When first playing through Disintegration, it is difficult not to be excited about the advent of a new sci-fi franchise. After all, coming from the mind of Marcus Lehto – one of the primary creators of the Halo universe – expectations were rightly high, and the game is quickly put on a pedestal.
Disintegration is a hybrid of genres that typically sit very far apart from each other. Firstly, there is the standard FPS setup that Marcus grew his reputation on with Halo; then there is a dose of RTS thrown in. Both genres feel a bit pared down to fit in with one another: on the FPS side you only have two weapons to switch between, and on the RTS side you only command a maximum of four units, and even that is a rarity. Whilst it does neither excellently over the other one, it does both just enough so that they complement each other.
Your shooting and directing is done atop a gravcycle – a flying vehicle that hovers around 10 metres above the ground. You can change the height you hover at but can’t go too high or Disintegration will push you slowly back to a reasonable height. From this perspective though you can survey the ongoing battles to order units around, but it also means you aren’t too far away to take pot shots at the enemy.
Set roughly 150 years in the future, scientists have developed a method to preserve human brains in a robotic exoskeleton, in a process known as Integration, whilst the world recovers from global warming. As a process, it is only supposed to be temporary. There are those however that consider this the future of humanity and call themselves the Rayonne. Anyone that stands up to their ideals is imprisoned, or worse, terminated. For those that want to one day return to a human form, their days are numbered and must spend them in hiding.
Romer Shoal is one of those more/less fortunate – depending on which way you look at it – to be imprisoned on one of the Rayonne ships, the imposing Iron Cloud. In the opening moments of the single-player campaign we see Romer and a group of other Integrated folk manage to escape off the Iron Cloud and with their newfound freedom bump into a ‘Natural’ – someone who is still human and not yet Integrated – known as Waggoner. It is he who provides them shelter in his secret aircraft freighter in exchange for running a few errands.
These errands make up the first few missions of the campaign as you learn the ropes of this FPS/RTS hybrid. Granted, Disintegration is an original game with a fusion concept many will not be used to, but the campaign starts off at a snail’s pace, and it takes a while to really get into the meat of the plot.
During these initial missions we are introduced to the other characters that escaped from the Iron Cloud with Romer. Despite their robotic appearance, each character is extremely well-written, displaying very real human emotions as they divulge their backstories.
In between missions, you can wander round the freighter and talk individually to the supporting cast. It feels very reminiscent of Mass Effect – though on a much smaller scale with far less interaction – as you begin to learn and understand the characters and share moments with them.
During these moments of downtime, you can also talk to several other robots onboard, and these will challenge you with side-quests to be completed during the main mission. These are all very generic – kill X number of enemies or complete the mission without dying – but offer some additional objectives if nothing more. Having to unlock them by speaking to an NPC is just one of the many quirks Disintegration has.
With a cast of characters as diverse personality-wise as Disintegration has, you will have your favourites that you want to take with you on each mission. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Whilst you have the ability to upgrade each character – as well as your gravcycle – you cannot pick and choose who you want to take on each mission. Even when replaying missions through mission select you are restricted to who you can and cannot have at your command.
This even extends to the loadout on your gravcycle; you have access to a range of weapons throughout the game but are unable to choose which to use for yourself. Some missions will grant you two weapons, others will give you one weapon and a healing item to drop. There are even two types of ways to heal your units, but again you are dictated which one you can use – doubly annoying when one is far more effective than the other.
Much like the campaign, multiplayer is enjoyable but feels very toned down and restrictive. The three modes available at launch are all based on team-based objective gameplay, but are very generic: Zone Control requires no explanation, Collector has players kill enemy units and gravcycles and then collect their “brain cans” to score points, and Retrieval is an attack vs defence mode where attackers must gather cores and take them to the launch pad to score points. Teams then swap over.
Multiplayer action is a lot more frantic than the campaign, as you can have up to ten players battling at once, and each one of those has a gravcycle and units alongside them. It’s definitely a different way to play Disintegration, but because of the faster paced nature playing against a human opposition, the RTS side of things takes a backseat in favour of FPS action.
That is, if you can get into a game: there are multiplayer problems present in Disintgration, such as matchmaking cancelling itself and generally long load times to get into a game with a full lobby.
Multiplayer also offers more opportunities to fine-tune your team than the campaign. At launch, there are nine different crews to choose from, and the difference between them is more than just a facelift. Each crew has a unique command unit setup; some pack a punch with just two additional units, others will offer a flurry of bullets with as many as four. Again though, these are predetermined, and if your playstyle suits one type, but you don’t like the overall aesthetic, you must rely on the appearance options and hope for the best.
There is some opportunity to change up a crew’s appearance, but not too much. These require credits that can be earned through completing certain challenges, though not all award credits. Some reward banners and badges to update your player appearance in menus and when killing enemies. There are microtransactions though if you need a credit boost.
Despite having both single and multiplayer options, Disintegration’s achievements are far more weighted to single player. With 29 in total, it isn’t a huge list, but 25 of those are all related to single player. Of the four multiplayer ones, two are for customising your crew and player badge; you don’t even need to win a game, just partake in one and complete a challenge for the other two.
Disintegration on the Xbox One is a bright start for Marcus Lehto and his new studio, V1 Interactive. The plot is very run-of-the-mill but there is something about the characters they have created that, despite their situation, feel very human, and something I hope they explore more of in the future. Restrictive nuances in both single player and multiplayer prevent players from having as much fun as they could – and at points even make Disintegration feel shallow – but the FPS/RTS fusion on genres works to a point; neither feels more predominant than the other, but then neither feel fully formed either.