Before we dive deeper, let‘s get the clear answer out of the way first – no, Insurgency: Sandstorm is definitely not free to download and keep forever anymore. That was a limited-time promotion for a free weekend event back in 2019. If you didn‘t claim the game during that 48 hour window over 3 years ago, you unfortunately missed out on adding it to your library permanently at no cost.
But don‘t fret too much. While no longer free, Insurgency: Sandstorm is still very much worth buying at its reasonable retail price even in 2023. It‘s one of the premier tactical military shooters out there and has only gotten better over time thanks to constant content updates and community mod support.
As someone who has put in over 200 hours in Insurgency: Sandstorm both solo and with friends, I can confidently say its brutal gameplay and emphasis on team tactics are second to none. And you can often find it 50% off during Steam sales, letting you grab it for only $20 – an absolute steal.
Let‘s take an in-depth look at what makes Insurgency: Sandstorm so special, why it grew such a passionate community, and how you can get the most out of it as a new player. Lock and load, soldier! This is going to be an intensive combat guide from a seasoned FPS expert.
Why Insurgency: Sandstorm Isn‘t Free Anymore
Flashback to June 2019 – New World Interactive and Focus Home Interactive pulled off a genius promotional move by making Insurgency: Sandstorm free to play on Steam for a whole weekend. From June 20 to June 24, anyone could download the tactical shooter completely free and keep it in their library forever after the event ended.
This timed "free weekend" promotion coincided with the release of a brand new night map called Tell. It served dual purposes:
Drive Long-Term Sales – Letting players sample the full game at no cost first got many addicted. This resulted in lots of new sales and fans after the promo period ended.
Increase Exposure – As a niche hardcore shooter, Insurgency: Sandstorm benefitted massively from the influx of new players trying it out during that weekend. Many realized this was the hardcore PvP experience they had been waiting for.
The free weekend was advertised everywhere on social media and gaming sites. And it worked brilliantly. At its peak, over 10,000 players were online simultaneously during that time. The player count increase was unprecedented.
But of course, good things can‘t last forever. The 48 hour timer ran out, and Insurgency: Sandstorm went back to being a paid game as planned. Developers made a cool $10 million in revenue following that clever promotion. Everyone who missed out would now have to purchase the game normally.
Since then, it has occasionally gone on sale but has never returned to that "free forever" status. Don‘t expect it to be free again outside of maybe a timed demo or weekend promotion.
Gameplay Overview: Teamwork-Focused Hardcore Action
Now that we‘ve addressed the elephant in the room regarding the pricing, let‘s actually talk about Insurgency: Sandstorm‘s gameplay for any new players unfamiliar.
As a self-described "hardcore tactical FPS", Insurgency: Sandstorm is all about teamwork, realism, and skill. If you‘re looking for a military shooter experience that rewards patience and coordination with buddies, this is it.
Here are some key gameplay elements that set it apart:
No Respawns – When you die, you‘re forced to spectate until the next round starts. Raises the stakes.
1-2 Shot Deaths – Weapons are lethal, with most guns killing in just 1-2 hits. Careful aim and positioning is key.
Objective Modes – Rather than just chasing kills, you play to complete goals like capturing control points. Teamwork is essential.
No Crosshairs – Your guns have realistic iron sights and recoil you must control. No cheap laser-accurate guns here.
Hardcore Damage – Bullet penetration, armor systems, advanced ballistics modeling make everything exceptionally lethal. No bullet sponges.
Special Roles – Certain kits like Observer or Breacher give you access to unique gear like smoke screens or night vision to aid your squad.
Strategic Pacing – With no respawns, you can‘t just charge around recklessly. Methodical movement and attack is rewarded.
Dynamic Fronts – Levels feature multiple objectives that shift the dynamic battlefield as you progress. Maintaining momentum with your team is key.
You absolutely cannot approach Insurgency: Sandstorm like your average arcade FPS game. Patience, teamwork and precision is required. It feels uncannily realistic in how quickly you can be killed if you aren‘t careful. But that makes successful shots and winning objectives extra satisfying.
This focus on tactical multiplayer over pure twitch reactions makes Insurgency: Sandstorm appealing for players looking for something more grounded than jetpack wall running madness we see elsewhere.
Content & Updates: Still Evolving 3 Years Later
Since launching in 2018, Insurgency: Sandstorm has seen a staggering amount of free post-release content additions through major updates every few months. These expansions add new maps, modes, weapons, cosmetics, gameplay options that continually refresh the experience.
Some of the noteworthy updates:
- Capture the Base
- Hunt Showdown-inspired PvPvE mode teased
- AS Val
- ASH-12.7 assault rifle
- M110 semi-auto sniper
- Mk 18 CQBR
- More free weapons planned for 2023
Expanded Cosmetics & Customization
- Backpacks, armor vests, facewear
- Unique clothing sets and camo patterns
- All earnable through gameplay at no extra cost
This constant stream of new content years after launch shows the developers‘ commitment to supporting Insurgency: Sandstorm for the long haul. And the 2022 Content Roadmap confirms that new stuff is still coming.
That‘s almost unheard of for a PvP shooter these days. And it‘s all free – no paid DLC, battle passes, or content packs. You buy Insurgency: Sandstorm once and get everything.
As someone who bought this game at launch years ago, watching it grow so much over time through meaty free updates has been incredibly rewarding.
Sales & Playerbase: Still Going Strong with Millions of Owners
For a hardcore FPS aimed at a niche audience, Insurgency: Sandstorm has done remarkably well for itself in terms of sales and player count. It proves there is absolutely still a hungry audience out there for lethal, team-based military shooters.
While New World Interactive hasn‘t shared exact figures, we know a few key data points:
Over 1 million copies sold in the first year across all platforms
Owner count between 2-5+ million now based on peaks between content drops
Consistently around 5,000+ concurrent players per day in 2023
Peak concurrent player counts from free weekends exceeding 15,000+
For reference, these player numbers put Insurgency: Sandstorm well above smaller indie titles, rivaling AA hits like Hell Let Loose. But safely below juggernauts like Call of Duty of course.
But given its hardcore focus, reaching such a wide audience is impressive. And it shows the game clearly has healthy activity and a dedicated community behind it even years after launch.
In fact, some other key stats about the playerbase:
- Over 95% positive reviews on Steam
- 80%+ retention rate between content updates
- 500K+ members across official Discord, Reddit, forums
As a live service game, keeping your existing players engaged long-term matters just as much as attracting new ones. And Insurgency: Sandstorm is doing wonderfully on that front.
The community is deeply invested. Just take a quick glance at the official subreddit which is buzzing with discussion, memes and tactical advice daily. Not bad for a game approaching its 4 year anniversary.
Mod Support: Expanding The Longevity Even Further
On top of the official content updates, Insurgency: Sandstorm enjoys stellar mod support through the Steam Workshop. Fans have already created hundreds of custom maps, weapons, gameplay modes, cosmetics, and more – all free on PC.
Some of the standout mods worth trying:
ISMC Mod – Overhauls all weapons, sounds, textures to be even more realistic. The definitive mod.
Starship Troopers Mod – Total conversion to make the game feel like the 1997 movie‘s bug hunts.
WW2 Mod – Swaps all content to weapons, soldiers, sounds from WW2 for classic warfare.
Cold War Mod – Drops you into Cold War 1980s conflict with appropriate arsenal.
Jurassic Insurgency – Because dinosaur mercenaries are something no one knew they needed.
Firing Range – Lets you test every gun on stationary and moving targets.
Raid Mode – Experience a roguelite horde mode built for co-op.
The creativity from the modders is amazing. You can transform the base Insurgency: Sandstorm experience in so many ways. Mods let you refresh the game whenever it starts feeling stale.
And the developers fully embrace mods by providing public toolkits. Both parties want to extend the game‘s longevity as much as possible.
Co-Op & Solo Play: It‘s Not Just PvP
While Insurgency: Sandstorm emphasizes online PvP, it also provides excellent solo and co-op options against AI bots. This lets you practice honing your skills before going against unpredictable human opponents.
The main solo/co-op offerings:
Offline Modes – Play all PvP modes offline with just bots via LAN or solo. Supports up to 8 player co-op this way.
PvE Co-Op – Unique co-op story campaign with multiple operations focused on survival against waves of AI combatants.
Custom Bot Matches – Tailor bot difficulty, number, loadouts etc. Great for target practice against lifelike AI.
Showcase Mode – Set up custom matches and observe bots fighting from a free drone camera. Perfect for virtual photography.
These offline modes provide nearly endless replayability for players who don‘t necessarily want to compete in ranked online matches. You can boot up Insurgency: Sandstorm just to relax and have fun slaughtering bots.
And playing against the game‘s shockingly competent AI helps develop your skills. The bots actually use intelligent flanking, room clearing, suppression, and grenade tactics. They‘ll punish reckless mistakes. You‘ll improve much faster eliminating them before hopping online.
For new players especially, spending your first dozen hours against bots is highly recommended. Then decisively start competing against teams of human players with your honed skills.
Getting Started For Beginners: 5 Essential Tips
If all this talk of hardcore lethality has you intimidated about getting started, don‘t be! I firmly believe any FPS fan can get into and succeed at Insurgency: Sandstorm with some dedicated practice using these pro tips:
1. Play the Objective
In team modes, forget about chasing kills. Focus on understanding the current objectives and how to complete them. Stick with teammates – lone wolves get shredded.
2. Learn the Maps
Study the maps in offline mode to flank enemies and learn vital cover spots. Map knowledge is essential for positioning.
3. Use Smoke Grenades
Smoke is crucial for crossing deadly kill zones safely. It can completely shift a stalemate in your favor.
4. Prioritize Rare Specialists
Getting certain rare roles like Observer, Breacher or Commander can amplify your squad‘s effectiveness tremendously.
5. Consider Lower Difficulty First
If playing offline, start against easier bots. Or play co-op matches to learn mechanics at a slower pace.
Ignore your K/D ratio at first and focus on learning maps, weapon handling, and how matches flow. With some hours invested practicing, things will click and you‘ll be wiping squads in no time.
Competitive Scene: Established Thanks To Skill-Based Gameplay
Due to its sheer depth of skill-based mechanics, Insurgency: Sandstorm has developed a thriving competitive esports scene. Some key facts:
Official New World Interactive tournaments with prize pools up to $30,000
Dedicated orgs like GAT focused on the pro scene
Over 35+ established teams competing across regions
Sanctioned events at gaming festivals like Gamescom
Plans for growing the pro league even further
Very few hardcore shooters aside from Counter-Strike have managed to build such an established competitive community. But Insurgency: Sandstorm‘s expert balance between realism and enjoyable gameplay make it perfect for high-level tournaments.
The skill ceiling is so high in terms of team strategy and aim mastery that pro matches are incredibly entertaining to watch. The depth grants tremendous longevity for competitive players looking to rank up and compete in leagues.
If you want to experience Insurgency: Sandstorm gameplay at the highest level, be sure to check out some pro league matches. Their teamwork and execution will blow you away.
Steep Learning Curve, High Skill Ceiling
There‘s no way around it – Insurgency: Sandstorm is tough, especially for newcomers unfamiliar with tactical shooters. You will die frequently starting out. The learning curve and skill ceiling are steep. But that‘s what makes ultimate mastery feel so rewarding.
This game won‘t hold your hand or provide cheap kills through excessive aim assist or overpowered gear. Outsmarting human opponents requires smart positioning, quick reflexes, precision aim, and strong communication. None of which come easy.
However, Insurgency: Sandstorm finds that perfect razor‘s edge balance between punishing difficulty and pure fun. Yes you will die in frustrating ways as you learn. But getting a crisp headshot on an enemy from 300m away or wiping a point room with a perfect grenade is profoundly satisfying.
Very few games offer the same adrenaline rush or sense of hard-fought victory from winning a 40 minute competitive match. Insurgency: Sandstorm has a primal, engaging quality to combat that few modern military shooters can rival.
That special sauce of realism, teamwork, and hardcore damage values make every match an absolute blast despite the brutal learning process. And unlocking cosmetics or your next rifle upgrade after grinding matches feels wonderfully rewarding too.
The Verdict: Buy It – Once You Go Hardcore, You Can‘t Go Back
After all these years playing FPS games, I find it nearly impossible to return to more mainstream arcade shooters after being spoiled by Insurgency: Sandstorm‘s tactical focus. The hardcore realism just hits different.
Sure, it has some rough edges in terms of UI and animations as an indie game. But when it comes to immersive, skill-based PvP gunplay, Insurgency: Sandstorm is untouchable. I always come back because no other shooter provides this authentic rush.
So ignore the fact it isn‘t free anymore. Insurgency: Sandstorm is absolutely worth buying at full price if you have any interest in realistic military combat. No other game blends action, teamwork, lethality, and fun quite like this diamond in the rough.
And remember – you can often grab it 50% off during Steam sales for just $20. That‘s cheaper than a single character skin in Fortnite! For hundreds of hours of entertainment, $20 is a laughably good deal.
Give the free weekend demo a shot if it rolls around again. But chances are, that brief tease will leave you craving the full experience like a hardcore FPS junkie. Insurgency: Sandstorm really is that good. Don‘t let it pass under your radar.
This is the golden age for fans wanting authentic, tactical military shooters. And Insurgency: Sandstorm leads the charge by striking gaming gold. One of the best competitive FPS games ever crafted.