The Division’s surprise announcement at this year’s E3 excited me for more than one reason. Not only was it utterly gorgeous, not only did it paint a picture of deep and rewarding co-operative play, but it also came from Massive, a studio I’ve been a big fan of for quite a some time.
Massive Entertainment were bought up by Ubisoft in the wake of the Blizzard-Activision merger, which saw several big studios cut from the books and loose in the wind. They’d just come off the back of creating one of my favourite strategy games of all time, World in Conflict, but found themselves being put to the task of supporting Ubisoft’s vast network of studios. Most recently they were fully credited with work on Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Far Cry 3, but always playing a supporting role.
For Tom Clancy’s The Division, they’re taking the lead once more, and doing so in quite spectacular fashion.
The Division is set in the midsts of a pandemic which is gripping the world, with you and your team part of the Strategic Homeland Division, tasked with combating the threats to public order and salvaging what you can, as the world goes to hell in a hand basket all around.
It is a gorgeous looking and exquisitely realised world, from the little footage which has been seen. Taking cover is only ever temporary, as car tyres will burst and windows smash under a hail of gunfire. A particularly nice touch I saw, was that even brick walls can offer only a certain degree of cover, as bricks are gradually chipped away, forcing you to keep on the move and take out opponents quickly.
Helping you out will be a variety of technological marvels, from mini-turrets to the more fantastical shockwave, both of which can help take out nearby enemies. Just be sure to pop a smoke grenade first, so the opposition don’t see you coming and gun you down.
In missions you will be going up against AI targets, but when you send up the flare for extraction upon completion, this will make you the target of every other team of players who are nearby in this grand MMO world. It will give a few moments of high tension PvP, to really make you earn your rewards.
The scale and depth of this world and concept is hugely impressive on all fronts, and Massive’s in-house Snowdrop engine is a technical marvel.
However, one easily dismissed aspect of a lot of upcoming and next-gen games is the endless integration of tablets and mobiles. They’re often going to be tasked with things like weapon load-out changes, picking the car you want to drive, or feeding you an endless stream of reminders that a game exists and that your friends are playing.
This can often feel rather pointless and frivolous, but I’m happy to say that in The Division it’s looking like a particularly accomplished effort. You can briefly hop into the game alongside your team, and take control of a remote quadrocopter-like drone, hovering over the battlefield.
From this isometric view point, there’s a nice but simplistic 3D engine, letting you see all of the action that’s going on below, and this is essentially the point. With simple touch controls which let you drag on screen to move or use a two-fingered twisting gesture to change your angle, you can get around a see everything that’s going on.
From here, you mark important enemies, so that your team can easily see a sniper coming in to a vantage point, or an enemy hiding behind thin cover, as was shown in the reveal demo.
You can also apply boosters to help out your team, with damage buffs or armour de-buffs which do bely some of the number and stat crunching in the background, or take a much more direct approach and call in a missile strike.
It’s quite a nice touch, I feel, and one which really does warrant the use of a mobile app during gameplay, allowing you to still help out your friends in a mission, even if you don’t have the time to sit down for a lengthy session or the TV screen is currently being used.
The only downside I can really think of is that, as good as it already looks, this game isn’t set for release until the end of next year…