By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
If you go to our front page and click the “Shooter” tab, what you’re presented with is more flavors of video games than Baskin Robbins has ice cream. You’ve got your Bubblegum Royale, your Sci-Fistachio, the Tom Clancy Caramel Swirl, and of course Battlefield’s Rocky Road. Each of these flavors has their own ingredients that make them distinct from their counterparts, and yet all come from the same basic formula of milk, sugar, and eggs.
When New World Interactive began churning Insurgency: Sandstorm they left out the nuts and marshmallows. They omitted the candy sprinkles and fudge swirl. There was no need for them to add a ton of artificial ingredients, they realized. They could just make the most absolutely, delicious, pure vanilla ice cream, using quality ingredients. I have to say, in my opinion, they did a damn fine job of it.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is a team based first person shooter that takes place in urban environments in the middle east. Storm buildings, drive down roads, and take-and-hold courtyards in objective based matches. Play either in coop matches vs skilled AI opponents who can and will kill you in a single bullet, or go head to head against other players across six different and distinct maps. There’s even a ranked competitive mode, when you feel like you’re ready to add that gourmet chocolate sauce and up your game.
Characters are fairly customizable, especially for a shooter. One amazing thing is that you begin with all weapons and all classes fully unlocked. New World Interactive decided early on that they didn’t want your gameplay experience to be locked behind a paywall, even if it was one that was only earned in game (so far I’ve seen no sign of microtransactions in Insurgency: Sandstorm). You can unlock additional clothing options though using an in game currency that you earn by completing matches. Once you’ve got an appearance you like, you can even save it to a preset, and switch from one to another between matches.
I’m too sexy for this screen… too sexy for this screen…
You can also customize the loadout of each of the game’s 8 classes: commander, observer, rifleman, breacher, gunner, demolitions, advisor, and marksman. The first two of these work in tandem. If an observer is nearby, a commander may utilize their loadout to call in air strikes or artillery support. Riflemen are your basic grunts. There’s no limit to how many of these may be on your team, and this is the only class without that limitation. Breachers are close-fighting specialists, wielding shotguns and sub-machine guns in intense situations. Gunners wield heavy-machine guns which can be deployed on a bipod, and are great for defending an objective when you have to hole in. Demolitions bring the boom with rocket and grenade launchers. Marksmen are your sniper and long range support, while the advisor uses ‘exotic’ weapons.
Not only can you choose which weapons your character will carry into battle, but you can choose how to accessorize individual weapons as well. Find your favorite scope, underbarrel, side barrel, magazine attachments, and more. You will also be allowed to select grenades to bring along, what size backpack, and how armored you wish to be. Choosing a larger backpack may let you carry more grenades and ammo, and heavy armor may offer you more protection, but both will also reduce your speed and maneuverability around the battlefield in very noticeable ways. You also have a limited number of points to spend. Choose carefully!
…there are many like it, but this gun is mine.
My one complaint about this loadout system is that it can only be done during a match, and with so many options to examine I feel I’m letting my team down if I look at them. Thankfully as a workaround I noticed you can load up a “local match”, which is just you, and go in and fiddle with loadouts, save them to a preset, and then leave the game to go back to online play. I don’t find this to be ideal, but it is serviceable.
One thing that I cannot understate is how useful laser pointers are in Insurgency:Sandstorm. The primary reason for this being that you have only the most minimal of HUDs in game. You don’t even have a crosshair. Frankly, I really enjoy this factor because it adds so much to the immersion to have to really slow down and use your scope or iron sights, or whatever imaging enhancement you have, to make your shots count.
And make them count you must, because ammo is far from unlimited. In fact, your magazines are static. If you reload your weapon with 3 bullets left in it, that magazine remains in your inventory, with 3 bullets. You can do a more rapid reload function by tapping the reload key twice, which will drop your current magazine and replace it with a fresh one. This can be an important decision to make at times, and how soon you have access to a supply cache which will let you refill your magazines will be something you want to always be aware of.
I mentioned immersion earlier, and I want to touch on this a little more in depth. First off, make sure you’re using either headphones or stereo speakers when you play this game to get the full benefit of the range of audio. Listening to footsteps running towards a staircase on the floor above you can tell you exactly how much time you’ve got before the shit hits the fan. There is just so much excellent audio quality, as far as proximity and direction of sound, that you’ll be doing yourself a massive disservice if you don’t take advantage of it. Also, if you’ve got a mic, make sure to use it. The game has integrated VOIP and communication is the key to teamwork, and teamwork is one of the major keys to winning in Insurgency:Sandstorm.
I feel like the graphics are… mostly amazing. My biggest complaints with it have to do with thermal and smoke grenades, but these are things that computers may never be able to simulate realistically without some intense fractal programming going down. Be that as it may, it’s not bad, but it’s the one thing where I feel my immersion slipping ever so slightly.
Note: this isn’t me playing. Theoklas carried us most rounds.
The gameplay itself feels really great to me. Hitboxes feel really legitimate, and in a game where your guns don’t have crosshairs, that can be an enormous deal. I love storming the streets with my allies, and kicking in doors. Calling in airstrikes is immensely satisfying, and grenades throw nicely.
All in all it feels very clean for a shooter, and with the controls and settings being as adjustable as they are, it’s likely you can get things to work very well for you. For example, the default for run is shift, and the default crouch is control. In order to run you have to hold shift, and while still holding shift, tap control. This didn’t feel natural to me at all on my keyboard, but after remapping crouch to C it worked okay for me. Also, the lean feature (default Q and E) is extremely useful for finding a shot when behind cover, without exposing your whole self to the world and its many angry bullets.
I feel like New World Interactive did a really great thing here. I hope that my calling this “vanilla” doesn’t put you off, because this isn’t just your run of the mill generic vanilla ice cream. This is handcrafted, slow churned, rich, creamy, sweet, french vanilla dreaminess. This is stripping away everything that a shooter doesn’t need and leaving behind everything you want in a very enjoyable product. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. You can get it now for PC, and it’s coming to consoles early 2019.