STAFF REVIEW of Insurgency: Sandstorm (Xbox One)

Monday, October 25, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

Insurgency: Sandstorm Box art The gaming world is full of FPS games, mostly dominated by the annual releases of the big AAA titles of Call of Duty and Battlefield. These games have multi million-dollar budgets, name recognition and people jump into them every year. How does a game break into the market share, stand out and get recognition? Insurgency: Sandstorm has done this by stripping down the game and giving you a straightforward, hyper realistic game.

Insurgency: Sandstorm, developed by New World Interactive and published by Focus Entertainment, launched in 2018 on PC to high reviews and just recently released on console. The biggest change in this installment of the Insurgency series is the exclusion of a campaign mode. Instead, it focuses solely on team-based game types with objectives to secure or destroy. Each game mode has unique features that make it diverse enough from other match types to keep players entertained.

With local play, players have the freedom to test and improve their skills while fighting with an AI team to capture and destroy a series of objectives. It’s a great chance to learn skills, weapons and try out different classes before jumping in with other players. This was a massive benefit for someone like me who doesn’t play a lot of shooting games. The checkpoint mode is intuitive and there's a hardcore difficulty option for advanced players. Practicing in local can help players grow more accustomed to Insurgency: Sandstorm's quick kill time.

Insurgency: Sandstorm doesn’t give you the highly cinematic gameplay of most modern FPS games, and I think it’s the better for it. It’s a very straight forward ‘bare bones’ shooter. Strictly multiplayer focused, there are 8 modes in the game, varying depending on if you play co-op with a team against AI or against other players in PvP. Co-op tends to have more survival type modes than the versus modes though. Most of the modes and map types will be familiar to you if you play FPS games. Outpost was probably one of my favourites. In this mode you fight off waves of enemies with your team. Domination is also really fun if you have a team that wants to work together.

When I first heard how pared down the game was compared to other FPS titles, I wasn’t expecting much, but what they have done is pretty fantastic. You have a multitude of options to create your ideal fighter on both sides of the battle and can save multiple layouts for them as well. One thing missing in my opinion was a female avatar for the Insurgent side, but I’m guessing the developers considered that to be more realistic in the game.

With each side, you’ll also pick a class to play. Each class brings different benefits to the team to help you win. When you start you will only have three classes to choose from, but as you level up you will unlock more. You will have 20 points to put into what perks you want on your player. Every weapon, mod, upgrade and explosive each require a varying number of points. You can change these in the game if they aren’t working for you, and when you die, you’ll respawn with the new loadout. You will need all of your points and wish you had more, as Insurgency: Sandstorm is tough.

There are no microtransactions thankfully, as you earn points while playing the game to unlock additional items and skill points in the game. This is a refreshing take in a world filled with games that ask you for additional money to unlock things early.

Teamwork is paramount in the game, each class brings specific skills and tactics to the battle. If you have a team willing to play together for the objectives and also willing to communicate, your experience can be even better. Communication can either be in game and on mic or with the pre-sets of text you can select from. The game is not without its toxicity, as I experienced the usual boys club mentality in some matches, unfortunately. Thank goodness muting is a feature. I will say, I had a much better experience with Insurgency: Sandstorm than other FPS games, finding teams that were inclusive and willing to help and teach when I had questions. I ran for almost three hours with the same team one day only to realize they were all military and gave some really great perspectives to the game and some valuable advice to a new person on their team.

Insurgency: Sandstorm sets itself apart from some other first-person shooters with more realistic gun mechanics. The guns don't auto-aim or stay positioned in the middle of the screen, and players can go down with a single bullet and TTK (time-to-kill) is quick. Instead of being able to run into the heart of battle, players will need to use caution and strategy in order to best their opponents. Ammo needs to be reloaded manually, which can be slow, and if the magazine is switched when it's low, rather than completely out, then players will lose any bullets that were left in it. I haven’t played a lot of FPS games recently, but I even noticed that weapons were slow to reload. Spending time talking to real military personal and gun enthusiasts, this was far more realistic than other shooting style games.

One thing I did find difficult was knowing where your party members were on your team. While this does encourage you to just look out for each other, it would have been nice to see where your friends were. My partner and I decided to just wear matching bright red shirts to see each other. A dot of a separate colour or name though would have been helpful.

Audio was exceptional in the game; completely immersive. I highly recommend playing with headphones for this reason. Footsteps, reloading, weapons, explosions and vehicles all have crisp and clean audio. Depending on your headphones, directional audio was easy to pinpoint, and you could even hear bullets ricocheting off walls and vehicles.

While new match types and more realistic gun mechanics are welcome additions, some of the standard controls are counterintuitive and slow down the game. This game really felt like it was made for PC, and they didn’t make quite enough changes for it to transfer to console controller. Luckily, there's a quick fix in the menu for alternative controller layouts which are closer to genre standards. For players that want to experience the game as it was intended, there is also a comprehensive tutorial and lesson guide that explains everything the game has to offer.

Insurgency: Sandstorm isn’t the prettiest game I’ve played, graphics could be crisper and cleaner, but it’s raw and gritty. As someone who isn’t as comfortable with PvP gaming, my reflexes can’t keep up anymore, though I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Insurgency: Sandstorm. Co-op play with a team against AI was a much more pleasant experience than I anticipated and actually found myself wanting to play more than expected.

*Insurgency: Sandstorm was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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