‘Disintegration’ Review: Halo Creator's New Game Fails To Fulfil Its Potential
I don't know how they did it, but somehow the 30-strong development team over at V1 Interactive has successfully combined both the FPS and RTS genres into something that feels completely fresh. Not only does the mash-up mostly work, but once you get your head around the controls, Disintegration can be a hell of a lot of fun.
It can also be impossibly infuriating and repetitive, but I'll get to that later.
Before anyone picks me up on the newness of RTS/FPS hybrids - yes,the genres have met before in games like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfare and Star Wars Republic Commando. But Disintegration takes a more literal approach to bringing the genres together. Let me explain.
In Disintegration you take control of ex-celebrity Romer Shoal, flying your Gravycle above and through the battlefield, giving orders to your team below all whilst also dealing damage from the sky. Imagine Halo Wars - an apt choice given V1 studio's president is Halo series co-creator, Marcus Lehto - but instead of flying around the world controlling vast amounts of units and designating what they attack, you instead only control between one and four units, each with their own special attacks.
From your airborne Gravcycle you have a first-person view of the battle, where you can join in to shoot enemy Reyonne soldiers, and give healing aid to your allies. You move around the battlefield in a manner akin to a more advanced first-person view Banshee from the Halo series - although that comparison doesn't carry over when it comes to controls.
To make this all work, the team has obviously taken some creative choices with button mapping on a controller - I was playing on PS4 Pro. The game's default option assigns the left bumper and trigger to move you up and down in space, while the right bumper selects targets and positions for your troops. The right trigger, unsurprisingly, shoots.
It all makes sense once you've got it, but there are times you get so engrossed in the flying FPS action or the methodical RTS aspects that you can forget that what you're playing is a decidedly more stripped-back version of each of these genres. Having both the left bumper and trigger assigned to moving your character up and down, for example, takes a while to get fully adjusted too, alongside the other controls.
In traditional FPS fashion, the levels themselves are mostly linear - you progress by completing tasks and defeating stationed enemy troops, but along the way you collect 'Upgrade Chips' to improve aspects of your hero and characters, to level them up. In a sense it's also kinda a bit like a dungeon-crawler, as you can go back and replay any level from the hub world to level up more and find salvage you missed.
But it's with this dungeon-crawler aspect that some of my gripes come into play. Throughout the first couple of levels you find yourself moving from battle to battle with nothing discernable to make each moment stand out as something special. It's all very repetitive. Indeed, the only thing that added any interest or emotion was the frustration of coming to terms with the controls.
A main criticism is that in each level your Gravycle is kitted out with a different combination of weapons and/or healing abilities to aid your mission-rotating crew. In one level I was dual-wielding shotguns - something that felt ever so strange, given the fact most of my combat was from a distance - alongside a healing gun; while in another level I was given a sticky bomb launcher with remote detonation. In a world where FPS titles have long relied on weapon variation and picking up new weapons on the go, this set assignment per level feels like a restraint on the combat possibilities. Plus, when some levels can last between 30 minutes to 60 minutes, one set of weapons becomes incredibly monotonous.
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I spent most of my time playing the campaign on the suggested Maveric difficulty, only fluctuating down to Recruit' and the easiest setting, Story to bypass sections where the game crashed near the end of levels (an issue which we have been assured are known about) or to bypass the sometimes incredibly harsh difficulty spikes. Entirely ground-based battles tend to be manageable, but things can get messy when fighting against airborne targets, like enemy Gravcycles.
The game is mostly designed for you to be looking down and supplying air support for your troops - so when fights come up to you, the world struggles to adjust. Your Gravcycle can only go a certain height off the ground, meaning any obstacles like trees or city sculptures are often impossible to maneuver over, forcing you to traverse around them-. This often feels incredibly sluggish and confined, especially when the sides of your screen are blocked by the Gravcycle engines. In these fights, I'd find myself trying to dodge attacks only to side blast into random set dressing that I had no idea was there, leading me to be shot to smithereens. Being able to replay levels on lower difficulties is fine, but it's not a solution to some poor and intrusive environmental design.
Disintegration is at its most fun when fighting alongside not only your crew but other soldiers, too - going in full blast against the Rayonne forces with a small army at your side. Not only because it makes the fights more manageable, but it allows you to pick and choose the key enemies you and your crew should be facing, letting you put your all into making these moments as effective and enjoyable as possible.
Outside of the missions, you will spend your time in the hub worlds. These are mainly basic spaces where the only interaction is to chat to your crew and robot sentries, who will offer bonus challenges in your next mission. The function of these hubs could have been done with a menu screen, but they add a nice layer of depth to the world - even if that layer is just fleshing out your team with generic dialogue and backstories.
The game seems to pride itself on its story and world, and to an extent I can't blame it. A lot of thought has gone into creating an interesting sci-fi universe with an intriguing concept at its core, revolving around human brain integration into robot bodies and whether the human race is better in our natural bodies or as this next-level robo-evolution.
Supporting this are some stellar cutscenes,, which at times evoke Destiny and Halo levels of polish, with cinematic camera moves and editing. I normally wouldn't mention this, but V1 Interactive has done a really great job with a very small team. Characters too, although relatively play-by-numbers, all have unique personalities and bicker between one another with Joss Whedon-like banter that's hard to not be engrossed by. But this comradery doesn't feel earned early-on, and generally comes across as rushed. In fact, most of the game's story background takes place in the opening cutscene, which covers so much narrative baggage in such a short amount of time that it's easy to miss key details.
A clever choice made by the team, on purpose or not, was to make the majority of the cast robots, with no need to lip-sync dialogue. I feel this decision may have been the reason the cutscenes are so stellar, with such a limited team.
And that limited, 30-strong team is a crucial factor here. Despite all the game's flaws,they've created something new, and it works. There's a world and a concept here that has the potential to deliver something truly epic - and the gameplay itself, when it's at its best, is pretty damn great. There are lessons the team will have learned in making Disintegration, and I hope they get the opportunity to grow as a studio and create a truly special sequel. The potential is there.
During our time with the game, we were only able to play the campaign. The score below does not reflect the quality of the game's multiplayer modes.
Disintegration is out on June 16th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. PlayStation 4 code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here
Featured Image Credit: V1 Interactive, Private Division