Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat was a free multiplayer first person shooter mod for Valve’s Source Engine that was released on Steam back in 2007. The mod placed an emphasis on realism and teamwork, and cultivated a loyal fan-base of dedicated players. Indie developer New World Interactive, which consists of members of the original mod team, has brought the concept back, now as a standalone game simply titled Insurgency. Despite a failed a kickstarter campaign back in 2012, the game has now made it to full release on Steam.
The core fundamentals of what Insurgency aims to be are very similar to those of the original mod. The game’s prime focus is to provide a realistic portrayal of modern combat with objective based gameplay and an emphasis on teamwork, and in that respect it is a success. The obvious aspect of Insurgency that really lends to the realistic feel and distinguishes it from most other multiplayer shooters is the damage model. Weapon damage is handled much more realistically than most other shooters, meaning a single shot will more often than not be enough to kill you. This gives the game an outstanding sense of urgency and brings the need for careful and tactical play to the forefront.
Complimenting the tension the fragility of your character provides, the majority of the game modes in Insurgency feature either limited or no respawns, so staying alive is of paramount importance. On the topic of modes, the game has good variety of different game types, though interestingly there is no deathmatch. The standout mode is “firefight”, which is a mix of “last team standing” and a territory capture mode. The goal of this mode is to either capture all three territories on the map or eliminate the entire enemy team. The twist is that every time you capture a territory all your teammates respawn. This gives the mode an outstanding intensity, where the tide can turn in the blink of an eye. We had instances where only a single teammate remained against overwhelming odds, but he managed to capture a territory and bring our entire time back into the fight, suddenly shifting the odds back into our favor. Rounds in this mode can be very brief or last quite a while, with hard swings and a tug-of-war feeling to the back and forth nature of the mode.
Not all of the modes are as unique as firefight, but even the ones that are typical FPS game types are enjoyable due to the tactical gameplay and solid weapon handling. Weapon handling is one of those intangible things in shooters that can be hard to quantify, but you know when it feels it right, and it definitely feels right in Insurgency. The game has absolutely phenomenal sound effects that give the weapons a satisfying punch when you fire, but it’s also little things that really stand out, like the subtle and believable way the weapon sways while you move. Recoil also feels just right, and the different types of weapons all sound and feel different. Having weapons that are enjoyable to fire is one of the most important aspects of a first person shooter, and Insurgency completely nails it.
When looking at the core pillars of what makes a multiplayer shooter great, you’ve got the actual shooting mechanics, the game modes, and the maps you play them on, and unfortunately Insurgency isn’t quite as strong in the latter department as it is in the two preceding areas. The game features a decent number of maps, but none come across as being especially memorable, and too often they are hard to even tell apart. The majority of the maps take place in urban middle eastern environments, and overall just feel too similar. Visually, the game isn’t super impressive, possessing that distinctive look of the source engine in terms of environments and geometry. It isn’t just that the maps are visually unimpressive, but that they don’t feel as thoughtfully designed as some other games. The maps seem to be designed to appear like realistic locations more than as arenas for gameplay to take place in. That’s certainly a valid approach, but often there will be rooms that feel pointless and paths that seem as though they should be passable but aren’t. The maps don’t hurt the game all that much, as the other aspects of the game are very good, but they could be better.
These days, the majority of multiplayer shooters feature customizable loadouts and a persistent leveling system, but Insurgency takes a different approach. Instead of having weapons that are unlocked through the course of play, you have all equipment and weapons available from the outset. When a match first begins, you choose a class, but there are only a certain amount per team. Each team consists of two squads which each have a set of classes to choose from (determined by the game mode). Once a player selects a class, it is claimed and can’t be selected by anyone else. Once you select a class, you will start with a set loadout, but you have the opportunity to customize if you so choose. Each class has access to specific weapons and equipment, which each have a point value associated with them. Everyone starts with the same amount of points, which gives you the freedom to customize without sacrificing game balance.
It’s not just that the game doesn’t tie the loadout system in with player progression, but that it doesn’t have any form of player progression at all. Some purists may be in favor of this, distilling the game down to gameplay and forgoing all the “carrot on a stick” external hooks, but many are going to find the lack of any persistence disappointing. Lacking a pointless number next to your name that goes up just for playing isn’t a huge loss, but the game doesn’t have any form of stat tracking or ranking system whatsoever, which is a kind of expected at this point. The lack of persistence is just one of the ways in which Insurgency feels a bit dated. Another, and a fundamental issue with the game, is that there is no easy way to play with your friends. The game doesn’t have any sort of party system or friends list integration. If you want to play with friends you are going to have to find a server with enough space to get everyone in and then scramble around trying to get everyone on the same team. It’s a minor inconvenience, but one you’re going to have to deal with every single match if you plan on playing with friends.
With the absurd number of multiplayer shooters available on steam, Insurgency stands out as one with both great gameplay and some degree of uniqueness. Yes, it’s yet another modern military shooter set in the middle east, but it’s adherence to realism and objective based teamplay to go along with satisfying shooting mechanics help it rise above its tired template. It lacks some features most would expect from a shooter released in 2014, most notably any sort of party system, but its tense and exciting tactical gameplay more than makes up for it. If you’re sick of the run and gun nature of Call of Duty but find the simulation aspects of something like Arma a bit too daunting, Insurgency is the perfect middle ground, and a supremely enjoyable multiplayer experience.