New World Interactive finally brought Insurgency: Sandstorm over to consoles last September, following an almost three-year period as a PC exclusive. Sandstorm marked the follow-up to 2014's Insurgency, with both shooters delivering a masterclass in immersive and tactical close quarters gunplay. We can gladly say that the team was successful in translating the series to console; Sandstorm is an Xbox shooter like no other on the platform, and it's coming to Xbox Game Pass next week!
We'll get one thing out of the way real quick - Insurgency: Sandstorm doesn't contain a traditional story campaign mode. Instead, it focuses on co-op and PvP play, with a good variety of modes on offer. While we'd have loved to see the team deliver a story campaign here, it's perhaps a testament to the game that Sandstorm feels complete without one.
The game's co-op portion is good fun, playable with a squad of real players against AI opponents. The Checkpoint mode is a highlight here, where your squad is tasked with capturing objectives in a set order as enemy waves fight back, sometimes with a more aggressive counter-attack method to attempt to stifle your own moves. What makes this mode — and lots of others within Sandstorm — more tense, is that teammate respawns only occur on successful objective captures, so grabbing those objectives in a last-ditch firefight is always rewarding when it brings squad mates back into the fold.
Most of the other co-op modes feature similar moment-to-moment gameplay, with slight twists on the formula. Survival mode adds some neat touches to a similar experience, like limiting loadouts to handguns-only, with bigger and better weapons scattered across the battlefield. This adds another layer of tension as finding and looting stronger weapons is key to defeating the final counter-attack and successfully extracting from the map.
However, the real meat of Sandstorm lies within its PvP offerings, and this is where the game really comes to life. While the multiplayer modes mostly focus on similar objectives to those co-op counterparts, Sandstorm does provide a few more casual options within its multiplayer suite. We really like the Call of Duty-style 'Domination' mode, where three flags are placed within a map for teams to fight over, with unlimited respawns. The threat of death is perhaps reduced a little bit in this mode compared to the rest of PvP, but it means that you get to experience Sandstorm's incredible gunplay more often, and we just keep on returning to Domination time and time again.
Let's talk about that gunplay for a moment. Insurgency: Sandstorm contains your typical array of modern military weaponry, spread across multiple class types in both co-op and PvP. However, this is not your standard console FPS - accuracy matters, and weapons have authentic handling characteristics with substantial amounts of sway and kick. Attachments can certainly help in the accuracy department, and you'll probably find a few weapons that you cling to at first in order to ease you into things. However, regardless of which loadouts you find yourself coming back to, the core gunplay in Sandstorm requires some serious practice to master, and there's this satisfying feeling of wrestling with a weapon to make best use of it, which in turn makes getting any sort of kill in PvP an incredibly rewarding experience.
Player movement is also a fair bit more realistic than most shooters out there, especially recent titles that continue to add more advanced movement options to the mix. Insurgency is back-to-basics movement at its best, and walking around, jumping, climbing and sliding feels weighty and deliberate. Calculating your next move is really important especially in PvP, as you can quite easily be taken down by a single bullet if you wander out into the wrong corridor at the wrong time - always check your corners using the game's 'lean' functionality!
Touching on game performance, Insurgency: Sandstorm's visuals likely won't blow you away on any Xbox console. It does the job and environments feel suitably war-torn, but this is an Xbox One game at heart and flashy graphics aren't something that Sandstorm chases after. However, we feel playing on current-gen consoles is pretty important here due to frame rate targets. This is a game that runs at 30FPS on Xbox One, and 60FPS on Xbox Series X and S, and due to the game's unrelenting shooting mechanics, that higher frame rate is really a must to get the most out of Sandstorm. The game is certainly still playable on Xbox One, but don't expect the best experience, especially in PvP modes where you'll face players with smoother frame rates and better response times.
Insurgency: Sandstorm is a unique Xbox shooter, and an absolute blast to play when you really get to grips with its core mechanics. While the shooting on offer here perhaps most resembles something like Rainbow Six: Siege or PUBG on console, Sandstorm carves out its own niche by offering authentic gunplay across a wide array of game modes, including plenty of co-op action for those who prefer some PvE gameplay. Its unforgiving shooting mechanics won't be for everyone, but Insurgency: Sandstorm rewards those who really learn how to play it, resulting in one of the most satisfying first-person shooters on Xbox today.