Hybridising genres excites me. Taking even the basic gameplay loops of two long-established genres and mashing them up can at least make something somewhat interesting – at least for a little while. Unfortunately it also opens up the doors to the possibility of alienating two groups of gaming fans, as the players of each genre may be left wanting. It can also be super polarising for people who perhaps didn’t want a heaped helping of RTS-seasoning in their FPS soup.
Disintegration treads this long neglected (and possibly a little treacherous) path. Incorporating RTS-style unit management into a (somewhat) fast-paced first-person shooter seems like a jarring concept on paper, but the crew at V1 Interactive has delivered something that actually works quite well…on the surface.
Just me and the gang posing for our album cover
Set in the distant (but not too distant) future, Disintegration is about a world where humans can choose to have their grey matter ‘integrated’ into a robot armature, allowing a temporary new life as inorganic robo-beings. A great way to escape the stress of day to day life, the economy – and obviously pandemic suffering – it’s the hot new trend, even hotshot celebrity pilot Romer Shoal is getting it done! Book in your integration appointment today!
Only it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as it appears a group of integrated/robotic deadshits known as the Rayonne have decided that full-scale robotification should be essential and irreversible across the entire human race, squarely working to stomp out any pockets of resistance (Human and Integrated alike). Even Romer finds himself on the wrong end of their new world order. Herein lies the conflict of the Disintegration world, and how you take to the battlefield with your integrated robot friends.
Romer Shoal, all round top bloke
The gameplay puts the player into the saddle of something called a ‘Gravcycle’, a futuristic hover-bike thing that is one part podracer, one part motorcycle and two parts weapons platform. While it does not actually fly per se, you can maintain an altitude that suits based on the ground beneath you, navigating through the environment however you wish. From here you zip around the battleground, firing on enemies and overseeing your own units, issuing orders and directing the flow of battle. The gravcycle actually feels a little bit like someone wanted to weaponise or pilot the cursor from an RTS game, allowing you to interact with the units as you order them about but also allowing the opportunity to get your hands dirty.
While you don’t micromanage individual units, you do have a handful of order-commands that can be issued via context sensitive objects in the world, telling your forces to ‘Go here’, ‘Attack this guy’ or ‘Use this item’. The amount of controlled units in each mission can vary, and even grow and shrink depending on what the narrative calls for. This simplification of control serves to make general orders simple to issue (‘Shoot this guy’) but serves to frustrate when you have the luxury of spare time to get a bit more granular. During a lull in combat, where you can afford some time to perhaps scavenge up some ‘salvage’ (serving as EXP within the campaign), it’s baffling to issue a ‘Search’ command to your guys, and see an animation where all four of your units will crowd around the container and a single guy will open it. Factor in four containers all in a relatively small area, you will end up tearing your hair out questioning why they can’t divide and conquer, or more so why you personally can’t tell each guy to tackle their own box.
It’s surprisingly easy to follow the mayhem on screen
This frustration can start to develop further when you observe your ground troops operating on their own accord. I felt like a kid watching ants – confused, robot ants. Perhaps the ‘immortal’ nature of being a robot makes you very gung ho (death is just a respawn away), but seeing my guys letting enemies swarm around them would leave me staring, mouth agape. Taking cover? Nah, that is for losers. What if they are super low on health, and I commanded them to activate a healing zone? I mean sure, they will go and activate the item – but they will then immediately trot out of its life-giving aura to go and engage some random guy hanging out behind a bush. My only method to keep them in that aura was to either sit within it myself, like a protective mother sitting on her chicks – or to spam the ‘move here’ command within its area of effect to keep them jittering in place like a hyperactive toddler itching to get out of its car seat. I desperately wanted a ‘Hold position’ command, but it DOES NOT EXIST as far as I can tell.
The lack of granular control also means that you are unable to establish anything resembling zoning within the game, as the only real control groups you have to work with include yourself on the gravcycle, and your throng of minions. I found myself in a selection of situations where I wanted to leverage my bulkier guys to act as a frontline for dangerous enemies, and perhaps flank my more shooty-focused guys around some cover. But alas, ‘Go here’, ‘Attack this guy’ or ‘Use this item’ applies to everyone at all times.
This means the real strategic depth comes from managing each of your special guy’s activated abilities within the ebb and flow of battle. These abilities range from simple grenades or concussive blasts that stagger groups of enemies, to large slowing fields that will slow enemies and their projectiles to a crawl. Managing these cooldowns and using them in the right combination can mean all the difference between crashing through a spawn of Rayonne forces or hiding sheepishly behind a wall weathering the storm.
The narrative itself was enjoyable, right up until it suddenly ended
The environments and the mission design is fantastic, with areas feeling believable and engaging to explore. Looking at the terrain as a whole, I found myself identifying that certain parts may seem a little corridor-ish, but the scale means it’s hardly an issue, and it leaves the flow of battle feeling intuitive and moving ever forward. I rarely found myself searching for where to go, or what to do – yet I never felt like my hand was being held. Even in the thick of the action, with explosions blasting and all manner of robotic chaos taking place, I was impressed that I could still easily make out what was going on between my units and the enemy – the readability was top notch.
Initially I was curious if I could play the game almost exclusively as an observer, ordering units and micromanaging their cooldown abilities – but it quickly became apparent that without my additional firepower my own units would struggle to get through the majority of enemies. While your mates on the ground can turn the tide of a battle dramatically with strategic use of cooldown abilities, it felt like the lion’s share of damage would be coming from you, the player. The idea of being a floating ‘Armchair General’ was quickly dumpstered when I realised the game would outfit my gravcycle with particular weapons to deal with mission-specific threats. Get involved or get out of the way, Romer.
Wrist rockets are 30% cooler than regular rockets – fact
The world of Disintegration is carried by its characters. I have to applaud the folks at V1 Interactive for achieving the not-so-simple task of making robotic characters interesting and engaging. While the game does not delve too deeply into what might define our own personal humanity, it does provide a handful of character moments that discuss identity and how being reborn out of your own skin can actually help someone grow. I was impressed that the character writing was kept sharp, without turning each of my NPC colleagues into a cartoonish caricature of their background – even if the black lady robot had a habit of z-snapping when I upgraded her.
The narrative itself was enjoyable, right up until it suddenly ended. It’s hard to describe it as original, because it was really working to incorporate many established ‘doomed future’ tropes into something that was unique on its own. This meant that some trite plot hooks were actually subverted, including a commendable situation of ‘Bad guy backed into a corner threatens to ruin everything’ being resolved in a manner that is satisfying beyond words. It’s just a bummer that I figured out the game was ending roughly three or so minutes before it happened, and was left to think about what I was meant to assume about the unresolved plot threads. Saying they are being set up as a sequel point feels too generous, because the ending has such an air of renewed hope about it that I almost feel like the epilogue would simply read ‘and everything was great and perfect forevermore’.
This leaves me wondering if the game is banking its longevity and price point on the multiplayer portion. At a glance there is some depth to it, with a range of pilots and crews to choose from – touting unique ground units and weapons – and the sheer mayhem that comes from having so many human players in a shared space. But with a skill ceiling so high, and a limited number of game modes I question how long it might last if it doesn’t grip its audience immediately.
Robot facepalms are 30% more effective than human facepalms
Disintegration is a daring title, treading a hybrid path that has proven treacherous for many developers in the past. Once you get into the swing of it, the genre-bending mechanics at play are quite fun, but they’re hampered by AI that needs to be babysat to a massive degree across both the campaign and its multiplayer modes. Much like your gravcycle, it does get off the ground – but it never truly soars.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher