Sandstorm - maybe the most exciting competitive shooter in a long time
Sandstorm: Xbox One/PS4/PC, 9/10
Often is the case that games made with extensive community input fall into the familiar pitfalls of trying to please everybody at once, resulting in patchwork mish-mashes of disparate ideas and ill-fitting gameplay systems. Insurgency: Sandstorm is one of the few that take on board community suggestions and still come out the other side as an astonishingly polished and cohesive finish product.
As tired as the adage is, Insurgency: Sandstorm truly feels like it was made 'by gamers, for gamers'. That isn't to say that the fresh-faced shooter is without its faults, though the numerous small niggles are overwhelmingly outweighed by the sheer fun this game has to offer.
Sandstorm is a competitive shooter truly unlike no other. Clever balance systems, visceral gameplay and some of the best gun and sound design ever created for a shooting game combine into a thrilling experience - one that hardly bears any of the hallmarks usually associated with small, ambitious development studios. Sandstorm offers two playlist modes: an unranked 'vs' mode and a ranked competitive queue.
Of the three gameplay modes on offer, Firefight is far and away the greatest of the lot. The objective is to either kill everyone on the opposing team or take all three capture points. While this may sound simple, there is a great deal of nuance that goes towards managing which points are captured and therefore managing where enemies can respawn, as they can only respawn on objective points owned by their team. Firefight is a high-stakes mode that rewards strategy and teamwork and is somewhat akin to similar modes in Counter-Strike.
One irksome thing about Sandstorm is the baffling 'no-go' or restricted zones that are scattered around each of its six maps. Venturing into these areas will lock your weapons or eventually kill you. There is usually no visual warning that you are about to stumble into one of these frustrating places and there are even examples on certain maps where bolting through these restricted zones offer competitive advantages. This can be particularly bothersome on Sandstorm's ranked modes, where losing will impact your overall rank in the game.
Sandstorm is a pleasant surprise in a market heavily saturated with games that want to emulate the AAA 'big boys' of the shooting scene. Graphically, it may be no great shakes but gameplay and sound-design wise Insurgency: Sandstorm may be the most exciting competitive shooter released in a long time.