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February 2023

Insurgency: Sandstorm

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: New World Interactive
Release Date: Dec. 12, 2018

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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PC Review - 'Insurgency: Sandstorm'

by Chris Barnes on Feb. 21, 2019 @ 2:30 a.m. PST

Insurgency: Sandstorm deploys you into a gritty, visceral combat experience that delivers first-person gunplay as immersive as it gets.

Insurgency: Sandstorm attracts a very specific kind of person and actively pushes out all others. A quick set of questions will quickly confirm whether this game is for you. Do you like games that require manual reload? Do you want that reload to save the magazine with its leftover bullets? Should friendly fire always be on and never be a server setting? All jests and overly, reductive questions aside, if you answered "yes" to all of the above, odds are that you'll enjoy your time with the game — warts and all. Others may find it difficult to overlook some of the technical faults and poor performance before giving the game the old college try.

Set across a number of Middle Eastern-based maps, Sandstorm is an online FPS that features realistic, modern combat. While close-quarters combat is certainly the focal point for each map, there are plenty of long alleyways and open streets for snipers. During my time with the title, I explored all six maps, which can played in both co-op mode and PvP. Despite the fairly small map pool, I never found myself getting tired of them. Considering their size and complexity, I still found new hiding spots and alleyways many hours into playing.

The maps aren't visually stunning, but they all have a sense of character due to the astounding audio and realism. A single bullet can and will drop you cold. Bomb-dropping drones have a buzz that rattles through your speakers while shots fire off in the distance. Reloading can be sped up by tossing your magazine, leaving behind the remaining bullets with it. All of these attentive details make up for a fantastic setting that New World Interactive clearly cares about. Again, those looking for this kind of game should absolutely give Sandstorm a shot. The level of realism and immersion is unparalleled in the competitive, online shooter market.

Players can find three different game modes within Sandstorm. The first is the standard versus mode, which can be played either ranked or unranked and features three different game types that pit two teams of 16 against each other. Players on each team can choose between a number of different soldier classes (commander, gunner, marksman, etc.) Some classes have a limited number of slots, but anyone and everyone can be a generic rifleman if they wish. Beyond this, each class has a number of various weapons to select and customize with various scopes and add-ons.

As I dug deeper into the versus mode, I quickly realized how important some of the classes were. A competent marksman (certainly not me!) can hold down a single lane of the map while others defend other areas. Commanders and observers are two interesting classes that rely on each other to succeed. If an observer remains within close proximity to the commander, then air support can be called in to obliterate the enemy. I enjoyed the combination, but unfortunately, it relies on random online strangers to succeed, and that is always a crapshoot.

As stated, there are three different game types available in versus mode, which somewhat making up for the small map rotation. Push requires the attacking team to capture objective points in a specific order. It's downright foolish to throw yourself out on the frontlines without a smoke grenade and your head on a swivel. The attacking team is only allotted five respawn waves to start the match. Each time an objective is captured, five more respawn waves are allotted. On the flip side, the defending team must successfully hold back the attackers by depleting all of their waves. Unlike the attacking team, defenders start the game with 20 waves and never gain more as the match progresses. Initially, the game mode felt fairly unbalanced because 20 waves versus five felt entirely unfair. Once you find a communicative team and start utilizing all of the different soldier classes properly, the game starts to make a lot more sense.

Firefight is another PvP mode, and it was the standout mode for me. It starts out looking like a battlefield map in which each team holds one or two capture points, while one neutral capture point is located in the center of the map. Similar to Push, teams rely on spawn waves to come back to life. In order to respawn, your team must capture a point. This makes for tense moments in a match, where a single player may be the only one left on the team. If a point can be captured, the team can bask in a moment of glory, knowing it granted every teammate another chance at victory. A victory is earned when one team wipes out another team without giving up any of their own points.

Lastly, there is Skirmish, which requires your team to capture all the enemy points and destroy both of their weapon cache points. The spin in this mode is that point captures grant your enemy another respawn wave. Destroying the weapon caches first prevents the enemy from gaining more respawn waves when points are captured.

If you're looking for something more serious, you can jump into the competitive mode, which is the Firefight mode, but it's limited to five players per team, and they play two-minute rounds for a more intense experience. Defending two points at once means splitting up into teams of two or three, but that guarantees death if you encounter a full team of five. Beyond this, the lower player count frequently leads to lone-player, hail-Mary scenarios, and that is to both the game's advantage and disadvantage. Yes, intense moments occur more often, but that also means I was constantly facing online FPS anxiety. Alas, I can't fault the game for my poor skills, and I found the difficulty curve to be both rewarding and fun. After playing the game for over 14 hours, I certainly showed signs of progression and improvement.

As I put more time into Sandstorm, I gravitated away from the versus mode and toward co-op, which I enjoyed a lot. The co-op mode, similar to the Push versus mode, requires a team of eight players across different classes to capture a single point. Some points require the placement and detonation of explosives before it's considered secure, whereas others require the team to defend it for a couple of minutes while the game sends wave after wave of enemies. Once the point is successfully secured, the team moves on to the next point, and this continues until all points on the map are secure. I gravitated toward the co-op mode because it attracts a much more relaxed community. Yes, all online games attract toxic mic abusers, but Sandstorm takes it to another level. The versus mode requires more tactile teamwork, so open mic communications are a necessity if you expect to win. Regardless, I found myself hitting the "mute all" button at the start of each match — or I tried to hit the "mute all" button, only to find myself hitting it again and again through the match. There's an annoying bug (or perhaps this is just a really bad design choice), where the mute option resets after each capture point switch or match. It can be infuriating to constantly hit the mute button throughout a match just to keep your sanity and stave off hearing loss.

This isn't the only technical setback present in Sandstorm, either. Invisible hands, crosshairs disappearing, and falling through the second floor of a building are all scenarios that players will encounter while playing the game. It's unfortunate because the bugs seriously hinder the immersive realism that New World Interactive has put so much care into creating.

Beyond this, the game seems like a resource hog to run well on the PC, despite somewhat muddy textures. The visuals are decent enough for a modern shooter, but I found myself struggling to get smooth gameplay when playing on an i5 7600k processor paired with a GTX 970. The game's visuals aren't good enough to justify how poorly it runs. Switching over to my beefier i7 rig resulted in a better experience, but even then, the game reared its ugly head and dropped a frame or two depending on the situation on-screen.

Considering the game's $30 price tag and the small-ish size of the developer, I am sympathetic toward some of these issues, but it did hamper my overall enjoyment of the game. Because of this, I'd be worried about the longevity and player pool of the game. While you can play a local, single-player version of the co-op mode, the co-op and versus modes are clearly the bread and butter of the game. If users with top-tier rigs are the only ones who can play the game comfortably, I can see a lot of folks bouncing off the title quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Insurgency: Sandstorm, and whenever the mood strikes for an intense, realistic shooter, this will probably be my game of choice. It isn't as punishing as something like Arma, but it still offers fantastic audio and a brutal TTK that forces the player to slow down, think about their steps, and use all the tools the game puts at their disposal. One can't go into this game hoping for a sleek experience. The technical side of the game is just as gritty as its combat. In the heat of an intense battle, your processor will also put out some heat. Hopefully, New World Interactive can devote some time toward the technical side of things and put as much care into that as it did the audio and gameplay. If the developer can fix those issues, Insurgency: Sandstorm would be one of the better competitive shooters available on Steam.

Score: 7.0/10

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