Disintegration Review – Reconfiguring the shooter genre

Reviewed on June 11, 2020

Platforms:

Xbox One, PS4, PC

Released:

June 16, 2020

Publisher:

Private Division

Developer:

V1 Interactive

Connecting the line between real-time strategy (RTS) and first-person shooter (FPS), Disintegration attempts an exciting mix of genres. From the co-creator behind Halo and Myth: The Fallen Lords, Marcus Lehto and his new studio V1 Interactive launch a possibly long-running sci-fi universe for fans to dive into. This interesting meld may have all the bells and whistles of an epic saga, but does it stand on its own as a fun game?

Climate change and overpopulation have led to the fall of society and forced a mechanical change. Majority of humans are now ‘integrated’ into machine bodies to survive, with early adopters keeping their free will intact. Now, around the year 2150, the red-eyed faction Rayonne is trying to convert all remaining humans into militaristic robots. Former Gravcycle pilot Romer Shoal and a small team of resistant Outlaws are hellbent on short-circuiting the evil regime and saving what’s left of humanity. All with unique abilities, Romer takes charge from the anti-gravity vehicles using command pulses and an inbuilt arsenal.

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The campaign of Disintegration introduces the new playstyle within a tight story. The single-player takes you through four mini-campaigns with specific story-beats, keeping each level fresh. Starting with the mountains and large plains, moving quickly into close-quarter city environments, then off to the desert and icy areas. Particularly with the varying weapons and units, every stage forces players to rethink their strategy, making the next scenario more intense than the last. The mission Jailbreak stands out, where Romer solos most of the mission with a sticky-bomb launcher for the first time, forcing a different approach that otherwise may have not been considered.

Players pilot the Gravcycle, surveying firefights from the sky. Pulse commands tell units to move or hold certain areas, interact with objects, or regroup and refresh. While the Outlaws are deconstructing several Rayonne enemies, Romer can use an arsenal of cannons, machine guns, and healing abilities to support the team or lead the assault. Through an effectively short tutorial, the gameplay mechanics are clearly set up. Getting close and personal with red-eyes or staying back and using the crew’s skills is mostly optional. Some situations will require one or the other, still the best strategy is always a mixture of both.

“…every stage forces players to rethink their strategy, making the next scenario more intense than the last.”

Collecting upgrade chips throughout the campaign enhances Romer and the Outlaws. Players can focus all improvements into the protagonist and the Gravcycle or the stats of the several crew members. Although this doesn’t allow for too much customisation in tactics, it will improve the ability to take on missions with a full-frontal offence as Romer. A little extra freedom in how each mission is approached can make the story considerably dynamic and replayable. Whether that’s personally outfitting the crew or weapons, or not having upgrades locked behind level progression. The experience is quite linear in result, even with an emphasis on playing either-or.

Initially, it is heavily a slow and basic RTS, commanding units to do the bulk of damage. As the adventure comes to urban areas, a blend of first-person combat and micromanagement is essential and an impressive challenge. The RTS and FPS elements of Disintegration are undeniably simple on their own, though the two together are a great dynamic without being overbearing or too complex. It’s certainly a style of gameplay that takes some getting used to, yet an easy to learn and difficult to master modern style of first-person commander combat.

The story needs some troubleshooting before it gets going, then a remarkable world and surprisingly human characters build a profound narrative. Nuts and bolts of background are messily tossed around in the opening scenes of the game. Some key information about Romer, the demonised asylum The Cloud, and his relation to the antagonist Black Shulk can be and will be easily missed.

“…with astounding voice acting performances, the treatment of these characters makes them feel like real people and greatens the spirit of the story.”

After a few missions and members of Outlaws returning to fill in some gaps, Romer and his crew become likable characters. In between levels, players can roam a hub to pick-up side-objectives and learn the captivating stories behind each character. Six-Oh-Two and Agnes are highlights of the bunch, with tales of hardship and identity that justify their values and newly integrated selves. These conversations fill much of the backstory of each friend met along the way, gradually building the lore of the universe.

The game raises discussions about humanity, free will, and our disastrous impact on the planet. Travelling through sun-draped natural areas in contrast to the ruins of civilization reflects upon the meaning behind Disintegration. It hits firmly without being overbearing, complementing the main adventure well. Despite being a simple story about domineering military and a group of resistance soldiers, the greater connotation extends the value of the narrative.

Disintegration feels so much like Halo in tone and presentation; however, it never goes as deep. Besides short cutscenes, narration, and the optional dialogue, there isn’t a lot to learn and discover within the environment. Scanning certain objects gives trivial details about what the world used to be, but missions scream for collectable audiotapes or texts. Lehto has shown in interviews the fiction of the world is deep-rooted with nearly six-years of development. It’s a shame the universe isn’t expanded any further than the small circle of Romer and the Outlaws. A cloud of mystery surrounds the origin of these warring factions and what else exists in this dystopian future. Whether this greater story is hidden behind upcoming books, media, or expansions is unknown.

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As veterans of Halo and Myth, V1 Interactive aims to bring an electric multiplayer to complete the package. Three game modes and nine unique Gravcycle crews exist at launch. Zone Control is a Domination type, Collector asks players to pick-up ‘brain cans’ from fallen enemies to gain score, and Retrieval is a ‘defender vs attacker’ game mode.

Each five on five requires coordinating crews. Like that of a hero-shooter, each has distinct weapon, stats, and units with abilities. The Business, Lost Ronin, and Sideshows are all fast-moving Gravcycles with strength in positioning and flanking. Whereas, Warhedz, Militia, and King’s Guard are sluggish tanks with powerful defence. For example, defending on Retrieval relies on high-burst damage to stop bomb holders, so crews like Warhedz and Lost Ronin with support from Neon Dreams are effective. Synergising teams and planning tactics always dictates the winner. This builds a meta within the game that all competitive shooters have, ideal for future esports potential.

“…the multiplayer is a fun romp for all. It adds to the value of the game without feeling like a tacky, barebones feature.”

Outside of the competitive play, the multiplayer is a fun romp for all. It adds to the value of the game without feeling like a tacky, barebones feature. A casual player can jump in with a group or solo-queue and have an enjoyable time dominating other anti-gravity machines. There’s heaps of challenges, unlockable cosmetics, and room for continued support. Micro-cosmetic transactions do exist but without any loot boxes or pay-to-win advantage.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of unbalance in the units. Crews with bullet weapons are overpowered compared to projectile-based. Tech Noir, Neon Dreams, and Lost Ronin are easily the strongest, leaving the slower, tankier crews less favourable. As mentioned, the meta is important and will change as all competitive games do. Not a major concern, yet something to be aware of if the multiplayer doesn’t receive significant support.

The RTS part of the multiplayer feels undervalued. Battles are always large and thrilling, though commanding units is often forgotten. They are slightly underpowered and not as important as they should be. The only game mode where they are essential to winning is Retrieval, as troops carry the bomb to the goal, though even then they are weak and easily destroyed. Damage is significantly done by the player and a buff to the little guys on the front-line is needed.

As well, hiding numbers from stats hurts the competitive play of the game. Instead, a cryptic bar that measures vague stats like Durability and Handling are expected to cover the grounds. This may be suitable during single player but is simply not enough for the multiplayer experience. Vital information on health, damage per second and rate of fire aren’t defined. Additionally, it’s missing hotkey team commands and messages for teamwork. If Disintegration is to become a big esports game as the intention seems to be, this needs fixing soon.

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Reviewing Disintegration on PC has been an extremely smooth experience. It performs outstandingly at high graphics settings and resolution. The game played consistently at 120 frames per second, dropping a little during intense firefights. On the adverse side, lower-end PCs will not be missing much either. The lower graphical settings are honestly not a drastic change, thanks to the zoomed-out nature of the gameplay. Admittedly, a few stutters occurred in a certain mission and at one point two units were stuck and I had to go ahead without them. Likewise, the game sorely lacks an FOV slider, which is blasphemy in a shooter. Regardless, these aren’t game-breaking, and the technical performance of Disintegration on PC is pleasantly slick.

The animation in the story has so much character. As static robots, nearly all faces do not move. Yet, the personality put into the body language and movement of each integrated ally effectively builds their charm. A hiccup in lip-syncing of living NPCs is unfortunately annoying, though only affects a minority. Combined with astounding voice acting performances, the treatment of these characters makes them feel like real people and greatens the spirit of the story.

Visuals are combined with an amazing score with the potential to be iconic. With an epic sweeping orchestra during intense battles and sombre tones when the scene is right, it hits almost every beat perfectly. The music is immediately recognisable as the gentle piano key theme of Disintegration drips into the title screen. Again, it matches the same tone of the earlier Halo games, a feeling I have not personally felt since playing through Halo: Reach.

8

Great

Positive:

  • Thrilling campaign that always switches up the strategy each mission
  • Mix of RTS and FPS gameplay is fun and unique
  • Characters feel human with real struggles
  • Multiplayer is exciting and competitive
  • Introduces a new universe that already has the remnants of an epic saga

Negative:

  • Not enough backstory and lore
  • Multiplayer needs tweaking for a serious competitive scene

Disintegration may be the next epic video game universe. Creatively mixing RTS and FPS to form this first-person commander-shooter is a stand-out remarkable effort to get right. The story, while being simple enough to set up a new world and characters, is ambitious with the potential for more adventures. With incredible personalities, a controversial society, and a destroyed planet of wonders, there is plenty of space for heroic tales to be told. The multiplayer is thrilling, albeit needing tweaks here and there, with the foundations for a competitive scene. Short, fast-paced rounds and an in-game meta will hopefully lead to a successful player base with continuing developer support. The humble team at V1 Interactive have put forward a game with colossal potential. It’s a shame there isn’t any more than a straightforward 15-hour campaign and multiplayer, because Disintegration already feels like a new fandom waiting to thrive.