Hands-on: Disintegration's innovative multiplayer battles hold together well

When it isn’t being romantic about motorcycles, Disintegration, developed by V1 Interactive, offers an innovative, promising take on the FPS genre. It borrows liberally from the spectrum of popular shooters, with elements of the MOBA, space sim, and mech genres.

When players were beginning to tire of the Call of Duty formula, a popular solution was to give players more agility and greater freedom of movement. Disintegration goes in the other direction, exploring the tension in a slower, more deliberate playstyle. While gravcycle riders can fly, even the fastest gravcycles are big, slow, and vulnerable compared to your usual FPS protagonist.

You need to enter engagements with planning and forethought, and deploy your limited resources carefully. You’re not a lone wolf - you’re the commander of an AI squad and using their skills wisely is the key to victory.

Fire Team Alpha

Your ground team is your greatest asset. You can issue orders, telling them to move, attack, or use their special abilities. Your gravcycle has weapons (some of which can be impressively devastating), but your ground team is the key to really wrecking house.

You issue move/attack orders to your ground team with a right click, and the context changes depending on what you’re aiming at. Right click an enemy and your team will attack them. Right click the ground and they’ll post up in that area and attack anything that comes along. You can also call them back to you, which is handy when you’re moving to a new location or need to pull them out of danger.

This system is cool, but it still needs a bit of work. You can’t order your team to attack targets that are too far away from you. If you do, you’ll end up ordering them to move to a point somewhere near your target, which is directly in the line of fire. Your “order range” is surprisingly short. A few times I ordered them to attack an enemy gravcycle, and instead ordered them to march up to it instead. The game really needs some kind of indicator in your HUD that lets you know if the target under your reticle is inside or outside of order range.

Each unit in your ground team also has a special ability. Some can create zones that slow any enemy that enters them. Others create disruption zones that shut down enemy weapons. And usually you have a big mech with a heavy AoE damage dealing ability. These abilities have long cooldown times, so you have to deploy them wisely. These abilities are powerful enough to turn a fight in your favor, mainly by locking down or destroying your opponent’s ground team.

If soldiers in your ground team die, they drop a token. If you pick up that token, it drastically shortens their respawn time. If you don’t pick up the token, you’re looking at respawn times of up to a full minute. This creates an interesting set of tactical decisions. When you lose members of your team, your DPS drops precipitously. Is it worth it to run into fire to grab the tokens before you retreat? Or is it better to draw off your opponent so you can circle back for the tokens? Or is it better to just run the hell away and cut your losses?

Multiplayer - getting by with a little help from your friends

Disintegration multiplayer revolves around objective based play, but objectives must be completed by your AI ground team, not you. There are two modes available in the closed beta: Zone Control and Retrieval.

Zone Control is your classic three point Domination game type; anyone who’s played Call of Duty will recognize it. However, points can only be captured by your ground team. I love this variation for a few reasons. You can order your ground team to park it on the point and they will hold position until you tell them otherwise. Meanwhile, you can fly around the area, defending chokepoints and fighting off enemies without worrying whether you stepped off the point. However, if your whole ground team is dead, you can’t capture the point.

Retrieval is a neat riff on capture the flag. The defending team has three points to defend. The attacking team wants to bring their ground team to the point, where they can pick up the flag (called a “core”) from the point. Then you need to escort your team to the drop off point, usually near the center of the map. Each point can be harvested multiple times, but only one core from each point can be in play at any given time. When three cores are captured or time runs out, the round ends and sides switch.

But here’s where it gets interesting: the core is a timebomb, and while it won’t go all red barrel on you if your ground team gets shot, the time is always ticking down. While it’s being carried, it ticks down relatively slowly. If it’s been dropped, the timer accelerates. When it runs out, it blows up, forcing the attacking team to return to the point to retrieve another core. Also, the defending team can’t pick up the core and return it. They just need to baby sit the core until it blows up, creating interesting defensive situations where everyone wants to be near the core until absolutely no one wants to be near it. And yes, you can order your ground team to defend the core to the death.

Look at this bunch of clowns - crews and their roles

Choosing your crew is sort of like choosing your character in Overwatch. It determines your role in combat, the composition of your ground crew, your weapon loadout, and the durability, handling, and speed of your gravcycle. Gravcycles with more destructive weapons tend to have smaller crews, and thus fewer abilities to use.

The space combat sim fan in me loves how different each crew and gravcycle feels. The tanky Warhedz can take and deal a ton of damage, but are slow with terrible handling and a small ground team. The (currently kind of overpowered) Lost Ronin have tremendously damaging burst fire cannons and homing missiles, along with a ground team that can deliver mortar strikes and concussion grenades.

My favorite crew, by far, is Tech Noir (a nod to the original Terminator film) which plays a bit like Zenyatta from Overwatch. You get a powerful, slow firing, long range cannon with a small magazine and a homing projectile that provides healing over time.

The differences between each crew creates a team comp metagame that V1 Interactive will have to constantly tweak, which seems like fun to me, but might give Overwatch players nightmares (months of triple tank meta... shudder).

Each crew has its own particular aesthetic. The Sideshow are a bunch of robot clowns. Neon Dreams are 80s b-boys. The Kings’s Guard are European knights. Each crew is both visually distinct, on-theme, and a little silly. It’s fun the way that 80s movie The Warriors was fun.

Parting shots and closing thoughts

Disintegration solves some issues that have plagued multiplayer FPS games, partially by borrowing from other game genres. Spawn points are surrounded by powerful turrets, preventing spawn camping, which feels like something inspired by MOBAs. Your magazine count sits around your reticle as well as in your HUD, something I love from the Mechwarrior games.

Your gravcycle can heal itself, but if it’s been dropped down below half its health, it only heals to 50% unless another crew with a healing ability helps you out. The King’s Guard can set down an AoE healing item and Tech Noir can shoot you with a homing healing missile. This is a nice balance - retreating from battle lets you come back stronger than you left it, but if you want a lot of healing, someone has to play a healer. But my team didn’t feel totally bereft without one. It’s a funky little balancing act between Call of Duty and Overwatch. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

This game is going to live and die on its maps. What I saw in the beta was decent, but not mindblowing. I’m hoping that the maps in the main release allow you to take more advantage of the verticality that gravcycles provide. Also, a ground team with grappling hooks that could post up on a tall building would be fantastic.

Visually, the map aesthetic is a little drab and seems to be on-theme with the sci-fi robot post apocalypse of the single player campaign. I hope that the designers and devs embrace their wacky side (The Sideshow is a team of clown robots because some of the designers worked on Twisted Metal) and give us a wild neon future city or an evil robot circus to play in.

This technical beta prioritized controller users and console players. I couldn’t map my mouse wheel to anything. There was no in-game mouse sensitivity control, but increasing the DPI on my Razer DeathAdder mouse definitely helped me turn faster and I’m sure provided a slight advantage over folks with untuned hardware.

If there was ever a game that cried out for destructible environments, it’s Disintegration. It would be great to use your ground team to collapse buildings on your enemies, break down barriers, and carve shortcuts to objectives. But this might mess up the balance of carefully crafted multiplayer maps. Maybe we can see some of this inside of a well-orchestrated single player campaign.

There's no support for 4K yet, but I’m betting it’ll be there at launch. But with my 1080 Ti at 1440p, the game played great, with nary a visual hiccup. Early games had some lag, but that cleared up pretty quickly. It’s not the most visually stunning game - this is an AA endeavor for sure. But a lot of thought went into the mechanics, and I can’t wait to see what the finished game looks like. It is quirky, exciting, and remixes familiar mechanics to make something new. It’s risky and feels fresh. It’s not polished yet, but that’s what betas are for. I have high hopes for this one.