Disintegration Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
For a more in-depth version of this Disintegration Review, check out the video version below.
Halo is my favourite franchise of all time. Every time I replay Halo, the over the top action, opening theme and the sense of scale still gives me chills. But when I first played Halo at the age of 11, I had no idea why it was great. In hindsight, it was the inventive sci-fi setting, the revolutionary first person shooter mechanics and the fact it was unlike anything we’d seen before.
Disintegration, a brand new IP from Halo’s co-creator Marcus Lehto, is again unlike anything we’ve seen before. It blends first person shooter and real time strategy mechanics to create an experience which is truly unique. But unfortunately, while the premise, setting, characters and gameplay are unique, there are fundamental flaws with encounter design, player restrictions and repetition that hold the game back from greatness. In the end the obvious flaws stifled my experience at key moments. It was within these moments I was the most frustrated, when really I should have been praising a game which had the potential to be revolutionary.
- Developed by: V1 Interactive
- Published by: Private Division
- Available on: Xbox One/Playstation 4/PC
- Played on: Xbox One
Interesting Premise, Never Developed
Disintegration’s greatest strength is its premise. Humanity is on the brink of collapse and people have transplanted their brains into robotic shells through a process known as Integration. There’s an evil faction, called the Rayonne, who harvest humans (or naturals as they’re called here). It’s never explained why, or what the motives are behind each side, but I was interested in Disintegration’s world from the very start. I wanted to learn more and find answers to my already burning questions.
Admittedly, more depth is occasionally added when you visit a new location. For example, it was chilling the first time I scanned a Rayonne outpost to see a human harvesting machine. And it was haunting when my crew discussed the origins of a derelict city we were battling through. But more often than not, these questions go unanswered. I found this slightly frustrating at times, but others may like the air of mystery V1 Interactive have created.
As information is usually held back, the narrative is confusing from the offset. The game starts and you’re thrown into the middle of a scene. An ex-grav-cycle rider and lead protagonist, Romer, is being interrogated by the head of Rayonne, Black Shuck. I honestly found it hard to take Black Shuck seriously as his name sounds like a campy supervillain from a 70s comic book. Somehow Romer escapes and quickly teams up with a rag-tag crew of outlaws. Like Romer, they too want to take Shuck down and his gargantuan space-ship along with him. The sense of scale imposed by this thing was jaw dropping. It suffocates the sky and does an excellent job of making you feel overwhelmed by your mission.
Within the crew are a colourful cast of characters, each with unique personalities and visual appearance. Doyle is an ex-police officer and now occupies a large robotic frame. Six-Oh-Two grew up in the hood where rival gangs shouted out your door number (hence the name). And Coqui, a lovable joker, dances after victory in battle. They all reminded me of the Spartans from Halo: Reach who share similar aesthetics and personality traits.
The characters are nicely fleshed out too, with plenty of opportunities to learn more about them in between missions. Here you enter a Destiny style hub, which ranges from inside the team hangar to the roof terrace of a skyscraper. It’s not only a clever way of breaking up the pace during the campaign, but it gives you some downtime to chat to the crew, collect challenges or upgrade Romer and your units. The upgrades are basic, like +10% attack damage, but I appreciated their inclusion nonetheless.
However, when talking to each crew member, they never had anything interesting to say. Their dialogue was short, basic or completely irrelevant. The worst offender was a crew member telling me they missed their dog. I mean, we may die at the hands of an evil faction any minute now, why are you telling me about your French Bulldog? I guess V1 is trying to remind us that these robotic people are actually human, but there are better ways to do this. Tell me about each character’s hopes, dreams, fears or worries – things that actually make us human. There’s also a forced romance between two characters who have zero on-screen chemistry (mainly because one is a robot). It’s safe to say, I was cringing a lot during these moments.
Overall, there was so much potential to develop these characters and the world they live in, but most opportunities were either executed poorly or simply not explored.
So, the campaign never reveals more depth than the original premise, or by the tiny breadcrumbs left by each character, but how is the gameplay? Well, as nothing interesting is added, the end result is a pretty generic FPS campaign. This is of course fine if the narrative serves to create unique and interesting missions which occasionally it does. Like one standout mission involving a prison break armed with a sticky grenade launcher. But most missions resort to either rescuing people or attacking an enemy resource.
Admittedly, V1 have added variety by creating unique grav-cycles, different units, varied weapons and several enemy types. This was greatly appreciated as most weapons feel great like the dual miniguns or homing rockets. They’re also given out at a generous pace to keep things interesting. Unfortunately though you can’t design your own loadout. For every mission your weapons and units are pre-determined and can’t be changed. This means if you’ve found a combination you like, you’ll likely only get to use it a couple of times.
While this isn’t ideal, the biggest problem with the campaign is the constant wave defence sections at the end of every mission. On the recommended settings, these sections were extremely frustrating due to crazy spikes in difficulty. Most times, you’re placed in a square arena and tasked to defend it as enemies attack from every angle. While I appreciate that enemies who flank us create uncomfortable situations, it just doesn’t work for Disintegration. For one, you’re hovering in mid air and have nowhere to cover. And because the grav-cycle is slow moving it is usually impossible to avoid taking damage. Even the grav cycle boost/dodge was usually ineffective.
These moments are further hindered by the loadouts V1 have selected for you, as there’s a high chance you won’t have the right tools to get the job done. This happened on a few missions where I had no healing ability and as a result, failed the mission. Of course, rather than try and soak up damage, you’re expected to sit back and command units from afar. But more often than not enemies spawn behind you forcing you to change position.
It’s such a shame these sections ruined it, as the enemy design is superb. There’s a great mix of weak and stronger enemies, each with interesting mechanics. I personally enjoyed the Thunderbird bosses who were like mini Mass Effect Reapers. After a while though, everything starts to get repetitive as enemies, like the Thunderbird, are used too frequently. When the fourth Thunderbird spawned in a mission, I rolled my eyes. They should have been held back a bit longer, or just not used so frequently.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
At first, I thought the FPS mechanics in Disintegration were pointless as V1 gives you the worst weapon in the game, the dual assault rifles. They are laughably weak and because you haven’t had a chance to upgrade your health, you die after a few hits. Early on the only option is to sit back and chip away at an enemies health bar, like you’re playing a support class in a MOBA. I honestly thought, if you’re not actively engaging in combat then what is the point in having a weapon in the first place? Within these initial moments I wished the FPS side of Disintegration had been scrapped and the focus was on the original RTS gameplay.
However, once you’ve upgraded Romer, and V1 gives you a new weapon, everything starts to gel and the game truly shines. At times I had to stop and remind myself that Disintegration was developed by a team of 30 people as it feels phenomenal to play. The FPS mechanics are chunky, mechanical and have outstanding sound design, elevating every encounter to stratospheric heights. Hovering in mid-air also adds something new to the genre by challenging you to dodge vertically too.
“it felt like one side was Dr. Jekyll and the other Mr. Hyde and I was watching them try to kill each other”
Of course, when you’re in mid-air your main role is to scan the battlefield and order units to attack. I always found this perspective thought-provoking as I carefully planned out the best way to assault a Rayonne base. But every single time, my plan never came to fruition. As you’re constantly off the ground, enemies can spot you from a mile off, immediately alerting their allies you’re about to attack. Any strategy you may have planned is also simplified due to the lack of options for your units. You can’t order them to cover, suppress fire or split into smaller groups. It’s extremely basic.
While there are moments of greatness with Disintegration’s FPS/RTS hybrid, it felt like one side was Dr. Jekyll and the other Mr. Hyde and I was watching them try to kill each other. For example, the RTS side is already at a disadvantage due to the limited number of buttons on a gamepad. Combine this with half of the buttons already used to reload your weapon, swap weapon or zoom, and V1 are left with even less retail to play with. On top of this, the FPS mechanics are never too powerful to make sure you’re reliant on your RTS units. In both instances, one side has suffered to facilitate the other.
In the end it feels like you’re playing a watered down version of both genres, rather than a revolutionary new one.
PVN (Player versus No One)
I wish I could give you an honest review of Disintegrations PVP modes. But unfortunately I’ve spent four days trying to find a match. One night I even spent 30 minutes searching and had no luck. It seems as if no one is playing the PVP on launch.
Disintegration Review – Final Thoughts
Playing through Disintegration for this review, there were times I had a lot of fun. After the initial hours, and once V1 gave me a wider arsenal of weapons to play with, the gameplay started to click. It’s clear that the developers at V1 are extremely talented, simply due to the way it feels to play Disintegration and it’s overall polished presentation. (I experienced no bugs throughout my entire playthrough).
But when reaching the end of a level, and facing off against waves upon waves of enemies, this feeling quickly vanished. Due to the core mechanics of the game, be it hovering in mid-air on a slow moving grav-cycle, or due to the constant hand holding with your units, it felt as if the odds were always stacked against me.
And while I was initially lured in by the unique and interesting premise, in the end I was left frustrated as no further depth is added. The questions asked during the game’s introduction were never answered, and I finished the campaign none the wiser to when I began.
There was so much potential for Disintegration, like Halo before it, to be revolutionary. But due to the size of the studio, limited budget and scope of the game, the end result falls significantly short of the mark. Perhaps if Disintegration gets a sequel, then the game may reach its full potential. But in its current state, and as the PVP is currently unplayable, Disintegration is not worth your money and most definitely not worth your time.
Thank you for reading my Disintegration Review. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments or on my social media.
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