Playing Insurgency, I feel like a tourist on an alien world. Everyone around me is tucking into the same brown dish for every meal of every day and are loving it, so I’m hesitant to point out that it tastes like dirt and grit. Sure, there is the odd mouthful of spice, but the effort getting there could be better spent elsewhere.
I usually kick off with a synopsis of the game’s plot, but Insurgency doesn’t have one, being a multiplayer-only title. The game’s maps are set across a number of Middle-Eastern countries, in which the Special Forces and Insurgents fail to get on round after round. To their credit, each location looks authentic and fleshed out, although not distinctive; I don’t see any of Insurgency’s maps entering the FPS Hall of Fame. I expected to find abandoned buildings, burnt out cars and sandbags, and that’s exactly what I got. They’re perfectly fine, but crying out for something more.
Insurgency does away with the fully customized load-outs particular to Call of Duty or Battlefield, carefully honed to exploit the game’s mechanics. Instead, it has a system that’s more restricted, and tighter for it. Hop into a game, you pick your team and your class. Each side has different classes, which lets Insurgency boast it has asymmetrical gameplay, but they come across as arbitrary. What’s the difference between Support and Machine Gunner, or Sniper and Designated Marksman? Once you’ve picked a class, you’re able to customize your load-out via the intuitive, if clunky, interface. You’re allocated a number of points, and each weapon, attachment and piece of equipment has a cost. The customization is well executed, allowing for freedom, but not so much it goes off the rails.
Getting into the fight, there’s a few elements that have to be adjusted to. First, the HUD has been cut away almost completely, leaving only objective and team-mate markers, and a tiny box indicating your gun’s firing mode. Second, there is no auto-reload, so get used to the click-click-click of a gun with an empty magazine in the middle of a fire-fight. Third, there’s no indication that you’ve taken an enemy down except using your own two eyes. They might have gone down in that hail of bullets, but they could be hiding behind that car, just waiting for me to let my guard down. All of this contributes to make Insurgency one of the most realistic shooters this side of the Arma games. Stalking through a building can be incredibly tense, knowing that it could all end at any moment, but since just a couple of shots will put you out of the game for potentially a minute or more, there’s certainly a problem with flow.
The saying goes that hell is other people, which is a problem as Insurgency is multiplayer-only. Whilst small, the community playing the game seem dedicated and play well, communicating about which objective needs defending and so on. However, I did come across a few outliers, who were perfectly happy camping behind a doorway to an objective I had to destroy. An effective tactic certainly, for killing me and my fun. I had better luck in the Player vs. AI mode, which sees players team up to complete objectives as they’re assaulted by AI controlled bots. This was definitely my favourite part of the game, as the AI don’t use underhanded camping tactics, but actually provide an interesting challenge. They throw smoke grenades to cover their movements, pin you down with gunfire and their greater numbers, making you rely on your team to get through the fight. When you’re working together, those other people aren’t so bad. I have to ask though, how much mileage can you get from replaying the same game over and over?
Insurgency won’t set the world on fire, but it’s probably not trying to. It’s a niche game for a niche audience; if you want a realistic, tactical, multiplayer shooter, Insurgency will deliver. Keep in mind though, that’s all it will do; functional but bland.