Intense firefights elevate this tactical multiplayer shooter above its drab visuals and generic subject matter
While multiplayer shooters are in great abundance these days, the small scale, squad based tactical shooter has been MIA for some time. The series filling this niche that rose and fell in the late 90's and early 2000's like Rainbow Six, SOCOM and Ghost Recon changed with the times, leaving in their wake a demand for a style of gameplay that is largely absent from the impressive yet largely samey environment of competitive online shooters today. Insurgency looks to fill this gap by taking the lethality and realism of games like Red Orchestra or Arma and distilling it down to the most basic components in maps and modes that wouldn't feel alien to a Counter-strike player. Make no mistake though, while it may look like a Counter-strike clone at a glance, Insurgency feels more like the tactical shooters of old, making it a surprisingly fresh experience if you look past some lag issues, frustrating spawn camping and drab environs.
Dusty Middle-Eastern towns make their grand return here
Even though Insurgency may share the lethality of its realistic FPS brethren, it is not nearly as complex and as a result is far more accessible. While there is a training mission you can complete, the controls, game modes and user interface are intuitive enough that you can probably skip it and jump right into co-operative or competitive multiplayer matches. This is fortunate since the training mission also happens to be broken at the moment; I was unable to proceed past the grenade training due to a scripting error. While the particulars of each mode vary, they all boil down to creeping around the map with your team, checking corners, and engaging in frantic firefights that tend to conclude in seconds.
Ultimately, the six game modes are broken up into two categories. Tactical Operations is the first option, and these force players to capture objectives in order to let their team mates respawn. Firefight is the centerpiece tactical operation mode, with both teams vying for control of three points. If you die, you remain dead until your team captures a point. This is a great mode since it is fantastically tense, but it also means you don't stay dead for too long; either your team captures an objective and you respawn, or your team loses and you stat the next round. If you find yourself as one of the last players alive, the tension could be cut with a knife as you try desperately to capture an objective so your team mates can come to your rescue.
3D optics add an immersive layer to ranged engagements
Search and Destroy is the second tactical mode, and sees one team defending a couple of weapon caches while the other team tries to destroy them. The attacking team doesn't know the exact location of the weapons caches however, and must investigate several possible sites. Both teams respawn when a weapons cache is destroyed. VIP escort is probably the weakest mode, as one member of a team is randomly selected to be the VIP. The rest of the team must escort the VIP to a safe zone. These tend to be messy affairs in public servers, with the attacking team rarely winning. While spawn areas are protected in all modes, it is possible to camp right outside, which can result in some extremely frustrating deaths that occur right as you are leaving the spawn area.
The second set of modes largely mirror the first set, but with each team getting a set number of reinforcement waves. New waves can be acquired by completing objectives, and denying the enemy from capturing objectives to prevent them from gaining additional reinforcements is just as important as capturing objectives yourself. Push is the only unique mode here, where one team must capture a series of objectives while the other team defends. These "sustained combat" modes tend to have longer rounds with more action, but aren't quite as tense as the Tactical Operations since you have more respawns. There is also a cooperative mode where you and a handful of team mates attempt to wrestle control of a series of points from some bots, although their clunky AI results in a more subdued experience than you get in online play.
Protecting weapons caches is key for victory
Regardless of the mode you are playing, you will choose a class which can then be further customized using supply points. These can be spent on things like weapon attachments, additional ammo, body armor or grenades. If you want, you can forgo a chest carrier and body armor in order to trick out your gun with scopes and high powered ammo, or keep the basic weapon model and opt for heavy armor and lots of ammunition and grenades. Some roles are crucial in certain modes, like bombers and engineers in Search and Destroy, as only they can destroy weapons caches. Everything is available to you from the get go; there is no leveling or unlock system meaning that skill reigns supreme.
Regardless of what mode you are playing, it is the moment-to-moment encounters that make Insurgency exciting. Usually a bullet or two is enough to drop you; heavy armor might allow you to absorb a few extra bullets, and this allows for brief but very exciting encounters. Bullets crack as they whiz by your head, and dust and sparks fly as they come into contact with different surfaces. Your screen blurs if you are taking direct fire, making it tempting to just go prone and wait for the barrage to conclude. While other realistic shooters offset this lethality with larger maps or historical weapons which fire slowly, the low-recoil, fast firing and high damage weapons in Insurgency mean death can and will come in an instant from odd hiding spots, leading to rounds where you seem to just die over and over and spend most of your time spectating.
Insurgents have little regard for cold weather
There is no kill text, so even if you do pop a few shots off in the direction of an enemy, you don't always know if he is dead or not. This creates moments where you are unsure whether to stay in cover or pop your head out to see if your opponent is still breathing. This is undermined however by the fact that you can simply check the scoreboard to see if your kills go up. Often you will have no idea where your death came from, which can be frustrating, but it means if you find a really good vantage point you won't be discovered as soon as you kill someone. This also means camping is encouraged; some maps have questionable balance, such as "Heights" which starts the Security team off in a town with loads of cover and the Insurgents out in the open. I had some really unpleasant games as the Insurgents on this map simply getting killed right after exiting the spawn area.
One issue currently plaguing the game is intermittent lag in many servers. The matchmaking does a poor job of placing players into low ping servers, meaning you might encounter players warping around the map, making them impossible to hit. Since so many encounters are decided in a split second, having an even moderately high ping can put you at a distinct disadvantage. There is a server browser that allows you to bypass the faulty matchmaking service, although certain servers seem to suffer from lag issues no matter how good everyone's ping is.
Defending and Camping become one and the same in Insurgency
Even though Insurgency uses a recent build of the Source engine, it looks decidedly dated. Lighting and shadows are passable, but textures and character models look like they could belong to a decade old game. The particle effects kicked up during firefights are the sole redeeming factor, and when you are trying to avoid getting killed blurry textures aren't much of an issue. The sound design is distinctly more impressive, with great weapon sounds and sonic cracks giving the firefights their edge. Given that Insurgency is a fifteen dollar budget-priced title it is easy enough to forgive these visual shortcomings, and as a Source engine game it runs very well on a wide range of hardware.
While Insurgency might not have the gripping atmosphere of Red Orchestra 2 or the grand scale and combined arms warfare of Arma 3, it has something both those games lack: accessibility. It only takes a few rounds to get into the game's measured rhythm thanks to the straightforward game modes and well designed interface. If you like the idea of a lethal shooter but don't have the patience to overcome the learning curve of Insurgency's counterparts, you might find its formula of concentrated firefights and short rounds an appealing one. However this relatively brief learning curve means you might also lose interest in the game much faster than with the above mentioned titles. It's also a shame the developers couldn't find a more interesting setting than Insurgents vs. Militants in the Middle East since this does little to excite and will condemn the game to forever be classified as a Counter-strike clone by those who do not look past its exterior design.