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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

[Review] ‘Disintegration’ Tries to Take First-Person Combat to New Heights, But it Can’t Get Off the Ground

The opening of V1 Interactive’s, Disintegration, does an excellent job of setting up the experience this game provides. Unfortunately, that’s not a compliment. While there are clearly fun ideas brewing here, they’re never fully realized. Weak writing, repetitive gameplay, and multiple technical issues make it apparent that Disintegration needed more time in the oven.

We start the game with a brief, infographic-style explanation of the concept of Integration. Should a person want or need to trade out their flesh and blood body for a robotic one, well, now we have the technology. This TLDR on the state of the world is interrupted as we pivot hard from the recording to a recorded message from soon-to-be protagonist Romer then to a scene of him being tortured by another robot man whose edgy black armor can only mean he’s the villain. There’s really not much explanation for what goes on next, Romer escapes with some other–I presume–prisoners aboard a ship and they promptly end up getting roped into the resistance group they encounter upon landing. Apparently things have gone a bit pear-shaped since that original Integration infomercial started airing. 

The resistance is filled leads to the first of many trope-laden characters, though I’d argue Waggoner, who neatly fills the role of the Magical Negro, is the worst of the bunch. He’s an older Black man, appearing basically out of nowhere to recruit the gang, and providing wisdom as they go about their journey. Waggoner is the heart of the operation, pushing more self-centered characters like Doyle to be more compassionate. He’s the only representative of the resistance you interact with for the first several missions, but he actively pushes to make Romer the leader and leading man, for no apparent reason other than he’s the celebrity hotshot. 

The other characters aren’t much better. Coqui is a Latino jokester with big Cheech energy who’s occasional use of the language feels woody and unnatural even if he doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of throwing random Spanish words into sentences. Agnes is the stereotypical tired but sassy Black woman, down to having owned a hair salon before everything went to hell. overly large gold hoop earrings on her armature really make her stereotypical design much clearer. Seguin is less blatantly offensive, more just lacking. They allude to having gender nonconformity or transness in their human past, but don’t elaborate on it aside from the tropey sci-fi notion of “robot bodies are fully customizable, therefore I could customize it to fit my identity.” We don’t get enough real developed time with these characters for this to feel like anything other than another batch of walking stereotypes.

The world and the broader story also suffer from a lack of elaboration. Disintegration’s narrative started as off as if I had read a prequel comic. There’s chemistry between the characters that speak to longer bonds and friendships, but there’s no meat to them in the game itself because the action is already hurtling ahead at breakneck speed. We’re expected to fill in the gaps, but the gaps are really more like chasms when it comes to both the relationships and overarching story.

How Disintegration delivers context and lore is erratic and makes the stakes feel low. There’s no immediate reason to care other than that the game says you should. Despite having killed dozens, if not hundreds of them at this point, I’m still not entirely sure what the Rayonne’s overall bad guy angle is. They hate “natural” humans and want to force Integration but I couldn’t tell you more than that. I don’t think they, or even Waggoner, knows. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to have substance in stories about resistance, but Disintegration doesn’t have a message beyond boilerplate sci-fi of what resistance might look like without much to back it up. 

Combat in Disintegration suffers from a similar problem. It’s clear that V1 wanted to take trends from other shooters and genres and fuse them into something novel, but it never gets there. Despite elaborating on systems like Mass Effect’s cover and ordering system, there’s really not much of interest in the result. 

Romer pilots a gravcycle, which for all intents and purposes is a one-person plane with varying guns and an environmental scanner. Most missions have at least two other companions tagging along, and you’re able to give them orders on where to move or to open containment cells or healing caches using your “command pulse.” The command pulse can also be used to order your squad to focus fire on a particular enemy. This is pretty essential to surviving missions, as the way you deliver health to your squad varies depending on the mission.

This is really the only variety in missions. Beyond having to figure out how you’re going to keep everyone alive when your health delivery system has changed, or has been removed altogether, the combat gets same-y very quickly. For the first few hours of the campaign, you’ll be facing maps that look fairly similar, trekking from cover cluster to cover cluster and dispatching the same three or four enemy types. After a mission or two, getting through levels is fairly mindless, and becomes a bit of a slog. Even when the scenery changes, the core premise of the combat encounters doesn’t. Not having a reason to be invested in killing the Red-Eyes doesn’t make things any more interesting either. 

The somewhat boring combat also isn’t helped by the multiple technical glitches Disintegration seems to be experiencing. I played on both PC and PS4 because of a game-breaking bug with my i5 processor, one that currently has no fix. During the third story mission, my game crashed four times, never saving my progress in the mission. The PS4 version did run better, but I still experienced a total crash and had multiple cutscenes that never loaded, despite the audio still playing. 

I love weird, ambitious games that take swings at big ideas, but V1 didn’t manage that here. Disintegration clearly wanted to use its gravcycle to take FPS games to new heights, but in the end, floated, slowly, while low to the ground.

Disintegration review code for PS4, and PC provided by the publisher.

Disintegration is out June 16 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.


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