Disintegration has some serious pedigree. Developed by V1 Interactive, founded by Marcus Lehto, co-creator of Halo — yes, that Halo — the development team is a mix of old hands and new devs. This small, but focused team has, with Disintegration, created a brand-new IP, brought a stunning vision of the future to life and successfully melded first-person shooter and real-time strategy mechanics.
It’s quite a feat for any studio, but for a small studio to do it with their debut game, that’s pretty incredible.
Disintegration is set in the near future in a world ravaged by natural disasters, it has become hostile to human life. The only way for humanity to survive is Integration; the process of removing a human brain from the body and inserting it into a robotic shell. This post-humanist society has been taken over by the Rayonne, a fiercely pro Integration faction. The Rayonne indoctrinates newly integrated recruits and has fanned the fire of a civil war to ensure it replaces humanity.
The hero of Disintegration is Romer Shoal. When he was a human, he was a popular host of a TV show dedicated to Gravcycles, think Top Gear, but more futuristic. He integrated to give his ratings a boost but when the Rayonne struck, the Integrated weren’t looked on so favourably. Gravcycles were also outlawed, so Romer turned to a life of smuggling the vehicles.
His life of crime led him to be brought aboard the Iron Cloud, one of the Rayonne’s massive airships. Captained by Black Shuck, the leader of the North American Rayonne, Romer escapes when other detainees destroy part of the ship.
After escaping, Romer and the other Outlaws, form a crew and set out on missions in order to disrupt the Rayonne and try to restore peace.
Disintegration is 80% first-person shooter and 20% real-time strategy. It’s a strange hybrid that undoubtedly takes some getting used to. As Romer, you pilot a range of Gravcycles that move about freely in space. You can raise and lower your altitude, though you can’t go to high. You move along the X and Y axes in any direction and also give commands to your crew, direct them where to go, who to attack and when to use their special abilities.
Controlling the crew is pretty simple. You can right-click on your mouse or press R1/RB on PS4 and Xbox One. If you aim at an empty space, your crew will take up position there. If you aim at an enemy, they will focus fire. Your crew’s default state is to follow you and intelligently take cover and attack. The number of crew members available starts small and grows as you progress through the campaign. The more you collect, the higher the number of abilities you have access to.
As you explore each mission, you’ll also be able to find upgrade chips. These can be used to enhance each crew members’ abilities and give them more utility in battle.
The basic abilities are the Concussion Grenade, Stasis Field and Mortar. Activating each ability is a breeze. On keyboard you use the 1-4 buttons, aim and click and on console you use the four points of the D-Pad. Mastering your crew, giving commands, staying mobile and shooting enemies yourself is critical for success in Disintegration. And it certainly doesn’t come immediately or easily.
I was several hours into the campaign before I managed to start feeling comfortable with the controls and mechanics. For the longest time, I was diligently treating each element as a separate item on a checklist, running through them and then starting all over. It worked for the first few missions but as things got more difficult, I needed to learn how to really harness the power of the gameplay.
Once I’d learned how to move, shoot, dodge and give commands all at once, Disintegration’s gameplay loop finally made sense and I was hooked. By throwing concussion grenades I could stun enemies, preventing them from moving or dealing any damage while at the same time launching a mortar strike to take out as many of them as possible. While this was happening I’d be dodging out of harm’s way on my Gravcycle to target an Elite Merc, kill him and activate the sweet health pick up he’d drop on death.
The first time you manage to pull off an insanely complex strategic manoeuvre, you’ll find it hard to put Disintegration down.
Evil Metal Man
Gravcycles come equipped with a primary and secondary weapon/tool. Most have a gun and a health tool of some description. As you play, you’ll gain access to additional Gravcycles with different loadouts. There’s no real ADS to speak of, though you can activate a zoom feature by clicking the middle mouse or Right Analogue stick button. This gives you a greater degree of accuracy but defintely doesn’t feel like ADS in any other shooter you’ve played.
From your seat on the Gravcycle, you’re actually pretty exposed and easily defeated, so you really need to keep moving, take cover and use the altitude controls to your advantage. You’ll also need to get yourself in harm’s way on occasion. When a crew member is defeated, you’ll have 30 seconds to recover their brain can before the mission fails. This happens fairly frequently, though you can reduce their deaths by diligently healing them, giving them appropriate commands and by being a good commander.
It’s tough but satisfying. Actually, that’s a good way to describe Disintegration too. It’s not an easy game and the difficulty of each missioncan be daunting, especially as you reach large combat sequences that feel almost impossible. The good thing is they’re not. So long as you understand the core gameplay loop and know how to command your crew, you’ll do fine.
One criticism I have of the campaign is the lack of proper saving. You hit checkpoints as you progress, but should you quit the mission or if the game crashes, you’ll need to start all over at the beginning again. I was at the very last moment of one particularly tough mission when the game crashed and I had to do it all again.
It wasn’t fun.
Something that is fun though, is Disintegration’s multiplayer. There are a couple of modes available — Zone Control, Collector, Retrieval — and a handful of maps. Played in teams, players select one of the crews and head into battle. Each crew has its own theme and style — clowns, hip-hop, Knights of the Round etc — and has its own type of Gravcycle and ground crew.
It’s almost like a hero shooter in that you’ll need to make sure your team is well balanced in order to succeed. Drawing from the campaign, the different crews have access to bombs, shotguns, snipers, machine guns, health tools and more. And, depending on your crew, you’ll have different abilities for your ground crew.
Multiplayer in Disintegration is a lot of fun though ultimately, I fear it might struggle to attract an audience. The gameplay mechanics of Disintegration are, as I mentioned, quite demanding and for players who enjoy the pick-up-and-play style of some shooters, this might be just too hard. I’m hopeful that players do flock to Disintegration’s multiplayer, as it lends itself to being a great competitive title. Fingers crossed.
I really enjoyed my time with Disintegration. It’s an unforgiving shooter that demands a lot of its players but those players that dedicate enough time to learn the game will be rewarded with a truly unique and thrilling experience.
Disintegration was reviewed on PC and PS4 using digital copies provided by the publisher. The PC version was the primary version played and tested and is the basis for this review.