Insurgency: Sandstorm review — Does it live up to its predecessor?

Insurgency: Sandstorm is, of course, a sequel. Not just that; it’s the sequel to the genuinely excellent game Insurgency. A game I like a lot and have a good few hundred hours in. Being the fan of the franchise that I am, I preordered Sandstorm and hopped into the beta as soon as I had the chance. I expected the game not only to recapture what made the previous title so great but to also develop upon that formula.  The question is, did it?

As I continue this article, I will often refer to the old Insurgency as its name and refer to the new game as Sandstorm.

Carrying on the Insurgency legacy

Insurgency Sandstorm

The way I see it, Sandstorm has some pretty big shoes to fill. There’s quite a lot I have to praise when it comes to the old Insurgency, and, as I launched the Sandstorm beta for the first time, I could only hope that New World Interactive would be able to recapture it all in their new title. Each bullet point in this section covers something that I believe contributes to the Insurgency formula to make the game work so splendidly, as well as whether Sandstorm has followed its predecessor in these regards.

Insurgency is the sequel to a humble mod for Half-Life 2. It isn’t particularly complex, and it isn’t all that advanced, but it honestly doesn’t need to be. I think it’s even fair to say that the rugged simplicity of the game legitimately helps enhance the player’s experience of that which Insurgency does offer. They didn’t bite off more than they could chew making it, and so what it does, it does well, producing a great experience. Sandstorm certainly doesn’t feel as basic as its predecessor, and for good reason. The game is more complex and more polished than Insurgency. With that said, Sandstorm doesn’t feel like it was made by some AAA company either. To put it simply: Sandstorm feels like it was put together by a bigger and more experienced company without feeling like the creation of a soulless corporation.

Don’t get me wrong; Insurgency is very much a tactical shooter in that it provides a comparatively realistic combat experience which forces players to play more cautiously and… well tactically than in a standard shooter. It does this in all the ways one expects: death in a few hits, no crosshairs, minimal HUD, no highlighting of enemies, bullets realistically penetrating cover, etc. As a result, the game is tense, especially for new players, as your comrades often simply crumple in front of you while enemy rounds wiz past from who knows where.

At the same time, I don’t necessarily agree with people when they slap labels like “hyper-realistic” onto Insurgency. The thing is that, compared to a game like Squad, Insurgency clearly isn’t as simulator-esque as shooters get and is comparatively casual. On top of that, while Insurgency certainly rewards a team that works together and plays tactically, the reality is that often the teams aren’t that coordinated. Many games, the majority of the players are just sort of working towards the same goal without clear communication or tactics and it can turn into one or two particularly experienced players playing very aggressively who have the largest effect on the outcome of the game.

Realistically, how “tactical” Insurgency is is dependent largely on the game mode, the server, and the people on the team. To me, that flexibility and variation is a big part of what makes Insurgency so fun as it means that Insurgency provides a good basis for both a more laid back or serious experience as a tactical shooter. I’m happy to report that Sandstorm seems to be very much in the same vein, with some game modes demanding more cautious and contemplated play than others. Not only that, but, much like the last game, the teams I’ve played with have ranged from the very serious, where everyone was actively working together and talking to plan out our next move, to the very laid back, where everyone was mostly just joking around over mic as they played.

Insurgency has a variety of classes, each with their own choices for weaponry. This means a variety of play styles and roles that a player and choose from, while the fact that players who join late are forced into whatever roles are left forces players to try various classes and play styles. This restriction also makes it so that all classes are likely to be filled by someone (even if it’s not the ideal person), preventing unbalanced team comps. While not an amazingly unique feature of the game, it’s well enough implemented and a relevant element. Sandstorm, unsurprisingly, does much the same thing as its predecessor, though it adds a few new classes (more about that later).

Insurgency does an excellent job of rewarding more than just raw kill to death ratio. The primary reward for performing well in Insurgency is being the MVP, and the points that determine MVP are given in such a way as to reward capturing objectives and getting important kills more than merely getting a lot of kills. The result is that, even if you die a lot and don’t kill very many enemies, as long you actually contribute to capturing or defending objectives you have a chance of working your way up the board.

I’m happy to say that, once again, Sandstorm follows the trend set by the previous title, however with some alterations and a bit of an issue. Unlike the old game, at the end of a round or game in Sandstorm, more stats are recognized than just who was MVP (most headshots for instance). I like this addition but what seems to have come with it is that some the MVP of the losing team is not acknowledged. I would have preferred that they had continued listing the MVP for both teams, as I feel it provided some consolation to the best performing player on the losing team, but it’s not a big deal.

Supply points are the method by which players select the equipment making up their loadout. When a player enters a game of Insurgency, they receive 10 points and use them to choose their equipment (better equipment costing more points). Some nice things about the system are that it means you don’t need to unlock weapons to use them in the future, it largely prevents players from having overpowered loadouts, and you can change your loadout at any time (with that change taking effect next time you resupply or respawn) to adjust to the needs of a situation. Thankfully, Sandstorm uses much the same system.

However, I do find one issue with Sandstorm’s application: with Insurgency, players received another point at the end of the round, and the MVPs received another on top of that. It meant that each round, everyone could improve their loadout and that MVPs got a nice little reward for doing well. It also served to create a sort of feeling of progress across the rounds of a game. Unfortunately, Sandstorm seems to have done away with this in favor of giving players 15 points for a whole game.

How Does Sandstorm Improve on Insurgency?

Insurgency Sandstorm

Like I said at the beginning of this article, Sandstorm needs to build on the Insurgency formula to adequately justify its existence. It’s not like people haven’t continued to play Insurgency or that it’s hard to find a game: the community is still decently active. Therefore, if Sandstorm isn’t, in some sense, better than its ancestor, then why should anyone play it rather than Insurgency? Luckily Sandstorm seems to have brought quite a lot to the table.

Quite a lot of the improvement in Sandstorm comes down to the upgrade to the engine the game runs on. Where the old Insurgency used the Source Engine, Insurgency: Sandstorm uses the Unreal 4 Engine. This, of course, has changed the game quite a lot, affecting everything from the physics to the graphics: in short, the way the whole game plays and feels.

I would say that the switch has produced an all-around improvement, with the entire world just being overall more immersive and less clunky. The game looks better, the characters movements seem more natural (for instance you now vault over most obstacles rather than awkwardly hopping), and the majority of the physics seem to have been made comparably realistic to Insurgency, if not more so.

One of the most crucial things to learn for the old Insurgency is the maps. You have to determine where both teams spawn, what routes players take around the map, what the best spots to take cover are, how to sneak behind enemy lines, etc. That is hands down the key to being the kind of player that can help carry a disorganized team. I’m happy to say that the same principle seems to apply to Sandstorm, as I regularly perform better on the maps which I am more familiar with. Not only that but now it applies on bigger and more complex maps that (to me thus far) have proved somewhat harder to exploit.

Sandstorm brings some new classes to the mix, for instance, the adviser, a class that brings several new weapons to the game like the SCAR and Alpha AK. While that’s indeed cool (and it’s a class I rather enjoy), the much more interesting addition is the new “Observer” class and its interaction with the Commander class. When the two classes are together, the Commander can call in a variety of Air/Fire support options within a certain range.

This is unlike anything from the previous game and can often turn the tide of a situation through clearing out of enemies and/or accidental friendly fire. It seems to be an excellent addition to the game and seems to serve to further encourage teamwork and communication, as players can now really on their commanders and observers for a new kind of support.

While the old game does have competitive, it’s currently unranked and has been for as long as I can remember being aware of it. Not only that but it’s pretty much dead. Hopefully, the introduction of a ranked competitive into Sandstorm will prove more popular, and provide a game mode for those players who wish to focus on a more team-oriented, competitive, and “tactical” experience.

Unlike anything in the previous game, Sandstorm allows players to customize their characters. To avoid friendly fire, the colors of the clothes available for the sides differ as well as the types of clothes. New apparel can be purchased via an in-game currency which, I know, sounds alarming, but you receive some of this currency every time you level up.

Prices are such that you receive plenty of the currency to purchase items and I have seen no evidence of any ability to buy more with your mom’s credit card suggesting that it isn’t a money making scheme (at least for now). While this customization is very basic, it does provide a variety in the look of those around you that makes other players feel less like clones.

What you won’t like in Sandstorm

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As many positive things as I’ve said about this game, it’s probably best I talk about the downsides.

Like I said earlier, despite there being some fairly disorganized games in Sandstorm where a super serious play style isn’t as needed, this is still very much a tactical shooter. The game provides very little feedback to help an inexperienced player and so when you first start out you’re going to die — a lot. Then, as you start getting better at the game, you’re going to still die a lot. If your the kind of person that gets frustrated easily waiting for your team’s next wave to respawn then this probably isn’t a game for you.

lot of the people I’ve played with and listened to regarding this game have mentioned it not running to well, especially in regards to frame rate. I myself had the occasional issue when I first started playing the beta, though my experience, along with what I’ve heard from others, suggests that it has become less of an issue with updates. The problem I’m still experiencing is frustratingly long load times and various issues when I first load into games.

A couple of the things I’ve run into are the game occasionally freezing up, only loading in players as floating body armor, and people on my team appearing to Naruto run (as pictured above). As I said, the game has been better and better optimized with updates, but I still recommend you do what you can to make sure your computer can run the game smoothly before purchasing it.

Should you buy it?

Insurgency: Sandstorm is a worthy sequel to Insurgency with much of the same charm as the original and a whole heap of improvements to boot. In many ways, it’s just a beautifully updated version of the last game rather than a true sequel, and I would say that, by being that, it’s the best Insurgency sequel possible. If you enjoyed the original, or are looking to get into a tactical shooter, I highly recommend you check out Sandstorm.

For those who may not be able to run the game or want to get into a tactical shooter but don’t want to spend $29.99 on a game for whatever reason, I would remind you that the community for the previous Insurgency remained active even through the open beta for Sandstorm. If the same holds true after the Sandstorm’s full release, you might want to look into playing Sandstorm’s predecessor instead.

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