Insurgency: Sandstorm Review

Firefights With Impact and Consequence
Developer: New World Interactive Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform: PC

Intensive firefights coupled with the dreary Middle East sets this military FPS up for potential

Insurgency: Sandstorm is the follow up to New World Interactive’s incredibly successful predecessor Insurgency. The hyper-realistic and strategic military shooter returns soldiers to the battlefields of desert terrains and broken towns. Overrun by foes from both sides, the first-person shooter focuses on team-based tactics and objective-oriented gameplay in various PVP, competitive matchmaking and co-operative game modes. Each player can customise their infantry’s appearance, arms, and accessories using a similar point system as the previous title. Selecting a role in the war, players can call in assaults, demand helicopter support, pilot vehicles, and use a varied range of specialist weaponry from drones to C4 explosives.

Prone infantry firing in the midst of war

A game like this needs to accomplish a ‘holy trinity’ to be generally successful – sound design, look, and gameplay. Whether the story is good, or even existent, is often not important for a title revolving around multiplayer competitive shooting. Analysing these three components will determine whether Insurgency: Sandstorm is the next step up from its prior title and will have longevity within a saturated market.

First things first, this is a shooter for fans of hardcore simulation. Insurgency: Sandstorm and developers New World Interactive are passionate about recreating and representing the feeling of being amidst a war zone. Prepare for an uncompromising depiction of firefights with fatal ballistics, suppression fire from all angles, ear-piercing artillery strikes, and unprecedented audio design that sets the player right into the middle of hell. As you’d imagine, time-to-kill is incredibly low, with one shot to the head usually meaning an instant death. Ammunition must be conserved, and the environment must be strategically held and used to each team’s advantage to reach victory. Fans of arcade and sci-fi shooters like modern Call of Duty or Halo titles may wish to look the other way. This is for the niche who love Battlefield’s gameplay and want another step towards the direction of realism.

Where Insurgency: Sandstorm really impresses is experiencing war through incredible sound design. Every single gunshot, grenade impact and artillery blasting is impactful and shocking. If the developers went out and recorded these sound effects in an actual war zone it wouldn’t be a surprise. Sounding so gritty and realistic, it drives a subterranean absorption within the militaristic combat. The differentiation between far-off fire to ‘oh where the f**k did that come from?’ nearby suppression fire is really presented to perfection. With the right audio hardware, a shot that barely passes your soldier’s fragile head will pierce your ears and give you the adrenaline rush of a lifetime during concentrated stand-offs. Voice-chat is also given a radio broadcast filter to mimic the sound of a real walkie-talkie communications device, and the small touches really do define this game’s remarkable sound.

Running through the fields of the Middle East

Spatial awareness may need some improvement, with the rare glitch between certain voice feedback coming from the wrong direction. However, with fine tuning this small nit-pick shouldn’t be much of an issue with future patches. The audio engineers at New World Interactive have really outdone themselves with Insurgency: Sandstorm, providing the best military soundscape in the market.

Moving away from the Source engine of its predecessor to a shiny and new Unreal Engine, Sandstorm really does glisten. Environments are astoundingly detailed and varied despite the potential for the predominantly sandy setting of the Middle East to appear dull. The designers present the region in its all beautiful colour and glory, while simultaneously painting the dread and tragedy of war-stricken homes. Weapon, equipment, and vehicle models and textures look fantastic. They feel and look like the real thing, and playing around with different sights and attachments to use in combat fully immerses the player. Hot tip: select ‘picture-in-picture’ mode for looking down sights if your hardware can handle it. It is another level deeper into absorbing yourself in the all-out war that Sandstorm provides.

The only demerit would be for character models, which can often look a little janky and uncanny, which may take the finicky gamer out of their game. Occasional ragdoll glitching and clipping that occur to add to the goofiness. Luckily, mid-firefight you won’t be taking too much notice of the finer details of an enemy’s facial features once you’ve lined up a perfect headshot and then watch th3e fireworks. The graphics in the game are an incredible sight to behold, delving the player deeper and deeper until they are completely inside each battle they fight.

Character model of the Gunner class with an M249

Months of extensive beta testing really set up Insurgency: Sandstorm to launch in a pristine condition. The game looks and feels like the best quality military shooter on the market…when it works properly. Running on a fully modernised PC prepared for ultra quality, 165hz, 2k gaming – this game does look astounding with the right hardware. However, it isn’t uncommon for it to dip to hindering frame rates on high settings during high-intensity battles. During rare quiet periods between firefights, it held 60-144 frames occasionally. Changing the usual suspects when it comes to poor performance, like shadow effects, nothing seems to stop the frustrating stutters and freezes. Turning down the notch on resolution to 1080p or 720p has a noticeable effect, bringing the frame rate to a more playable stance, however looking at a game like this at such a low resolution is almost blasphemy.

This isn’t an individual case either. Users on Steam and Reddit forums are vouching for horrible optimisation issues. Mid-tier to high-end systems are having similar problems when it comes to consistent frame rates. This usually wouldn’t be too much of an issue for a console games running in 30/60 frame rate, usually locked at majority of game time. Unfortunately, the console version of Insurgency: Sandstorm was not available to test so these results aren’t known. The issue is quite drastic for a game aiming to compete in the competitive shooter market. Relying on fast network speeds (which luckily it has) and fluid gameplay is some of the crucial groundwork for such an experience. New World Interactive’s successor feels like a step backwards in optimisation that blows its legs out from underneath it and will leave many frustrated.

Loadout screen with an M4A1 and attachments

Final Thoughts

Insurgency: Sandstorm is a contender for the best military competitive shooter on the market. Providing ear-splitting audio, astounding graphical design, and tactical gameplay really drives it home. It’s doing it better than most other big realistic shooters out there now. The lack of proper optimisation drastically hinders its serious playability, though. Most likely, this will deter many competitive players until the game is properly performing. The game is available right now on PC and coming to consoles in 2019. In a nice gesture, a 10% loyalty discount will be given to fans that own the original Insurgency, until the end of March 2019.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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  • Best sound design in a military shooter
  • Unreal Engine refines the Middle Eastern war zones
  • Incredible firefights and intense gameplay


  • Terrible optimisation for anyone without a high-end PC
  • Competitive gameplay is hindered by poor performance
  • Character models are lacking


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