Wednesday, April 08, 2020
If you managed to play some of the Disintegration closed multiplayer beta last year, or even just saw some footage of it, you might think you already know what to expect from the game’s single-player mode - lots of gravcycle combat, with a little bit of tactical unit control. That’s what I was expecting, anyway. However, after getting to see a thirty-minute gameplay demonstration of the Disintegration campaign, it’s clear that it’s another beast entirely - a game where the lines between real-time strategy and first-person shooter are far more blurred. In attempting to make a game that combines these two genres, V1 Interactive appears to have created something new entirely – and it looks very exciting.
Throughout the entire 30-minute demo, our pilot only ran into two other gravcycles, which were swiftly dealt with. The rest of the time, you’re dealing with units on the ground, and that’s where the game leans far closer to a strategy title. With your pilot in charge of three individual units, each with their own abilities, you’ll often find yourself switching focus from taking out enemies with your on-board weapons, and directing your own units – whether that’s telling them to move into cover, or to focus fire on one particularly big baddie. It works so well, simply because V1 has taken the camera from a traditional RTS – not a game mechanic you ever think too much about in that genre, more a necessary evil – and brought it in closer to the action, strapped a gun to it and said “you can play too!”.
Finding that balance as a player appears to be key – don’t get too caught up in directing your units that you forget to take down some foes yourself, but you also don’t want to get so distracted in flanking the enemy that you leave your units behind to die. This is especially important as your main three units are story characters, people in robot shells that you’ll interact with between missions and in story cut-scenes. They can lose all their health in a battle, but you’ll be given thirty seconds to retrieve their robotic head, allowing them to quickly respawn. If you don’t get them in time, that’s a mission fail, so you’ll need to use your gravcycle’s scan ability to look for health-regenerating silos around the map, keeping everyone in tip-top condition, including yourself.
During the course of the demo, our pilot also picked up a few stragglers along the way, units that you can command as well, but don’t have the special abilities that your main trio do. Unlike in the multiplayer, using these abilities causes time to slow to a crawl, allowing you valuable seconds to line up exactly where you want to unleash them. We saw three of these abilities in our demo – a large time-slowing bubble that is best kept for when you’ve run into an enemy ambush, giving you plenty of time to pick off a few grunts before they can overwhelm you; a stun grenade that hits in an AoE, staggering enemies while making them more vulnerable; and a missile volley than can deal huge damage to a small area. These can all be combined at once to take down a group of enemies easily, but each one takes nearly a full minute to recharge, leaving you much more vulnerable to ambushes or counter attacks.
Disintegration was originally designed purely as a single-player game, and it shows. The campaign features some really good voice acting, with your characters chatting to each other throughout. You play as Romer, a human that was integrated into a robotic suit. In this universe from Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto, most of the world was integrated into robotic suits decades ago, in order to protect humanity from extinction due to climate change, overpopulation, food shortages and a global pandemic. This was never meant to be permanent, but a splinter group of integrated humans known as the Rayonne have taken control, hunting down any non-integrated humans and forcing them to integrate. It’s basically Doctor Who’s cybermen, but without the emotion removal, leading big bad Black Shuck as an Ultron-like character who sees integration as the next step for humanity.
This heavy focus on story, and the way the game’s mix of RTS and FPS blend so seamlessly in our preview session, demonstrates that the core of Disintegration seems to be in the single-player. Much in the same way that the original Halo on Xbox set the foundation for how first-person shooters should work on consoles, Disintegration could be the game that finally brings real-time strategy to consoles in a way that doesn’t feel stripped back, or overly cumbersome – and V1 Interactive is using the genre Halo pioneered to help make it work. Until we get our hands on the full game, we won’t be sure whether the studio has nailed it, but if it has, this could set the template for how RTS games work on consoles. That’s an exciting prospect.