The Crowded World of First-Person Tactical Shooters Gets a Welcome Addition

Insurgency: Sandstorm for PC (available on Steam) is the sequel to Insurgency (2014), and it fills the gaps that are left by games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Don’t get me wrong, those two titles have dominated the playing field for nearly 20 years and for good reason. Personally, I feel both juggernauts are well worth their weight in gold, but they offer a very limited experience when it comes to actual teamwork between random players.

The best part about COD and BAF is that you can be casual; naturally, you will get your ass handed to you, but you can drop in, play, and drop out, all within a few minutes. A precious reprieve enjoyed oh so briefly by those of us who have to care for more than ourselves. Insurgency: Sandstorm pits human players against A.I. controlled “bots” that exhibit a pretty decent amount of warfare intelligence. It creates a type of “Us vs. Them”, and it is glorious fun.

The A.I. is so good that many noobs can’t tell the difference between human controlled players and the bots during their first few games. It is by no means perfect, but I have watched bots coordinate an attack where one uses suppressing fire while two other bots flank the enemy position from either side. It was like watching white blood cells surround a cancer that didn’t belong.

“Make a move.” Screenshot by C. Nicklaus

Using A.I. controlled bots as an adversary is by no means a new trick. I remember playing Counter-Strike with some of the first “bots’’ available through modding. The bots at that time had trouble with patching, tracking, and collision. It was a complete mess and resulted in a turkey shoot at best. Not very entertaining at all. Fast forward to the last 5 years or so, A.I. for these computer-controlled players have evolved their intellectual capacities. It’s frightening, but at the same time, it’s totally and completely awesome.

Sandstorm has all the bells and whistles of a tactical shooter but outshines the competition with its adherence to realism. One mechanic that is absent is regenerating health. Regenerative health shatters the suspension of disbelief in a first-person tactical shooter. I don’t mind the Medic role and his/her ability to resuscitate the dying. That’s fine because it is a realistic situation in combat, and it adds great tension in the battlefield. The issues come into play with a game like Call of Duty, where you are basically a bullet sponge and will only die if you can’t crawl out of the line of fire fast enough. The problem with regenerative health is that it effectively removes fear and consequence from your decisions in combat, which enables players to frolic around the warzone without a real care because, truly, there is none.

“Surprise!” Screenshot by C. Nicklaus

Insurgency: Sandstorm flips this concept on its head. One shot can kill you (Check out the video at 02:50). The tension created by this reality is spread across the 10 players on your team. Random players often report what they see and what they are going to do and when, the fear of certain death forces even the most reclusive gamer to turn their mics on. Random players warn each other and work together almost immediately. I have not seen this kind of unsolicited cooperation in a game. The realism behind the shooting mechanics and the movement of your players also adds to the tension. You are not a super-human capable of parkour escapes and fantastic streak kills. You move with the weight of your equipment, and it is up to you to choose from a wide selection of weapons that will best suit the current map.

Movement mechanics are especially unique and gratifying. You can LEAN in this game. I know that may not sound like a monumental achievement, but too many games forget to add this simple mechanic. The latest COD included this mechanic, but it is executed in an absolutely horrid fashion. It is clunky and unreliable. In Sandstorm, this mechanic can make or break the entire team (01:45). Remaining protected behind cover is a must for surviving nearly all the maps that Insurgency Sandstorm throws at you. How you reload your weapon can also affect your survivability. A standard reload has you replace the current magazine with one in your belt. The old mag is placed back on your belt at the end of your magazine rotation. This takes a few seconds, and it may be too long given your current situation. Double-tapping the reload key will prompt your character to flick their weapon while pressing the magazine release. This sends the current magazine flying out of the magazine while you quickly grab a new magazine from your belt and slap it in.

NWI has also pioneered a pretty interesting 3D spatial sound (00:58) that allows you to hear where enemies are walking or running. You can hear the bots move up and down stairwells or when they reload. Depending on your distance from the origin of these noises, their reverberations are directional. This adds even more realism as your hearing has now become a crucial component to your survival. This is not a foreign concept. It’s alive and well in many other tactical FPS games, but it seems to really shine within the world of Insurgency: Sandstorm.

I wholeheartedly recommend this game as it adds a missing piece to a genre over-saturated with twitchy military shooters that have always seemed a bit incomplete. The learning curve is not steep, and you will quickly find yourself jumping back in for one more round.

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C.A. Ramirez

C.A. Ramirez

A humble scout and scribe, navigating the world as it should be … through blurred vision, open ears, and an unrestricted mind.

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