In a world that’s full to the brim with FPS games and the market being dominated by yearly multi-million dollar budget releases of Call Of Duty and Battlefield, you need to do something to make you stand out. How about stripping it back? Making every shot count? Hyper realism? Well that’s exactly what New World Interactive’s Insurgency: Sandstorm has done. Every second is gripping, heart pounding and shows the true brutality of war.
With most modern FPS releases, you come to expect a certain amount of content with your purchase; a highly cinematic storyline, monthly updates with new content and a multiplayer mode with dozens of maps and game types. Insurgency: Sandstorm, however, does not do that. And frankly, I love it. It’s a proper bare bones, no storyline shooter where you can play either locally or online across a total of eight multiplayer modes and that’s it. But what this game does with those small number of options is nothing short of fantastic.
To start you can create your avatar which can be decked out with all manner of clothing such as new helmets, shoes, camo style etc. These can all be unlocked with gameplay, through levelling up or acquiring the game’s currency to unlock more; luckily there are no micro transactions to be seen here. You’ll also need to pick your class and your loadout when you spawn in, and it’s here where you have a total of 20 points to use – each weapon, upgrade, explosive and more is graded with a point (better weapon = more points) so you’ll need to be smart in distributing your points to help yourself and your team survive. Trust me, you’ll need every point you can get as Sandstorm is brutal. You’ll also need to pick from one of eight roles in the squad, each of which have their own benefits in helping you win. You’ll start with three which include a rifles fighter, close quarters specialist or someone who uses exotic weapons. From there, you can unlock the rest through in-game XP and levelling up.
The next step in Insurgency: Sandstorm is to pick whether you want to play cooperatively, in which you can fight with online players against enemy AI, or across the Versus mode, against other online players. Modes vary between Co-op and Versus, as does the duration of these games too.
It’s in Co-op where you’ll find more survival modes, requesting you to survive waves of enemies until extraction, or “Checkpoint”, in which you’ll capture and destroy objectives as you move through the map. The AI in these modes work as worthy adversaries – they will flank you, sneak up on you and work together to stop you in your tracks. It genuinely feels like you’re playing in a PvP match, which is the best possible compliment I can give Sandstorm.
Versus mode, the same as Co-op, has four modes to choose from including the classic “Domination” and modes like “Push” where one team will advance to claim one objective at a time while the other team defends. “Frontline” is also present, where you’ll need to reach an enemy’s supply cache and destroy it. This is all played out across 14 maps, ranging from run down citadels, a pristine ministry or a burning refinery. The variety of maps ensures each mode feels enthralling and the game fast turns into tactical masterclasses. In fact, through my time with Insurgency: Sandstorm, whenever I found myself in an open section of the map, my heart felt like it was in my throat.
You will need to work together with every member of your team to succeed and communication is key to victory. This can be through a selection of pre-set phrases you can select to inform your team, or, as you would expect, through a headset. You’ll find yourself in close quarters constantly, bottle-necking enemies to take a checkpoint and overthinking every move you make just so you can just survive another round. And let me tell you, just surviving is hard. You have no HUD, no map to see where other team mates or enemies are, no crosshair on the screen. When you kill an enemy you don’t get a “kill confirmed”, you can’t tell exactly how much ammo you have, just a line on your limited amount of ammo clips showing how far through them you are. Insurgency: Sandstorm is a truly hardcore FPS and the brutality of it is stunning.
Aesthetically, Insurgency looks great – not amazing, but great. Some of the textures feel a little dated and the character avatars are delivered with lighting that is different to their surroundings. For example, their clothes occasionally appeared like they were in shadow, but were actually in broad daylight. The weapons, though, look fantastic and there are definitely enough detail in them to satisfy even the most hardcore of gun-nuts. Unfortunately, there have been times when I’ve aimed down my sight only to see the engravings on my weapon coming across as fuzzy and low quality. It’s never enough to take you out of the immersion that the gameplay brings, but there is a definite difference between this game and a high budget AAA.
It’s in the audio where Insurgency: Sandstorm completely sucked me in. I have NEVER played an FPS where every gun, explosion, ricocheting bullet or booming air strike made me feel like I was actually there, living out this gunfight. Having my ears bombarded by an M16 rattling off bullets, hearing them clank on the ground and taking in a reload with a heavy, metallic, new magazine sounds more real than I have ever experienced. I highly advise playing it with headphones because Insurgency is able to deliver an audio experience that I’ve never had with a Call of Duty or Battlefield. Granted, there have been occasions where guns fail to make any noise what-so-ever, but that’s more than made up for by the other 99.9% of the time that it sounds exceptional.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is a completely immersive experience. The level designs are fantastic, the simple gameplay is executed exquisitely, the level of customisation of characters and loadouts is various and the sound design is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It could be a little neater in terms of visuals, and there are a few sound hiccups, but when something is this good, it’s easy to let that, and the lack of story mode or numerous game modes, slide.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S (Optimised) from the Xbox Store