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Review – Insurgency: Sandstorm

Insurgency: Sandstorm, available now on PC and expected to hit consoles in the new year, is a sequel to Insurgency – a title I played a little of, but never really had the time to give a fair shot. In a way I’m kind of glad, as Sandstorm takes its high-stakes realism to the next level with player advancement and customization to keep gamers coming back.

Jumping over to Insurgency: Sandstorm from a fast-paced shooter like Call of Duty is like getting into a shower after forgetting to turn on the hot water. Even switching over to it from Battlefield can be a jarring experience, with no on-screen reticle, no indicator you’ve hit someone at distance, and little in the way of ‘gamey’ visual feedback at all. The biggest shock to the system is the reload function, which considers how many bullets you have left in the current magazine. Reload too early and you’ll discard precious rounds…

Even the character customization, new to the series, feels like a more realistic version of Call of Duty’s Pick 10 system as it considers total weight – not simply the number of things you can carry. Want to carry more grenades? Go for it, but you need to cut weight elsewhere to do it. Players need to find a balance they’re comfortable with in their loadouts, which can be difficult to nail down.

That need for balance is also reflected in the team makeup, as Sandstorm is all about team-based combat, whether you choose to play in PVP (player versus player) or cooperative modes, so you’ll need to choose your team carefully. There are eight classes to choose from: Commander, Observer, Rifleman, Breacher, Gunner, Demolitions, Advisor, and Marksman, though there are population caps on all but the Rifleman class as well as some synergy requirements. The Commander, for example, is the only class that can call in air support like missile strikes or helicopter gunships, but they can only do that if someone is playing as an Observer to relay the order.

While the visuals are merely competent, with somewhat dull environments that become good enough to get by thanks to great textures and smoke effects, the audio package here is outstanding. From the echoing crack of distant shots to the sound of bullets pinging nearby, this is a stellar game to show off a good audio system or a great set of headphones. When things get quiet it’s even better, ratcheting up the tension as you use the muffled sounds they make to track an enemy combatant on the other side of a door or wall…