There's no line of work more stable than space marine. The ubiquitous occupation is never at a want for intergalactic battles, and their eternal struggle is realized once more in Section 8: Prejudice. But just because you've waged similar battles in your first-person shooting history doesn't mean you should turn up your nose at this high-flying entry. Prejudice builds upon the already solid foundation of Section 8 to create an expansive and intense adventure that offers a lot more content than you would expect from a PlayStation Network game. A full-fledged single-player campaign is the biggest addition to the franchise, and it provides enough challenge and variety to lure even seasoned veterans into the fold. The competitive multiplayer hasn't seen as much improvement, but there's no denying the fun of gunning down a feeble trooper while you're stomping around in an oversized mech. Prejudice doesn't offer any significant additions to the genre and lacks the narrative punch to invest you in this universe, but it rises above small quibbles to offer a consistently enjoyable experience no matter which mode you play.
There is a story that revolves around the inherent prejudice space marines have to deal with, but its underdeveloped characters make it difficult to care about the high-stakes events. It's the gameplay in Prejudice that's worth caring about. On the surface, Prejudice looks like a cheap Halo knockoff. The bulky armor your fellow soldiers wear gives off a serious Master Chief vibe, and the rock-formation paths that make up most of the single- and multiplayer levels look like they could have been created in a Forge editor. But once that aesthetic familiarity wears off, you're treated to a shooter that has its own identity. You have a rocket pack with a limited fuel supply strapped to your back at all times, and smartly using this in both your offensive rushes and defensive scrambles adds a tactical layer to the run-and-gun proceedings. To counter your soaring opponents, you can lock on to them with a click of a button, but this ability can be used only periodically. Because your most powerful tools have to be used sparingly, you are forced to carefully think about your plan of action rather than rush in willy-nilly. It's a nice balance that makes it feel as if you're making strides with every hour you sink in.
Which weapons you use requires just as much thought. There are seven types available, ranging from long-range sniper rifles to explosive rocket launchers, and you can carry only two at a time. This is a fairly standard way to distribute weapons, but Prejudice makes things a bit more interesting. You choose what types of bullets you want to use as well and equipping yourself wisely can mean the difference between life and death. For instance, crash rounds are great against vehicles whereas slugs dish out high armor damage. There are also tools you need to concern yourself with. These include a repair wrench (for vehicles, structures, and fellow soldiers), grenades, and a knife. Melee attacks aren't standard in Prejudice. If you decide to equip something other than your knife, you can't attack with a close-range swipe, so you need to make sure you plan your line of attack before you enter battle. With so many different strategies, you need to play a few hours to wrap your head around how all of your weapons work together, and you even unlock more ammo types as you get deeper into the game.
It's a shame the controls can't quite live up to the vast array of abilities you have to play around with. That's not to say that it's difficult to move or shoot, but it's not nearly as smooth as the best games in the genre. This is immediately apparent when you first try to fire at a moving enemy. Your reticle is sluggish by default, and even when you tweak the sensitivity, it still doesn't glide as smoothly as you'd like. In battle, this means the difference between killing your foe in 20 shots rather than 10, and that can be frustrating in a heated fight. The lock-on feature helps alleviate this slightly, but you can't rely on that crutch all the time. The tank and mech feel much better than they did in the first Section 8, but they often put you at a competitive disadvantage. These monstrous machines get stuck on geological formations too easily, and because the camera zooms out to a third-person perspective when you're piloting them, your perspective is sometimes obscured by buildings, enemies, and natural landmarks. On the other hand, the hovercraft is a blast to pilot and quite powerful, which instantly makes it the most formidable vehicle in your fleet.
You have plenty of time to come to grips with your vast supply of weapons and vehicles in the lengthy single-player campaign. Unlike the original Section 8, which simply reused the multiplayer maps, this is a from-scratch adventure that does a fine job of mixing up your objectives to keep things fresh. In one section, you may have to storm a battlefield occupied by an evil force. Turrets and missile launchers track your every movement, sniper riflemen keep you on your toes, and grenadiers ensure you don't stay in one spot. Surviving an encounter with entrenched enemies intent on seeing you dead is an exhilarating rush, and because there are so many different ways to attack, you're free to use whatever strategy you deem best. At another time, you may be the occupying force trying to hold back an invading army, and it's just as much fun when the roles are reversed. You plant turrets where you want and call in supply terminals so you can reequip yourself on the fly, and you can even order up a mech suit if you feel like making people quake.
Prejudice doesn't limit itself to wide-open battlefields either. Certain sections force you to fight in narrow confines, and though this lacks the freedom of the large-scale battles, it's a welcome change in pacing nonetheless. It's in these sections that the difficulty ramps up, forcing you to rely on your raw killing ability to stay alive. Enemies are fast and relentless in Prejudice, and if you fall asleep for a second, you could find yourself surrounded by a group of rocket-toting toughs. The challenge is usually welcome, but there are a few sections that border on frustrating. Like you, enemies are sometimes equipped with a healing wrench, and when you have to take on a battalion of healers at once, it can definitely try your patience. They have a knack for repeatedly healing their friends whenever you chip away at their shields, and this cycle can be tricky to triumph against, especially when your own allies are hanging well back of the action. These odd difficulty spikes appear only a couple of times throughout the adventure, but they can halt your progress in a hurry.
Once you fight your way through the roughly 7-hour single-player campaign, it's time to turn your sights to the multiplayer endeavors. In Conquest, two teams (up to 32 players, with bots filling in vacant spots) try to earn 1,000 points first. You do this by capturing control points, killing enemies, and completing mini objectives. These side objectives are what turn this from a ho-hum game of "capture the outpost" into a volatile game of tug-of-war. Dynamic Combat Missions (DCMs) crop up in the middle of battles and shift your focus to impromptu events. These include missions such as protecting (or killing) a VIP, collecting intelligence from the other team's base, and securing a jammer. You earn big points for completing (or thwarting) one of these goals, so you need to keep your eyes on the HUD to know what needs to be done and where. These missions are entirely optional, so if you'd rather protect your home base or just kill your foes, you're free to do so, or you can run around healing everything that limps if that's your bag. There are tons of ways to be a productive member of your team, and it's a lot of fun to mix up your tactics and lend a hand wherever it's needed.
There are two additional modes in Prejudice that present a more focused experience than what Conquest offers. Assault pits two teams against each other in a quest to grab control points, with each squad alternating between offense and defense. Time is of the essence, so careful planning and smooth execution are paramount to success. Skirmish mode shifts your sights away from the control points. Here, you earn victory points the old-fashioned way--by killing. Dynamic Combat Missions return from Conquest mode, so you can help your team in other ways than just gunning down fools. These streamlined modes are less intimidating to jump into than the full-blown Conquest mode, but their narrow focus takes away some of the frantic appeal of their big brother. In the Xbox 360 and PC versions of Section 8: Prejudice, these were gradually unlocked after the main games were released. But for PlayStation 3 owners, these are available from the get-go.
New in Prejudice is Swarm. This is a cooperative mode that pits four friends against a never-ending horde of enemy attackers. You have to protect your base at all costs, and you have free rein to plant turrets and call in vehicles to help you hold back the flood. Swarm isn't nearly as exciting as the ever-changing Conquest mode, but it does add a bit more variety to this already expansive package. Organizing your tactic with a group of friends can be a lot of fun, especially when you get a couple of people patrolling around the outside of your base with hovercycles while the other two fire rocket blasts from above. Unfortunately, there are only a few different maps in Swarm, so the enjoyment is short-lived. You can bump up the difficulty level once you master the terrain, but it's not quite enough to give this mode legs. However, it's a worthy addition to the franchise and a good chance to team up with some pals to tear down a computer-controlled army.
There isn't much that Prejudice doesn't do well. Just about every element of Section 8 has been improved in some way, resulting in a refined shooter that never fails to entertain. Even though the core mechanics are solid and the weapons are varied, Prejudice lacks the creative spark that could have made this something special. The expansive campaign does a fine job of mixing up your objective types, but it doesn't do anything you haven't seen before. It's fun while it lasts, but you'll be hard pressed to remember anything specific that occurred when the ending credits roll. And the competitive offering is guilty of the same problem. Prejudice won't change the way you play shooters, but it's still a really enjoyable game, and at $14.99, it's a great value.
Editor's Note: Shortly after it was published, this review was updated to acknowledge the Assault and Skirmish modes that, while not originally included with the X360 and PC versions of the game, are available from the outset on PS3.