The melding of two disparate things can often be a path to creating something new and exciting. That idea is built into the very fabric of Disintegration. Pulling together the contrasting worlds of first-person shooting and real-time strategy, V1 Interactive, a team made up of former Halo and SOCOM devs, have put together a sci-fi offering that draws on their divergent experience while crafting something that feels genuinely unique.
For a game that centres around humanity’s struggle against robotic assimilation, Disintegration has a lot of heart, raising questions of identity, race and totalitarianism, though it’s a shame to see some generic character types, particularly ones that reinforce racial stereotypes. In the aftermath of overpopulation, famine, and global pandemic – a trope that’s suddenly become painfully relatable – humanity found a means to survive by giving up their weak, fleshy bodies and implanting their brains into robotic armatures. Intended as a short-term solution, the bad guys obviously decided it was preferable to have rock hard robot bits and began hunting down all of the remaining Naturals in a bid to become one big metal family. That’s where you come in.
Taking on the role of Gravcycle pilot Romer Shoal, you’re part of an Integrated group who escape from captivity, and subsequently set about taking down the system, hundreds of robots at a time. Mostly by blowing things up. How you do that though is where things get interesting.
Romer pilots a Gravcycle; a highly manoeuvrable floating vehicle that’s fitted with a central weapon and a support module. You hover above the ground, using speed and range to survey the area and tackle incoming enemies, but you’re not alone in this fight.
Every mission sees you taking a team of Integrated with you, who you command in much the same way as you would a squad in an RTS game. You tell them where to go, who to shoot, and what abilities to use, while joining in by laying down extra firepower and providing support when needed. In action, it feels somewhat similar to playing a support character like Mercy in Overwatch, only you’re controlling the rest of your squad at the same time.
Disintegration is a hard game. Playing on the recommended Standard difficulty will almost certainly have you seeing the Mission Failed screen every few minutes. You have to learn to sweep, to bolt, and to target enemies effectively in order to succeed, with the game ensuring you’re only just equipped well enough for the task. Playing on Recruit, the next difficulty down, makes the game into much more of a run and gun experience and is largely more fun because of it. The downside is that it makes the game only intermittently challenging. The Goldilocks of difficulty levels would probably be somewhere between these two.
Some of that challenge comes from getting used to a new way of engaging with this kind of world. The broad FPS controls for your Gravcycle are as you would expect, and it’s simple to direct your squad as you look and command them where you want them to go. It’s once you add in your squad’s different abilities, and the fact you’re trying to do all of these things at the same time that it can feel a little like spinning plates – you’re eternally on the back foot.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Disintegration takes some patience and time to get into, but the further you get in the campaign, and the more multiplayer rounds you play, the more it seeps into your consciousness. I can well imagine that a lot of people will simply bounce off it; it was at least a few hours before I became remotely comfortable, getting on better with the keyboard and mouse controls on PC over using a controller. Give it some time and it becomes an enthralling experience, a worthy amalgamation of its two genres.
Your down time between missions is often spent in the eternally dull Garage, or an on-the-road equivalent, a voluminous and virtually-silent space where you can wander around and talk to your teammates, or receive challenges from random droids. Very occasionally, you might get a snippet of context or a morsel of personal information from them, but it’s an immense missed opportunity.
There could have been some music or at least a spot of atmosphere. There could have been some genuine character interaction, but instead it’s often a lifeless void that forces you to have a brief walk around and click on a couple of things between missions. It’s lucky that beyond this space the cutscenes are good, the voice acting excellent, and the characters likeable.
Alongside the campaign, Disintegration has a full multiplayer mode, which, in this day and age where single player narrative and multiplayer are increasingly kept apart, is remarkably refreshing. At launch there are three different mode types: Zone Control where you have to control and capture zones, Collector which has you taking down enemies in order to collect their ‘cans’, and Retrieval, which has you delivering cores across two rounds – one on offence and another on defence.
It’s a hell of a lot of fun once you’ve wrapped your head around the controls and what the game is asking of you. Multiplayer combat in Disintegration is frantic, nuanced, and has that all important push and pull to every encounter. You can snatch victory from the robotic hands of defeat, or find yourself on the end of an almighty gravcycle rout, and still keep coming back for more.
There are nine different player crews to choose from, each of which has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as unique weaponry and squads. They each have a strong visual identity, and some will fare better in particular modes than others.
An early favourite, The King’s Guard, features a pilot clad in a full suit of armour, and they’re amongst the most resilient of the teams, making them great for defence. Meanwhile the eternally cool Lost Ronin are samurai styled, excelling at swift hit and run attacks. Whoever thought that it was a good idea to include The Sideshows, a clown-flavoured team, has never seen Stephen King’s It, but they’re there if you don’t mind being terrified before the shooting even starts.
The predominantly industrial levels aren’t the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen, but they provide some decent cover and interesting routing opportunities. More importantly, they feel just the right size for keeping the action flowing. Balancing across the modes seems solid thus far, and I genuinely hope people get onboard with it, allowing V1 Interactive to continue to support it down the line.
There are some microtransactions squirrelled away in there to help fund that, but they’re purely cosmetic, and they don’t unlock anything that you can’t get simply by playing the game. There’s a bunch of player banners, different costumes for your pilots and colour choices for your crew, and it feels like there will be more on the way in future. The only real downside is that you’re often not going to be close enough to an enemy to genuinely appreciate each others’ choices, but everything definitely looks cool in the menus.