Review: Disintegration

It might’ve been easier to simply admit that Disintegration was a concept that wasn’t going to work from the very beginning, rather than it being a shooter-strategy hybrid whose formula may need a tweak here or there for the potential sequel. The reality of the situation reveals that the main design underpinning a lot of the problems and frustrations here relies on the idea of the player being disconnected from the main action. But what starts as mounting frustration with its gameplay concept — from its controls, to its mechanics, to how outside forces present themselves — quickly devolves, over the course of the fifteen hours spent with the game, into a dire example of a game not only long past its sell-by date, but one that on most occasions just doesn’t feel like it cares. To care in being creative, memorable or even unintentionally entertaining in its uninspired, seen-it-all-before sequence of events.

Anyone having played the multiplayer beta earlier in the year has, more than likely, already tempered their expectations for what V1 Interactive had in store. Yet I suspect a vast majority of said base still have that bar set too high. To come away and claim even my own middling dampened expectations were far from met is the real tragedy of a game like Disintegration. Of a new studio like V1 Interactive whom, with their debut game, no doubt hoped for a positive start. A start in which they’ve relied on such an odd pitch for a game. But it’s the team’s very mistaking design standards of the early-2010s — that would in anyway fly a decade later — where a lot of the confusion, as much the criticism, stems from. A game that might have been serviceable during the middle-to-late period of the Xbox 360/PS3 shooter. A game whose over-reliance on masqueraded shooting galleries, “defend this area” objectives and evident giving-up on doing anything creative with its mechanics sinks all hope. A game whose shifting from 60FPS gameplay to 30FPS cinematics on PC are far from helping the cause. Nor are the inexcusable blatant half-second synchronization issues between visuals and audio throughout.

Because if you wanted to surmise Disintegration‘s woeful excuse of a single-player campaign, the problem isn’t that the story is one we’ve seen way too many times. Or that the characters, locales, mission design are so forgettable, so easily interchangeable between one another, the game could’ve sneakily replaced a name or two and players would’ve likely neither noticed nor cared. It’s that the game struggles still to stretch its length to the resulting eight/nine-hour, twelve-mission basis. Relying at one point on a needless rescue near the end, a character death midway devoid of any emotional impact, an implied vengeful confrontation with the main antagonist. Of whom I was completely unaware was actually the main villain; enemy assets are treated so fittingly as cheap, dispensable fodder. And throughout, as stated, mission objectives and predictably-static set-pieces that were a chore to get through a decade previous made even more cumbersome thanks to the intended delivery.

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Should you manage to push past the sound design here — with its compressed, muffled lack of impact or limp soundtrack whose bare presence would have you believe even it’s ashamed to be a part of this Frankenstein-esque experiment — the visuals still emanate an eerily last-decade vibe. When capped off at its highest graphical settings. Disintegration is not a pretty sight, even if one were to discount the many instances of texture pop-in and the wild descent of frame-rate that such lack of care and consideration for the finer detail permeates. But even if the sentiment is to be just like those games of old, you’re still left with a game devoid of imagination. Thinking back to the story beats of games like Call of Duty: Black Ops or Spec Ops: The Line — if we’re limiting this to early 2010s shooters — and you’re sure to reference at least two or three set-pieces, cutscenes or even lines of dialogue. With Disintegration, what you instead have is a chopped-up modicum of a campaign that invests no time in fleshing out its world, themes and characters it’s so desperately pushing with dispensable quips and obvious color palettes so as to plead with you to not mix up or lose sight of even for a second.

Yet at the moment you start to question anything — what any of this means or what the stakes at play are in this assumed near-future, sorta-dystopia that never provides clarity on proceedings — the game has already moved on, manufactured a new dilemma and sent you on your merry way. That implied connection between the main protagonist and antagonist? Never explored beyond throw-away nods. This resistance we’re supposed to be aiding? Seldom seen. Your only semblance of reason and meaning in this world: a different objective, yet with the exact same delivery and progression. There are novel gimmicks and requirements sprinkled about sure. One mission has you rushing between safe zones to avoid incoming EMP-like blasts; another requires you to keep in close proximity with an objective; other missions even have you fending for yourself for a set time. But the game never fleshes out what variety its gameplay can help flourish, resorting to the same repeated tactics of move up, take out a group of enemies, move up, take out another group of enemies, etc.

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What starts off in its story, with an interrogation scene featuring the main protagonist (whose name I’ve intentionally left out, in order to better illustrate just how forgetful the narrative truly is) and the big-bad of the tale — whose color scheme just so happens to be black-and-red — wastes no time in messily rushing head-first into the classic sci-fi trope of “get ancient device before big-bad does” before dropping it again in favor of the equally-generic “blow stuff up” climax — ending the campaign on an undeserved, unsatisfying whimper of an end. Dare I say Disintegration makes a game like Anthem‘s narrative and world-building look like the most compelling, fleshed-out sci-fi tale of our time. The remaining pockets by the end are filled in with more bog-standard enemies to shoot. The same four or five enemies you’ll see to the point where the game, around the two-thirds mark, practically gives up and decides to throw, kitchen sink aside, everything at you. Mistaking sheer volume of numbers for anything akin to ingenuity. A problem further added to in the game’s artistic/aesthetic decision to not have a map. Meaning it’s never too long a duration between one freshly-spawned enemy hitting you from off-screen…and the next pair of aerial threats similarly floating in without warning.

No matter how bored you get with one too many moments of such obvious padding to stretch out time, a lot of this may have found a counter-balance in the form of its gameplay. How the use of a grav cycle — thus the premise of being overhead at all times and issuing orders to your crew back on the ground — plays into proceedings. How, maybe, that plays into the very level design so far as traversal and exploration goes. Again, it’s not that Disintegration presents some half-hearted assembly of mechanics that in some hypothetical due course can be made whole. No the parts are all there and they’ve sadly resulted in an unflattering whole that makes movement, shooting and strategizing, all extremely cumbersome to get to grips with. The reliance on its six-degrees-of-freedom control means lining up shots are more difficult than they need to be with your player-character sluggishly floating from one area to the next.

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But if that wasn’t bad enough, at least half your time during mission will be spent reloading given how laughably low in ammunition your selected weapons are. Where in any other shooter, good-to-decent players may take down at least half-a-dozen grunts with headshots before having to replace a magazine, in Disintegration you’re lucky to take down more than one foe in a single go. Before you, in what becomes commonplace, find yourself frantically reloading again and again. The cycle thus continues: a few more seconds of firing-RELOAD-a few more seconds-RELOAD-a few more sec-RELOAD. It shouldn’t go overlooked at just how much time is spent reloading here. But where an increased magazine — or simply the removal of restricting missions to a specific load-out — may alleviate the reload issue, Disintegration’s combat are rotten through-and-through in their execution.

Though enemy and squad AI at least have the capacity to take cover and act of their own accord, there are an equal amount of examples where the intelligence jumps off a cliff. From being unable to move around corners to shoot, to refusing to perform a command you specifically issue, to running straight out of a safe area and incur costly damage. The very notion of using your squads’ cooldown abilities — a large part of where this game’s strategy leanings aim to please — are ultimately shallow, useless and one dimensional in their integration. Just have all three/four units use their unique abilities on whatever group of foe — Disintegration rarely asks of its players to consider the potential risk or reward, meaning the supposed “strategy,” like a lot of things, is mere artificial bloat. Bloat to what is essentially a bog-standard, third-person shooter yet with none of the thematic or aesthetic pleasure to go around it.

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That feeling of bloat — and of a game trying to masquerade its brain-dead simplicity — comes in no clearer a form than in the multiplayer. Unfortunate as it is, barely any of the issues lodged at the beta appear to have been addressed (let alone fixed) here, so in the interest of time I recommend you read up on that to get a better idea on how much this component still misses the mark. In short: the multiplayer to Disintegration¬†again does nothing to highlight its proposed unique flair other than an increased number of NPCs on a map and the fact you’re floating. Squads remain poorly balanced (to the point only two, maybe three, of the nine available, seem viable), with certain weapon load-outs made completely useless through their charge time, wavering damage output and generally dissatisfying feedback. It needn’t matter that each squad’s grav cycle has varied attributes; in-game, those stats rarely come to the surface or feel in anyway like something you should account for.

More often than not, most matches in the mere three modes end up condensing all the action into a small portion of the map. Yet that frustration is only made worse by just how retro-fitted the online accompaniment feels. Grav cycles are still far too slow in their movement, respawning takes at least a few seconds before you’re placed at the exact same spot you begun and worst of all, you focus so much on taking your opponent out that you lose track of the concept of your accompanying squad’s barely-viable placement. Because you can’t take cover in the traditional sense, matches end up little more than two players mindlessly floating about, hoping above all hope their weapons are somehow chipping away at the opponent’s health. A dodge ability does stop encounters from feeling truly monotonous, but it’s such a meager accompaniment (and a limited one), it’s barely worth noting. This is of course all predicated on the idea you’ll even find success in joining a match; in one two-hour session, I was only able to join (and complete) three matches total. One instance involved a matchmaking progress that lasted a combined twenty-or-so minutes. An issue made all the more displeasing by the fact you can’t simply stay with the same lobby of players after every match — the game automatically booting you back to the main menu to restart the matchmaking process all over again.

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Closing Comments:

It’s astonishing to see just how far off the mark Disintegration is in terms of how it looks and plays. An astonishment made painfully evident across both of its equally-unflattering, technically-flawed game modes devoid of any quirk, personality or lasting impression. Impressions that are of anything but the feeling of eliciting a smoke-screen so as to mask the game’s evident lack of ingenuity or creative endeavor. It’s more astonishing that, in a vacuum, the design philosophy underpinning its gameplay mechanics feel oddly “complete.” That the conceptual attempt to mix a decade-old mentality on “cinematic” shooter campaigns with some occasional strategy are on show. Showing us that yes, this concept appeals to neither camp — the shooter fan and detractor alike. But it’s the utter lack of care with its narrative, world, progression and above all set-pieces that stings most. Whittled down to the lowest common denominator in such a way you can’t help but feel this is a game ten years too late. One can only hope V1 Interactive can move on and lay claim to greater things in the near future, because Disintegration is a shockingly empty attempt at standing out.