. The latest update adds another layer to an already exciting game. The current price point of $19.99 on sale makes this an easy buy if you’re looking for an alternative to some of the other modern FPS games on the market.