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Review: Tom Clancy’s The Division Beta
Redbrick Gaming's Ben Musgrove reviews The Division to see if it really is 'all mouth, no trousers'...
After its delay until early 2016, I will admit that I began to get a little worried about The Division. Since my introduction to the putrid uPlay system that forced me to race through the entirity of Splinter Cell: Conviction in one sitting due to an inability to save to the cloud, and to the uninspired mass-marketed clusterfuck that was Assassin's Creed III, I have viewed them with some suspicion. All mouth, no trousers, as my Dad would say.
But despite this, the material released prior to January's closed Beta was so good that even I couldn't suppress my excitement. I like MMO's, I like shooters, I love a good tech tree, I like consistent worlds, I like modern settings. The Division captures all of these as it clears out the majority of a scale model of New York, fills it with bandits and unsuspecting twelve years olds in PVP areas, gives me an M4, and says "go nuts." What's not to like? The game's closed Beta allowed me to get to grips with a concept I was genuinely excited about.
The setting combines your standard excuse for post-apocalypse with a genuinely impressive rendering of NYC. A virus has been released into the city on Black Friday, a smallpox derivative hidden on banknotes, and essentially ripped the country apart. It took five days for the U.S. Government to collapse, and now you, the silent protagonist, are dropped by helicopter onto Manhattan Island with the vague objective of saving the day as part of the Joint Task Force. It is freezing cold, it is massive, and it is your playground.
“'It is freezing cold, it is massive, and it is your playground.'
As for the combat, my previous Splinter Cell reference now seems apt, because The Division often feels like Conviction did when you gave up on stealth and started kicking doors and skulls. It's a cover-based shooter, meaning that if you're not in cover the AI is going to roundhouse kick you in the throat if you even think about coming out from behind that car, and there's a slew of different types of cover to chuck yourself behind in a metropolis like this. Weapons like grenades have a cooldown rather than an ammunition count, which allows you to develop consistent tactical approaches based upon your abilities. There is a myriad of guns to choose from - I counted at least 25 in the demo alone - and the vast majority of them have a great feel to them, giving you a sense of a strong kick or well placed shot when you open fire, providing a nice stream of numbers a la Borderlands. The immense customisability of weapons is outstanding, and building upon the impressive look of the game, every part has a unique look, so your weapon can truly be unique to you.
“'...The Division often feels like Conviction did when you gave up on stealth and started kicking doors and skulls...'
I understand that these are problems endemic in open-world gaming at the moment. You can look at Assassins Creed (a Ubisoft game) and FarCry (an Ubisoft game) as other examples of the mistakes that The Division (an Ubisoft game) makes in its side missions. However, an issue being widespread does not make it less annoying. There is stunning potential to fill this world, and it's been stuffed with metaphorical sawdust in the hope that we enjoy the mechanics too much to notice. Well, I don't. If I can't engage with what I'm doing, then side quests are just grinding to allow you to progress, and that, as any MMO player will tell you, sucks serious balls.
What the player vs. AI opportunities lack, however, are not present in the PvP areas of the game. The most heavily infected areas of NYC are known as the Dark Zone, walled off by the JTF and only accessible through security gates built into the wall to allow supply parties into the deep. Whilst you can't attack other players in the main body of New York, out here you can attack anyone, and subsequently get flagged as a rogue to all agents in the vicinity, who can then kill you without penalty. Remember the adrenaline you felt when you went far enough north in Runescape to attack the hapless noob you brought with you under the guise of 'helping' them? It's that all over again.
To get the most out of this area, you need to bring a friend with you, at least one. My first half an hour was spent wandering around trying to find rogue agents, with relatively little success. Disenchanted, I was about to leave when I came across two heavily wounded rogues hiding in an alleyway. Excited, I pin them down with gunfire - one hunkers down, and the other tries to flee. Halfway across the street and closing for the kill, I came into range of their microphones: "you wait there, I'll go around and flank him." Unaware that I'd be able to hear anyone else, I freeze up with sudden tactical doubts, just as the 'fleeing' rogue comes around the corner of the block and leaves me on the tarmac looking like swiss cheese. They took my gear, teabagged me, and left.
It was fuckin' excellent.
“'...They took my gear, teabagged me, and left. It was fuckin' excellent.'
What we are presented with in this Beta, it seems to me, is a product that is stereotypically Ubisoft more than anything else. It plays superbly, particularly for a Beta, and it knows how to utilise the hardware of a console to create something aesthetically standout. However, beyond the main narrative, it relies upon you liking the gameplay too much to care about filling said game with valuable content. This might be ok for some, as I can see plenty of people committing hundreds - if not thousands - of hours to mastering their personal New York. It just seems ridiculous to me that the people responsible for making video games fill them with subpar content, and therefore want us to make our own fun. Isn't that what you're paid to make?