Insurgency Sandstorm Hands-on Preview – Tactical and Intense

Despite the name, it was nice weather when the mission began. We were gathered on the outskirts of some nameless town, readying ourselves for the mission ahead. The Commander walked up and down past the troops, giving us a much needed morale boost. He told us things like, how to duck, and how tapping reload twice made you throw the clip away. Really awe-inspiring stuff.

I was the Observer attached the mission. My job was to make sure that this team had everything they needed to complete the objective, from airstrikes to different kinds of airstrike, I was at the disposal of the Commander. I was also not very used to playing tactical shooters on keyboard and mouse.

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We approached the first enemy compound with all the stealth of a dying giraffe. I found out later that dying giraffes were not common to this region, so we were immediately spotted and shot. The firefight was intense, or at least, it sounded intense from behind the wall where I observed. Eventually, the Commander ordered us to assault from underneath the bridge.

Thus ended the life of a brave, and I hear very handsome Observer. His dedication to the mission meant that he in no way ironically died after failing to observe the enemies directly in front of him.


My time with Insurgency Sandstorm was about thirty minutes and three or four attempts on the same mission. The commander, brave as he was, was actually a developer showing off their game at a small press event in Paris. It’s a fun, fairly hardcore military shooter, and as a huge fan of Overwatch, I thought I’d be completely out of my depth.

Trying to walk the fine line between hardcore and accessible is difficult at the best of times, but I had a lot of fun with Insurgency without much experience. You need to rely on your team a lot to stand a chance against the enemies, and it brings a lot of interesting mechanics that force the players to work together more then other games do. The most obvious of which are the Commander/Observer roles.

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Only the Commander can call in tactical support, such as supply drops or airstrikes. But the Commander can only do that if the Observer is A) alive and B) nearby. This meant that when I was selected to be the Observer I assumed I’d spend most of my time A) dead and B) very far away. But because these two characters are so useful to the mission, and each other, there is an inherent teamwork that forms around them. I followed the Commander about and tried not to die so much while everyone else kind of took the lead and checked the flanks so we wouldn’t get picked off again. Whether or not this can work between strangers online is another matter entirely, but for groups of friends or dedicated players, there’s a lot to look forward to.

It also naturally adds a great deal of excitement and pressure if you’re one so responsible for the team's success. I made an extra effort to the stick with the team and not rush forward. Being the special one in any team game always adds a lot when done well. And Insurgency likes to play on the tension, in other seemingly normal parts of the shooting experience as well, like reloading.

Instead of cycling through individual bullets, Insurgency Sandstorm has players use clips more realistically. Reloading before you go dry means you’ll keep that clip and use it again later. Reloading quickly means throwing the clip away and losing the remainder ammo. It takes some getting used to and I can’t say I was completely familiar with it during the heat of intense fights, but it does add another dimension to the combat and a little flair of authenticity.

The firefights are the heart and soul of Insurgency Sandstorm and were suitably intense. The sound design alone was amazing. Bursts echoed out in the tight corridors and rooms when bullets snapped and whizzed past. I remembered something about what the sounds mean from Black Hawk Down but then I was promptly killed for not paying enough attention. Enemies switch between hunkering down and launching a counterstrike in a way that keeps the fights moving. Being suppressed meant your vision going typically blurry and narrow and there was a real satisfying clunk sound when firing your big beefy rifle.

Set for release this year on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Insurgency Sandstorm is a game that feels like it’ll carve out a little corner of the shooter market. In the final game, you can expect large-scale 16-versus-16 skirmishes with artillery barrages, helicoptergunships, repurposed commercial drones, airstrikes and even drivable land transport vehicles. Each map will be playable in co-op against bots and the game will also feature character customization and ranked matchmaking.

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