Hands On: Disintegration
From the creator of Master Chief comes a bold statement. Can Disintegration cash the cheques being written by Private Division and its developers at V1 Interactive?
First teased in this month’s Edge and later shown off at the Gamescom Opening Night Live, the inspiration behind this project have been plastered across it in big letters. From its bulky utilitarian-military technology to its mechanical humanoid characters, you could mistake Disintegration’s designs for something ripped from a Halo or Destiny concept art book. After all, the team was described to us as half Bungie alum, half new blood (even being some of the team's first shipping product).
The world has been ravaged by a bad case of the apocalypse, forcing much of humanity to stuff their mushy brains into robotic skeletons—integration,said to be a stop-gap until the world could be put back on track. A faction called the Rayonne decided this is what evolution looks like, forcibly integrating the last humans and removing their independent thought. As Roamer, someone that underwent integration before it had the nasty side effect of stripping free will, you will fight a guerrilla war to save humanity's future.
This combat-centric story framing will be familiar to anyone who has played Halo. However, unlike the Chief, you are no super-soldier. On top of this, Roamer and his fellow rebels don't have the same tech as the military—much of your resistance is made up of everyday people and most of your equipment is retrofit. However, it's still all you have, meaning you're fully reliant on the closest thing you have to a weapon, your Gravcycle. On the back of this transport bike is where Halo's shadow can be felt most and where the game began to take me off guard. Most shooters from this generation, including Halo, have become hyper-focused on increasing movement options and the fluidity and pace of combat. The ubiquity of 60fps multiplayer experiences has meant that speed has been the new order of the day in most FPS, yet in Disintegration your vehicle isn't a nippy speeder as the trailer may have led you to believe. Your bike used to be an industrial machine, not built for combat, it's more cumbersome and deliberate than any Ghost or Warthog, and you can never get off.
This is where the game surprised me. Despite its clear reverence for the franchise, this game doesn’t play like Halo, or even a car combat game. Instead, it feels like if this game was announced a few years ago, it would have been sold as a spin on the MOBA genre. The centre of attention in combat is the Gravcycle. Limited in its abilities of a primary weapon, a secondary weapon and a dash — no unique combat abilities of its own. Instead, these are assigned to your crew, fellow fighters that run around below you and take orders from above. Using a bumper, you can order focused fire on an enemy, while the D-pad selects special offensive or defensive abilities like barrages or slow down fields. In the singleplayer this is likely designed to give a sense of being a ragtag squadron leader. However, the two rounds of multiplayer I got to try out left me with more worries than anything else.
The game’s feel will be divisive, but currently, no matter how you look, something feels off. While in singleplayer you may feel like you have a direct impact on the battlefield by ordering your troops around, it is utter chaos in the multiplayer. Before you fire a shot it’s difficult to judge if you should focus on the grunts or the Gravcycles first and which of your weapons are most effective against different enemies. This was only made worse by the fact that some of the guns fire arcing projectiles meaning there was no way to aim accurately at an enemy from afar and direct my fighters at the same time. The screen was cluttered, but felt like it gave me little in the way of information about the fight on the ground. AI litter the screen doing god-knows-what, and I couldn’t tell you which were controlled by me and which belonged to a teammate.
Most damningly, despite supposedly being a leader, I didn’t get the impression I had any impact on what was going on around me. I ordered attacks, triggered abilities and foot soldiers were dying and respawning around me, but I couldn’t say if it was having any effect on the battle. Abilities are telegraphed with blue projections before being triggered and have a lengthy cool down, meaning I was often left hoping that the AI was performing some sort of useful attack, but all I could do was spam the focus fire button and wait for the bots to decide to enact a special ability. If the combatant that allows for an attack dies, their ability is disabled until they respawn and there’s almost no way to keep track of which minions are alive or dead. This paired with cooldowns saw me hitting buttons with nothing much happening, or maybe it was and there was just so much going on I couldn’t tell. 5v5 multiplayer where each player controls ostensibly 4 characters sound like fun but, I couldn’t help but wish t it was 1v1 or 2v2 with AI mobs scattered around ala Titanfall. Maybe it was the gamemode, maybe we were dropped in at the deep end, but the biggest indictment of the current multiplayer set up is its just unreadable.
The game mode itself seemed interesting but, again, suffered from being overly-complicated. We were told “think capture the flag, except you’re running into the enemy base” the big catch, however, was that you on your speeder can’t pick up the objective, one of your minions must. Having the objective was less like you were tactically positioning yourself to skip around or barge through the enemies, but more like a clumsy escort mission where you had minimal control over your AI partner who was still programmed primarily to play offensively, putting themselves in the line of fire. This lack of self-preservation on the AI’s part alongside the fact that the attackers were forced to run directly into the defenders spawn point meant games quickly became blood baths and defenders handily won almost every encounter.
Despite how long it took to get back into the battles, the Gravcycles felt great. Their heft resulted in encounters where brutting scrap heaps were racing to chip away at each other's health or quickly trying to dispatch the nuisance actually dealing damage below them. While every animation added nothing but character to these otherwise steely machines.
In its current state it certainly won’t stand as a perfectly balanced esport, but it doesn’t seem to be positioning itself as that, instead calling back to the days of chaotic LAN parties paired with a more strategic element. With some balancing of equipment, refinement of mechanics and better communication to the player this game could be an excellent action-shooter-MOBA but it most certainly is what is currently being pitched.
The developer showing off the game was quick to point out that this is both a small team and an alpha build. They are very proud of the current state of the game and rightly so, it could be part of an Unreal Engine demo reel. This game looks like its been polished by industry veterans who have been making, pitching and selling games to the public and investors for years and know how to stretch limited budgets and resources. Disintegration’s world and story are fascinating and the gameplay has potential to be a fast paced decision based strategy game. I just hope Private Division doesn’t try to sell something else because if they do it will feel like you're constantly fighting with what this game wants to be, and that’s something really different to anything else out there.