Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A divisional tour of New York

Tom Clancy's The Division

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

Ubisoft takes on multiple genres and a post-apocalyptic New York in it's latest multiplayer oriented game. What seems like an endless wait from it's magnificent E3 2013 reveal with it's now famous car door animations, the eagerly awaited Tom Clancy's The Division is finally here! Tested heavily in coop by myself and a friend, I'm here to share my thoughts on the ambitious title.

One could mistake The Division for being a typical third person cover shooter and perhaps the first minutes of play actually gives you that very impression. You would be kind of wrong though, because it's actually a RPG and online it's basically a MMORPG. Both these genres in the game are of course using traditional third person shooter mechanics. There's no golden rule that you need swords, magic and dragons to be an RPG. Division sets itself in a fairly unique position as such, though both the popular and recent Fallout 4 and Destiny games also fit this description. Destiny is perhaps the closest layout similar to this game, at least from what I've gathered, as it's very much an MMORPG.

The Division takes place in Manhatten, New York, where a deadly virus has spread in our not-so-distant-future.The whole city centre is in lock-down and the law has lost control. Leaving the area uncontrolled and open for looters, criminals and organized crime to take place. You're a sleeping agent for the unit called The Division. These agents have as a goal to build up the fallen society and keep the streets safe for civilians. It's a somewhat ridiculous scenario, yet a uniquely neat one, that's explained through the mainline story cutscenes. Depthwise the story is further explained on mobile phone recordings, small video segments and so-called "echo" holograms spread all over the city. 

The Division is set in two main types of areas in Manhatten. The normal playing area has you roaming streets on your own, up against hostile AI enemies with up to four friends. Completing tasks, story missions and side quests. Successful completion grants you means to build up your own main base of operations and level your character. Roaming the streets though, only puts you in small firefights, but accessing main missions gives you the options to play them with random players or friends. Resulting in a high reward of XP and points to upgrade your base with. I perhaps would have liked to see other random players walk the streets in general, but I guess it's to give people an option to play it almost entirely on their own as a singleplayer experience.

The other main area of the game is the free-for-all dark zone. Here there's really tough AI to fight againt and other online players walking around. It's basically a MMO styled game. Equipment and weapons obtained have to be extracted with helicopter from designated pickups if you wish to use them in the normal "safe" playing area. This will require the player to brutally fight your way to a pick up point and keep the loot safe until the chopper arrives. Other players either fight with or against you. Killing real players tags you as a rogue and being one is extremelt dangerous, as it's basically putting a "wanted" reward on your dead corpse. The fear of meeting higher level rogues, especially if they work together in a group, quickly becomes evident and adds a whole new element to surviving the dark zone. All in all the dark zone is a really neat gameplay idea!

To explain further then; basically the game is a coop, storydriven singleplayer in the normal streets, then switches to becoming an MMO in missions and in the dark zone. It's a seamless and well crafted experience. Even if you don't want to play with others it's easy to simply play through the story and jump into missions on our own without actually having to deal with the online part. However, if you want help you can just connect to random players through a quick start option and view them as AI helping you! The way it smoothly deals with you being offline and online is well implemented, and nothing you need to think about. If you're a singleplayer gamer only, you don't need to worry about the online part as being a daunting experience.

Division controls like most other third person shooters, relying heavily on cover mechanics. Unlike most games of this genre though, you can't crouch. The cover system compensates for this by letting you take very long runs between covers with a simple button press. It takes a little to get used to without a crouch button, but it's not needed in the game. Another difference is the insane amount of damage enemies can take, even though they're simply wearing a hoodie, makes the game at first feel somewhat strange, but it's intentional. This is, after all, an RPG. It's about dealing tons of damage on each other and winning relies a lot about which level, abilities and upgraded weapons you are using.

The RPG element is further reflected with various weapons being alike on paper, like lets say an Colt M4, but the level the weapon is at, is what it's really about. High level weapons and equipment deal out more damage and have superior armour. I would perhaps have liked more types of weapons and variations though, there's a lot of repetition in the gun models. 

Although the firefights often end in a stalemate, where the higher levelled fighters usually win, Ubisoft have cleverly and impressively so, made the game feel and move smoothly like any other third person shooter. Jumping in and out of cover, upgrading shielding behind a cover and setting up turrets feels engaging and intense. Especially as firefights build up and often end in huge battles on the streets or inside buildings. At times The Division can prove to be really difficult, where high levelled enemies attack youfrom all your sides. Playing coop really helps improve your chances as such, even though the number of enemies are increased accordingly. It's easier with a friend covering your back, and sharing the bonuses of healing abilities or improved covers! Gameplay has a lot of tactical elements too, requiring players to attack and defend wisely.

The Division blew everyone away a few years back at E3 2013, showcasing some truly stunning visuals. We all remember the subtle, yet so lovely, door closing animation as you pressed your character up against a car with an open door! For what seemed an eternity, Ubisoft slowly gave us more and more information and the whole concept of the coop and online aspects, combined with the sheer size and detail of environments seemed like an almost unbelievable task to complete as a game.

So what of the final release then, almost three years later from the reveal? The result looks indeed very good, while not maybe as jaw dropping compared to other visually stunning games that have released since the reveal. However, it's incredible how well the it looks considering it renders a huge open sandbox world, as well as crowded and detailed indoor visuals. The post-apocalyptic New York looks diverse and richly populated with detail, though I would perhaps have like some more stuff happening in the often life-less streets. All in all The Division is a visual treat of a fallen city and chaos.

While it could surely deliver a far stronger story and perhaps a more catered for singleplayer experience, I really think The Division has delivered what it promised. I've had a great time playing it and still do. They surprised me with the RPG approach, and some would probably have preferred it to be a pure shooter, but it's tries something a little different and succeeds in an excellent way. One of the most fun and tactical cooperative experiences I've had in a long time and must buy for people enjoying playing with other. While it serves fine as a singleplayer game, it can perhaps feel a little lacking and repetitive as such. Play it together with others and enjoy one of 2016's favourite and most unique games so far!



    + Plus points

    • Various genres mixed together as an original game idea that work surprisingly well.
    • Incredible setting and scenario.
    • Stunning open world visuals, with lots of small details.

    - Minus points

    • Random players should be shown in the safe area too, without friendly fire.
    • Game world feels slightly empty and un-interactive at times.
    • Variation in enemies, weapons and mission types are sparse.