Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
If there’s one thing you can’t fault Disintegration developer V1 Interactive for, it’s thinking outside the box. On paper, Disintegration’s unique gameplay hook of combining vehicle-based FPS (first-person shooter) exploration and combat with RTS (real-time strategy) unit management sounds like an intriguing concept. In practice, though, the game’s various components don’t mesh together as cohesively as one would hope.
To be clear, Disintegration’s shortcomings don’t apply so much to its moment-to-moment gameplay as the various components which surround it. The game’s lore and world feel underbaked, character voice acting is mediocre at best, and the story campaign’s missions are plagued by a disappointing lack of variety. V1 Interactive certainly deserves credit for taking the time to craft both a full single-player campaign and a separate multiplayer component. As standalone experiences, however, neither component holds much long-term appeal, though that could change in the near future if V1’s promises of post-launch support are genuine.
Disintegration’s story campaign casts players as an everyman named Romer Shoal. Romer has, like many other characters in the game’s sci-fi take on future Earth, undergone a process called ‘Integration’ wherein a functioning human mind is transferred into a robotic armature. Along with a mostly generic background of being a former smuggler looking for redemption, Romer also happens to be skilled at piloting gravcycles, one-person anti-gravity vehicles that can be fitted with various armaments and auxiliary tools.
The campaign kicks players straight into the thick of an ongoing war between a resistance movement made up of ‘outlaws’ (integrated humans) and ‘naturals’ (non-integrated humans) and the Rayonne, an authoritarian force that believes all humans must be both integrated and indoctrinated into their post-humanist agenda. A side-effect of the Rayonne’s indoctrination process is that an integrated person’s eyes glow a sinister red, hence the resistance’s constant use of the incredibly creative slang term ‘red eyes.’
The first time players see Romer, he’s being interrogated on a massive floating Rayonne ship called an Iron Cloud by the leader of Rayonne’s North American forces, a sadistic tactician named Black Shulk. Moments later, though, the Iron Cloud’s interior erupts in a full-on prison break, and Romer is able to escape alongside a few other outlaws. Since he really has no other options, Romer agrees to work with these outlaws as their resident gravcycle pilot.
An opening tutorial teaches players the basics of gravcycle movement, combat, and issuing commands to allied ground units, and the first proper story campaign mission does a decent job of showing how those different systems can synergize through proper application. Thanks to Disintegration’s four separate difficulty levels (which can be adjusted between missions) and high-functioning NPC AI, players can adopt whatever playstyle they feel best suits them.
Those who want to go full FPS can just wade in and unleash their gravcycle’s weapons, confident that their AI squadmates will hold their own. RTS fans, meanwhile, can hang back a bit and let their squadmates do the combat-based heavy lifting while they issue orders and offer support through healing and long-range fire. Utilizing a hybrid of the above two approaches is also a viable strategy, and it’s arguably the most fun since there’s no greater thrill than felling a tough foe through coordinated deployments of squadmate abilities and gravcycle fire.
Unfortunately, the initial shine of Disintegration’s FPS/RTS gameplay wears off quickly once players realize that every one of the game’s story campaign missions unfolds in virtually the same manner. Each mission involves traveling along a linear path, fighting groups of enemy Rayonne, and completing stock objectives such as hacking terminals or saving prisoners. V1 Interactive does its best to mix things up by slowly doling out new types of enemies to fight and objectives to complete, but that basic linear format is never deviated from.
Other problems drag down the story campaign experience as well. The voice acting is sub-par, and at least on PC where I played, spoken dialogue was also slightly desynced so that human characters’ mouths would move slightly after their words were heard. And speaking of characters, they suffer the dual fate of being lumped into generic stereotypes and having their backstories remain completely unexplored throughout the entire game.
Characters like the tough yet soft-hearted brute Doyle or the wise-cracking brit Ox-Eye admittedly grew on me over the course of Disintegration’s six-hour campaign, but it was still frustrating to learn so little about them other than what was revealed during brief snippets of between-mission conversation. Doyle, for example, was apparently a cop before he went through integration (another NPC even cleverly pokes fun at him with a well-delivered joke about donuts), but I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t take the time to listen to as much ambient dialogue as I could.
In many ways the story campaign’s RPG and progression components feel threadbare and poorly implemented, like V1 was initially excited to include such systems but then just sort of gave up three-quarters of the way in. Both the player’s gravcycle weapon loadout and their assigned squadmates are locked for each mission, so there’s really nothing in the way of customization other than buying passive stat upgrades.
Players can level Romer up by earning Salvage (XP) from defeated enemies and completed challenges, but doing so merely unlocks more passive stat upgrades to buy. V1 was clearly inspired by other sci-fi shooter properties like Titanfall and Mass Effect, but its follow-through feels woefully inadequate.
To summarize, Disintegration’s story campaign isn’t terrible, it’s just…mediocre. I caught glimmers of the grand sci-fi story of resistance and redemption that V1 Interactive was trying to tell, but the lack of care and polish given to the final product all be assured it wasn’t going to land smoothly.
Disintegration’s multiplayer component feels far more promising than its story campaign, but it too has its share of shortcomings. The FPS/RTS gameplay model works even better in multiplayer since it helps the game stand out and ensures that victory is more about teamwork and proper ground unit management than superior weapon loadouts or twitch reflexes. As with the story campaign, though, it’s hard to see how anyone other than a hardcore fan could stick with Disintegration’s multiplayer over the long term, especially since there’s so little content to work with.
In its default launch form, Disintegration’s multiplayer feels well-balanced. There are three game modes, all of them competitive and all of them clever reworkings of existing competitive staples. There’s Zone Control (two teams work to capture and hold three fixed points on the map), Collector (teams pick up “brain cans” from defeated enemy players and ground units to score points), and Retrieval (attacking team must transport cores to a specific point, defending team must stop them).
The twist on all these modes is that ground units factor heavily into completing mode-specific objectives. In Zone Control, for example, players in their gravcycles can’t capture points, they must direct their ground units to stand in the point’s capture field. Similar conditions apply to the Retrieval game mode; attacker players can’t pick up cores, only their ground units can. Collector feels like the best mode for FPS purists since destroying enemy player gravcycles awards more points than destroying ground units, but even then aggressive players ignore a well-coordinated ground unit assault at their own peril.
Much as in the story campaign, the various crews you can play as in multiplayer have their own fixed gravcycle loadouts and unit types, which at first I didn’t like. However, my opinion changed once I realized you can actually switch to another crew during a match whenever you’re killed. This means that every match is theoretically an even playing field since every player has access to the same exact roster of crews and their associated abilities.
There is progression in the form of credits earned either via gameplay or from microtransactions, but the only things players can buy with these credits are cosmetic items like new skins for their crew and pilot. Some cosmetic items can only be unlocked by completing specific challenges, providing incentives for more dedicated players to work towards.
For players who are satisfied playing Disintegration’s three competitive multiplayer modes so they can unlock new cosmetic customization choices, there’s certainly enough to keep them busy for a little while. My hope, however, is that V1’s post-launch plans include a more robust multiplayer suite that appeals to more than just the competitive crowd.
Down to Earth
V1 has mentioned how it plans on supporting Disintegration with both paid post-launch DLC and free content updates, and there’s absolutely potential for both. The story campaign doesn’t end on a cliffhanger per se, but it also doesn’t resolve all of its major narrative threads, suggesting that V1 may have more story content in the pipeline.
As I mentioned above, the game’s multiplayer component could do with a little expansion as well. I have no doubt V1 is working on new game modes, new challenges, new cosmetics, and perhaps even new playable crews. My one suggestion would be that the multiplayer eventually gets some sort of co-op vs. AI/PvE mode since it’s a bit of a bummer that players can only flex the might of all the unique multiplayer crews in competitive scenarios. I actually don’t mind the simplified progression loop of earning credits, completing challenges, and unlocking cosmetic items, I’d just rather that fighting other players wasn’t my only option for sustaining that loop.
In its launch state, Disintegration’s story campaign doesn’t serve much purpose beyond showcasing what’s possible in the game’s multiplayer and said multiplayer likely won’t retain a large playerbase unless V1 can start implementing post-launch updates sooner rather than later. As a complete triple-A package, though, the game at least shows promise through both its unique sci-fi lore and its hybrid FPS/RTS gameplay. I’m hesitant to say Disintegration is worth its $50 asking price right at launch, but given some post-launch love, it could easily reach a place where such a price point is justified.