Disintegration has become my new gaming obsession, but it’s been a slow burn.
There’s a high barrier for entry that might scare away many gamers, but anyone with the ability to juggle far too many things at once will relish in the opportunity to pilot a Gravcycle and command a squad of dynamic robots in battle.
Developed by V1 Interactive, a new studio of 30 developers founded by Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto, Disintegration is in a league of its own as a mashup of the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres. There are more robust FPSs and RTSs out there, but merging the two genres in equal measure brings a lot of depth to Disintegration, and it could be the gateway drug that leads gamers to dabble in unfamiliar territory.
This collision feels disorienting at first, but eventually becomes nothing short of exhilarating as combat gradually increases in complexity. Disintegration does an excellent job of easing you into the experience.
You need to play through the tutorial, and then you also kind of need to play through the entire single-player campaign before diving into multiplayer. The story is provocative and engaging, if a bit derivative at times, but the whole experience gradually acclimates you to the experience.
Likable characters and compelling plot twists are icing on the cake that is Disintegration’s complex battle system. And while the review version of the game is missing some necessary polish, V1 confirms that fixes for these issues are already in development.
Gameplay: The best of both worlds
The Gravcycle is a floating hoverbike that’s central to Disintegration’s gameplay experience.
You have two onboard weapons, can command up to four troops to activate abilities with the D pad, and your Gravcycle can move in any direction. There’s also a boost button and a ping system you use to target enemies or objects your troops can interact with. Juggling the varying cooldowns across all of these potential actions easily makes Disintegration’s combat feel very much like an esport-style experience.
I attended an early press preview for Disintegration’s multiplayer in October 2019, and I remember being awestruck by the complexity of the combat. You can play Disintegration like a more straightforward FPS. (Your squadmates’ A.I. is good enough that they’ll still be useful, which isn’t the case for Final Fantasy VII Remake.) Alternatively, you could issue squad commands and healing modules from afar, designating priority targets as needed.
In other words, you can play Disintegration as either an FPS or as an RTS if you want, but you’ll never thrive — or play competitively — until you learn to master both at the same time.
Disintegration requires a tremendous amount of multitasking to play at optimal efficiency, and after the tutorial provides you with the barebones basics, the story campaign gradually introduces you to different types of Gravcycles, weapons, and squadmates. It feels like a prerequisite course that also happens to tell a compelling story, prepping you for the full-on, exhilarating chaos that is multiplayer.
No matter how good you are at other games, nothing can truly prepare you for Disintegration multiplayer other than the campaign, and that’s just one more way this game sets itself apart from everything else.
Story: The future is robotic
To preserve humanity against global famine and disease hundreds of years in the future, human brains are implanted into robotic armatures through a process called “Integration.” Fantasizing about whether or not you’d undergo the process, and how big a robot you might want to be, is half the fun of Disintegration. Early adopters of the process — like our hero Romer Shoal, a former celebrity Gravcycle pilot — kept their personalities and many of their fading memories, but post-humanist extremists put a stop to that.
A radical group of Integrateds called the Rayonne eventually used the process to remove all individuality and optimize efficiency, essentially becoming something just like the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Romer escapes from a Rayonne prison alongside several other Integrateds at the start of the game, and they team up the remaining “Naturals” to fight the Rayonne.
The plot feels a bit rushed in the first several hours, but once you get into the meat of the campaign, it gets progressively more interesting. You make new friends along the way, and those relationships develop through mild chatter between missions at rotating hub spaces and during the missions themselves.
Debriefing with squadmates in between missions feels a bit shallow compared to something like the Mass Effect games. Romer’s gangly frame looks like an animated skeleton shuffling along in a cool jacket, or like an Exo from Destiny, but even hardened skeptics will be charmed by this group of Outlaws before long.
One of the first Integrateds that breaks out of prison with you, Doyle, is massive compared to Romer, and he looks just like the biggest Javelins from Anthem. Later in the game, you group up with Six-Oh-Two, who is somehow more than twice Doyle’s size. Their dynamic is a constant source of amusement as “the Gruff Big Guy” and “the Gruffer Bigger Guy.”
One of the campaign’s best spoiler-free moments happens when Doyle and Six-Oh-Two team up for a side mission offscreen, but we see them about to deploy out of the dropship.
“You first, big guy,” Doyle says, “I don’t need you landing on me!” Then Doyle punches Six-Oh-Two right on his metal butt before they hop out of the ship. The game is peppered with amusing exchanges like this, including clever puns about their robotic bodies. We’re constantly reminded these are human people who were transformed, and Disintegration leans into how outlandish and occasionally silly this concept can seem.
Disintegration’s exploration of the post-apocalypse feels oddly prescient given the ongoing pandemic and the threat of global warming. What will human existence look like in a few hundred years? Every character in Disintegration had good reasons for undergoing the Integration process but hope to someday become human again. As enticing as ideas about cyberizing the human mind in the pursuit of immortality might seem, Disintegration’s answer to such a profound premise is that being human will always be better than not being human.
Even when Disintegration might appear simple or familiar at first glance, it’s not at all, and it does more than enough with its story characters to stand out in a crowded sci-fi shooter space.
Reasons for concern
V1 Interactive isn’t an indie game studio by any means, but a lean team of only 30 developers built Disintegration in Unreal Engine. The PS4 review build has some game-breaking glitches and bugs that the development team issued a disclaimer about for reviewers, but it still feels like cause for concern.
The vocal audio and visuals didn’t match up in some early cutscenes during my playthrough. When they did, cutscenes consistently had frame rate issues. Perhaps worst of all: More than half of all the cutscenes on my playthrough appeared as a black screen with audio and subtitles, forcing me to imagine the action.
This feels forgivable enough, especially because the developers are aware of the issues and plan to fix them before launch, doubly so when Disintegration will have an initial price tag of only $49.99. In terms of launch day value, nothing beats Disintegration — so long as it can stick the landing. 7/10.
Disintegration will be released for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on June 16, 2020.
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