Insurgency Review

  • First Released Jan 22, 2014
  • PC

In the trenches.

Another military online shooter? Don't groan and roll your eyes just yet. Despite being a stand-alone update on a seven-year-old Half-Life 2 mod, Insurgency's freshness runs deeper than its familiar urban warfare settings and "good guys vs. the terrorist infidels" trappings might suggest. This first-person multiplayer killfest pushes cooperative team play in interesting directions, using hyperrealism and a unique team role structure to drive its frenetic team-based firefights. Granted, it's not the slickest-looking shooter, but the dated look of these battlefields melts away as the intense tactical encounters heat up.

Like being shot in real life, it takes only a bullet or two to end your life in Insurgency. This makes getting dropped as you sneak out from cover or dart across an alleyway a jarring experience. Without any sort of map or radar system beyond your current objectives, you never know when you'll be caught in the crosshairs, or whether those bullets will come from the enemy or a trigger-happy comrade who mistook you for one. That alone doesn't make Insurgency's 16-on-16 team matches particularly unique, but the way this welcome realism extends throughout and enhances other aspects of its design certainly does.

When there's smoke, fire is not far behind
When there's smoke, fire is not far behind

Minimal use of HUD elements enhances the excellent tension threaded throughout each match and makes it easier to get sucked into the flow of battle. There's no health meter. No crosshairs for aiming other than your equipped scope or iron sights. No frilly nonsense clogging up the screen. No hand-holding. Resurgence forces you to pay close attention to what's happening around you. Without scouting, proceeding cautiously, and gauging the proximity and direction of nearby gunshots, you're pretty much guaranteed to wind up as toast. The exciting sense of danger this instills is tangible as you move through each map's tangled network of choke points and open areas.

Direct shootouts are a thrill in their own right when you've got a large mass of opposing squad members pressure-cooking an objective zone or a pinned-down group working together to escape alive. Outside of these heavyweight encounters, it's rare that you get to see your attacker until it's too late--at least when you set off on your own. By the time you hear the pow-pow-pow of gunfire and catch a quick flash in your peripheral field of view, you're on the ground bleeding out. Racking up kills requires great skill, and thoughtful teamwork often plays a critical role in how long you stay alive.

This first-person multiplayer killfest pushes cooperative team play in interesting directions.

"Do you think we're overdressed?"

Insurgency's cool squad system is well designed to nudge you toward team cohesion without making it mandatory. You can go lone wolf and try to tackle objectives on your own, but working with your comrades is a far easier way to stay alive and push your squad across the victory line. It's also a lot more fun way to play that way, too. From the many numerous matches I dove into, I found that the online player community is far more engaged and communicative about combat tactics than in some other similar-themed shooters.

Plenty of classes offer distinct loadouts and roles to choose, ranging from assault and heavy support forces to snipers and demolitionists. The twist here is that there are a limited number of slots on a given squad for each class, and everything is on a first-come, first-served basis. You can use limited supply points to customize your class loadout with a few different guns, weapon upgrades, and secondary gear, but these upgrades stick within the wheelhouse of each class type.

Team makeup specifics change depending on the map you're playing and the side you're on, but everyone has a role to play. For example, you might find yourself to be one of the only two snipers in your group or a soldier who has smoke grenades or a particular type of explosive needed to complete a mission. This encourages each team member to step in line or face the wrath of your squadmates. It's not just about playing your part, though; your team can't persevere if everyone is dead.

Sneaky tactics are encouraged.
Sneaky tactics are encouraged.

Most of Insurgency's game modes use permadeath as incentive to play super strategically and minimize the run-and-gun mentality of other shooters. In tactical operations, like Firefight and Search & Destroy, dying once kicks you into a spectator slot. You're stuck on the sidelines until your squad captures an objective zone, which allows you and your dead comrades to respawn as reinforcements. It's another neat wrinkle--one that makes matches feel fresh and entertaining but can also bog down the fun when you're just itching to shoot things. Sustained combat matches, like Skirmish, Strike, and Push, loosen the reins on this mechanic a bit, giving you more ways to earn reinforcements and stay in the action. Not every game mode is readily available on a consistent basis, however, if only because there are not a lot of players gravitating toward certain matches. VIP escort missions and the cooperative humans vs. swarms of AI mode are hard to hop into as a result.

Insurgency's cool squad system is well designed to nudge you toward team cohesion without making it mandatory.

A dozen different Middle Eastern map locales let you fight it out everywhere, from abandoned cities with tight alleyways and lots of structures to open forested mountaintops and snowy villages. Each area is well designed and full of nooks and crannies to use to your tactical advantage, and a handful of nighttime maps also add some nice variety. While the scenery and characters get the job done, they're nowhere as crisp, detailed, or stylized as those in other recent shooters. It can be an initial turnoff if you're used to more visually appealing offerings on the PC, but delving beneath the surface reveals Insurgency's strong team-driven focus and realistic gameplay to be the real gems here.

Intense tactical encounters filled with firefights and flying bodies prove thrilling enough to make it easy to look beyond Insurgency's less impressive visual design. The team dynamic and unique squad system inject something different into the mix too, offering match after match of absorbing cooperative killing that proves good looks aren't everything.

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The Good

  • Unique squad and class system encourages player roles
  • Permadeath and reinforcements mechanic is a neat twist
  • Realistic focus entrenches you in the action

The Bad

  • Getting sidelined too soon for too long stinks
  • It's hard to find matches in some modes

About the Author

First-person shooters and multiplayer pew-pew are in Nathan Meunier's blood. He's been fragging dudes since the early days of home-networked Doom II matches. For this review, he spent more than a dozen hours in match after match of tactical team action.