Platform: PC (£11.99)
Developer: New World Interactive
My first competitive Insurgency match did not go well. In fact, "embarrassing rout" might be a more appropriate term.
As I picked my way through a warren of dense urban alleys, knowing that any balcony or doorway could hide an enemy combatant, I suddenly saw movement in my peripheral vision. I dropped prone and squeezed off my first shots fired in anger... directly into my squad leader's chest, killing him instantly. With only the tiniest of UI prompts and no radar to guide me, how was I to know? Though he laughed off my apology with a hearty "no worries, mate," the experience left me timid and shaken, cowering behind a burned out car until a shotgun-toting terrorist rounded the corner. I hesitated, and died poorly.
In the very next round, however, I was a hero. Tasked with destroying enemy weapon caches dotted around the map, my squad systematically laid down their lives to push me forward, seeing as I was the only player left alive with any C4. As my last compatriot hit the ground, the whip-crack of a sniper rifle ringing in my ears, I sprinted into the control zone, threw my explosives and mashed the detonator while desperately diving for cover. As the dust settled, my entire squad respawned thanks to my last-ditch run, and I felt like an utter legend. At least until two pistol rounds ended my life less than a minute later.
Like the original Source mod that bore its name, Insurgency is an unforgiving and old-school shooter that focuses on authenticity and immersion, wherein two bullets from any weapon are enough to put you down. It punishes both the timid and the brave, instead rewarding methodical teamwork and patience. If you're willing to sacrifice K/D ratios, experience systems, stat tracking, unlocks and other modern contrivances in the pursuit of a truly skill-based arena, Insurgency deserves to become your new online addiction despite its dated looks.
As a modern military FPS powered by the Source Engine, with no instant respawns and point-based loadouts, Counter-Strike comparisons are both inevitable and entirely inaccurate. Insurgency feels more like Red Orchestra or ArmA in practice; staggeringly hardcore matches where the slightest mis-step can result in several minutes of spectating, but focusing on intimate and intense infantry actions in pleasingly compact maps.
Throughout three objective gametypes, typically revolving around Domination-style territory control and escort missions, counter-terrorist operatives face off against insurgents on a truly level playing field. Each squad (typically two per side) offers preset class slots with specific combat roles and limited loadouts, ensuring that both teams have a perfect mix of close-ranged shotgunners, mid-range riflemen, support troops, specialists and snipers, with no opportunity for one team to fill their roster with camping sharpshooters. Squads therefore work brilliantly in concert, with each member doing their part and covering their specific engagement range, but are easily picked off when separated.
The guns are the star of the show; a small yet robust menu of familiar hardware. All weapons can be modified by spending limited Supply points, using a selection of scopes, ammo types and mounts, and feel spectacularly satisfying to wield. Insurgency features perhaps the best weapon handling you'll experience in a game of this downloadable calibre, each weapon feeling potent and meaty to fire regardless of its calibre, while the sound design is utterly superb. From the snarling report of a basic pistol to the deep bassy boom of a grenade explosion, New World Interactive should be congratulated on crafting the best weapon effects I have ever encountered in an £11.99 title.
Sound effects need to be top-notch, though, since you'll have to listen to deduce where enemies might be and where the action is. Insurgency strips back the HUD to a bare minimum in an effort to increase the sense of immersion. There's no radar, no ammo count and only the tiniest coloured chevrons to denote friendly players, leading to a nervy and tense atmosphere that will make you second-guess every shot and jump at every shadow. Two body hits or a single headshot is enough to kill any player, rendering hit direction markers completely useless.
Alone, you'll likely die in short order at the hands of an anonymous marksman, putting the focus squarely on teamwork and communication.
Unlike many downloadable games of its price bracket, Insurgency features excellent integrated VOIP. You must, and I mean ABSOLUTELY MUST, use it. Without radar or any indication of how many enemies are still alive, it's up to you to call out threats when you see them, ask for smoke grenade cover to advance safely, organise clever pincer assaults and arm your team with the intel they need to survive. And, ideally, expect the same in return. Even shrieking out "balcony!" before being put down by a lofty foe can make the difference between your team scraping to victory or biting the dust. In every match I've played, every single one, the team who talks ultimately wins.
By and large (the occasional griefer aside), the community fully understands that, and tend to willing to teach newcomers the basics and cut them some slack. After all, their survival is directly linked to yours. Cooperative botmatches are a good place to find your feet, despite the quirky enemy AI making some bizarre decisions from time to time.
This focus on cooperation over personal glory extends to every aspect of the game. Your squad remains in spectating limbo if killed, but are instantly revived if their last man captures an objective, allowing seemingly hopeless matches to be pulled back from the brink. Insurgency wisely includes no global K/D counter or stat tracking, which means that players aren't incentivised to boost their own kill count at the expense of playing the objective. Without experience and unlock systems to fall back on, skill and communication are the only determinant between success and failure, a change of pace from the biggest triple-A shooters that tend to dominate the scene.
By now, you'll already know whether Insurgency is your bag, and if you're willing to give up all manner of creature comforts that have softened us up over the last few years. Can you do without cutting-edge visuals? Can you cope without an overall K/D ratio and arbirary "rank" to brag about? Can you survive without killstreaks and Battlepacks? Many players can't and won't, which is fair enough in this huge inclusive hobby, but for those who crave a return to the all-or-nothing days of PC shooting, Insurgency is exactly what you've been searching for.
- Nervy, brutal and refreshingly authentic
- Encourages tactics, teamwork and close voice communication
- Superb sound design, excellent weapon handling and streamlined HUD
- Bravely eschews stat tracking, experience and unlocks to level the playing field and prioritise cooperation
- Uninspired, somewhat clunky Source Engine visuals
- Steep learning (and unlearning) curve; inevitable friendly fire even when practiced
- Lack of permanent progression, experience and global stats will deter many players
The Short Version: Insurgency strips back the bloated military FPS to its thrilling and authentic core; emerging fit, lean and all the better for it. If you're willing to sacrifice glossy modern comforts and personal glory on the altar of satisfying teamwork and hard-fought victories, this ruthlessly tough mod-turned-download is as rewarding as it is unapologetically hardcore.