Disintegration is the brainchild of V1 Interactive, a studio helmed by Marcus Lehto – one of the co-creators of Halo – and Mike Gutmann – co-founder of SOCOM: US Navy Seals. The game looks to blend two genres together to create something unique. Though Disintegration does seek new land, it never quite manages to get its feet on the ground. With a meandering story, problems with controller support, and gameplay that feels more like it belongs in a game from early 2000 than a title releasing in 2020, Disintegration leaves much to be desired.
Three laws, ignored
It’s the future, and humanity is in a different shape after countless apocalyptic-like events nearly wiped us out. In order to survive, humans have been transplanting their brains into robotic shells. This process is known as integration.
A lot of people dig their new skin. Metal is stronger, faster, and sturdier than that soft tissue we used to inhabit. Sure, there are some people that choose not to integrate, and that’s alright. However, there are those that wish ill on the remaining humans. These baddies are called the Rayonne, and if you couldn’t tell they were bad from their goals, the black armor and red eyes will help solidify that.
The leader of the Rayonne is Black Shuck, a constant threat throughout the story of Disintegration, and the antagonist of Romer Shoal, the main hero. After breaking out of a floating prison, Romer joins forces with a motley crew of other robot-humans that want nothing more than to take down Black Shuck and his floating prison weapon.
While the world and story is rich in its setup, it never really manages to break new ground. The main storyline hits the expected beats of a revenge story, with most players likely to be a few steps ahead of what’s happening at any given moment.
What really stands out as problematic is that there are disconnects between what’s happening in the story and what’s seen in the actual gameplay. After each mission, the crew returns to its base and prepares for the next objective. It’s here that players can run around the hangar, talking with the characters scattered throughout. Some characters offer a bounty for the next mission and some give a little bit of insight into who they are. There are glimmers of good writing here but ultimately it never really feels like the characters are actually experiencing the story.
In one emotional beat of the story, a main character dies and another is clearly, extremely upset. When you return to base, that very same character has nothing to say about what just happened. No reflection on that friend, no sign that anything story-changing just took place. One of the few opportunities where a character building moment should happen and it wasn’t seized.
Disintegration’s gameplay is a mixture of the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres. You control your squad’s movement and abilities from the comfort of your floating Gravcycle, which can hover up to 50 feet in the air.
Though the Gravcycle can’t actually be used to slam into enemies to kill them (you go right through them) or slammed through boxes and other scenery (which explode with a single bullet), there are a few different types of weapons available. There are auto-rifles, rapid-firing cannons, rocket launchers as well as healing darts, homing missiles and more. However, you’re not exactly a force to be reckoned with, with most of the power belonging to your squad.
This is where some of the problems with the gameplay begin to rear their heads. There are a myriad of diverse weapons and abilities to use, but the player has zero control over what to take into a mission. There’s a helpful ability that lets you throw down a healing pool, but it’s only available in two missions. For a game that has tactical RTS elements, the lack of planning, crew management, and kit building is beyond frustrating.
This is even more problematic when playing on Outlaw, the game’s toughest difficulty. Enemy units deal more damage, take more damage, and heal themselves more often. If you cannot plan what weapons to take into battle, you’re left trying to whittle down enemies from a distance, which further highlights the problem of floating above the battlefield: you never feel engaged with the combat.
Anthem had a similar problem with some of its combat. Because the player is able to elevate themselves above the fight, a lot of the detail of enemies gets lost as you sit back and issue orders. The saving grace of Anthem is that the player character actually felt strong, even when up close and personal. In Disintegration, aside from your Gravcycle’s arsenal (which could be one weapon and no ability, a weapon and ability, or two weapons – all of which you have no control over), all the abilities and attacks are placed on the squad members.
Squad members consist of the friends you make throughout the story, and act as an extension of yourself. They’ll move where you tell them to, attack enemies on sight, use abilities when ordered, open up chests for precious salvage and upgrade chips, and interact with objective points.
Each squad member fits into a few different archetypes. There’s the ranger that can generate enemy-slowing fields, the striker that can unleash a mortar strike, and a couple more.
Unfortunately, much like the Gravcycle’s weapons, the player has no agency over who they take on a mission. Each mission has a preset roster of characters you must use, and sometimes, you will have no squad mates at all. This is extremely problematic, given that Romer often has no means of healing himself. Unless Romer comes with the healing Nano Emitter, he must either hope an enemy drops health when killed or get a squad member to activate a healing point.
Not being able to choose who you bring with you is also annoying because of the upgrade system. Data chips can be earned and found in game, which are then used to upgrade Romer and the squad members. Each upgrade costs one data chip making each upgrade decision important. Did you just spend several chips upgrading Doyle? Well that’s too bad, he’s not available in this specific mission, so you’ll need to use these other characters you’ve not upgraded.
This isn’t too bad on the lower difficulties, but when playing through on Outlaw, using underleveled characters is a massive disadvantage. There is some replay value to be had here, though. For those that want to experience the story again on Outlaw, finding all these data chips is going to be essential.
As for the actual upgrade system itself, the player can upgrade various areas including health, weapon damage, and ability recharge rate. Each upgrade is listed as a percentage, but there are no points or reference numbers by which to judge this increase. You can upgrade Romer’s weapon damage by 10% per chip, but there are no damage numbers in-game, despite each enemy unit having a bar above its head that you need to whittle down.
This lack of pre-mission control over the crew and weapons is perplexing to the point of frustration in a game billed as a tactical, FPS-RTS hybrid. Even ignoring the RTS elements, if taken solely as an FPS, it’s bland at best as the player’s weapons often feel outclassed against the enemy.
It’s just so unfortunate that the only role you get to experience is that of one elevated above the battle, entirely disconnected from it aside from casting orders and throwing in some small chip-damage. It feels like a stronger gameplay option would have been to have players control Romer from the ground, in a third-person perspective, casting commands similar to the Ghost Recons from the early 2000s.
Beyond just the problems with the story and mechanics, there are also glaring issues with other areas of Disintegration. From awful controller functionality and terrible lip-syncing to unengaging combat and arbitrary rules on where you can go with your hovering vehicle, Disintegration is a baffling experience.
One of the first things players will note when starting Disintegration is the poor controller functionality. The game proudly presents itself as an FPS, but it does not feel like it could play with the titans in the ground-based FPS or even those franchises that have done well in the air-combat space.
Using a controller to aim in Disintegration is, quite frankly, unpleasant. I had to dip into the control settings numerous times in both the tutorial and the storyline in order to tweak how it simply felt to move the camera around. It should never require the player multiple trips into the settings to fix something as essential as aiming.
As for how it felt, it was as if the deadzone was too large with the acceleration kicking in too soon. But even upon looking through the settings, there is little language the average gamer will recognize. What is “Controller Exponential Ramp” and what does it do to improve aiming? Similarly, what is “Controller Ease” and what does switching it on and off or changing its amount mean to the layman that simply wants to fix how it feels to aim?
When it comes to aiming, I’m a user who inverts the Y-axis. Changing this affects how you aim when using the Gravcycle, but does not persist when walking around the base between missions, here it flips back to default. It does the same with the death-camera in multiplayer.
Though most of the characters you meet in Disintegration are robots without mouths, what few humans you do encounter don’t seem to know how to use the one they’ve got. Almost every single cutscene has severe lip-syncing problems. Characters mouths continue moving when the dialogue stops or vice versa. And then, outside of cinematics, characters have weird and jarring animation loops when talking to them around the base.
When you actually get into the gameplay aspect of Disintegration, its biggest selling point, the Gravcycle, is actually its biggest weakness. As mentioned above, this floating vehicle has players hovering above the battlefield, casting orders and dealing a bit of damage where possible. Not only does this physically remove the player from the action, it also actively draws attentions to the limitations of the levels. It's also painfully slow.
There are so many invisible walls and ceilings in Disintegration. In the first level, as you reach the prisoner and free him, a waypoint appears down a rocky hill. Unfortunately, despite being able to see the area, you cannot fly across the rocks and must instead backtrack the way you came.
As for the actual level designs, few of them take advantage of the fact you can hover. Most battlefields have the player hovering around buildings or through streets with access blocked by 51-foot fences, preventing you and your 50-foot hovering height from passing. It’s just so difficult to feel immersed when faced with these kinds of arbitrary constraints.
Just when you felt like the power was placed more on your squad than the Gravcycle, the game throws jamming towers at you. These towers completely disable the Gravcycle, rendering you unable to shoot, use your ability, or boost. You can, however, still issue commands. On the surface, this appears to shake up the combat and refocuses the player on issuing orders, but what it really feels like is more control being removed.
At these points in the campaign (they happen frequently), you will need to order your squad mates to take down the jamming tower. Often, there are dozens of enemies between you and the tower, so you need to wait for your squad to move through them while you fly around trying to avoid damage.
In instances where you have only a single squad member, you’re left waiting an unreasonable amount of time, especially when their single ability takes 90 seconds to recharge and they have to punch their way through a bunch of enemy robots.
Escort missions are the worst. It’s a gaming trope and mechanic that gets blasted whenever it’s used. The one in Disintegration is particularly infuriating.
This escort mission has the player safeguarding a slow-moving vehicle through enemy territory. This vehicle stops moving if no one is near it. Worse still, it will not move when the player is near it. The vehicle will only move when the squad members are nearby.
Unfortunately, your squad members are tethered to you. If you move 20 feet away from the squad, they’ll leave their posting and start following again, which means the vehicle stops. It’s this constant battle of trying to push the vehicle forward, send the squad to combat enemies (because you’re not exactly a powerhouse), and stop them from running away from the vehicle if you do decide to break away to fight.
The issues with the squad don’t end with the tethering either. Control over the squad is limited to just that, control over the entire group. There is no way to individually command a unit. It’s an all-or-nothing system that winds up with allies dying because you still need to have enemies being attacked but cannot tell one ally to sit behind and heal-up.
Beyond the combat, it’s also a grievance when looting an area as you cannot open chests, only your squad can do this. Much like in combat, the squad members cannot be commanded individually, so must run to each chest as a whole. When there are multiple chests to open, you must wait for the whole unit to run to each one. It just slows down what should otherwise be a quick part of looting and shooting.
The mission mechanics are also aggravating in their design. When you fail a mission, you will see a “Mission Failed” screen. There is no indication of why you reached a fail state just that you’ve failed. It could be that you’ve strayed too far from an objective, someone important died and wasn’t revived, or something else. The “YOU DIED” screen in Dark Souls is clear with its declaration of why you failed, and aside from some pesky instances of toxin or poison, it’s often clear how you died. Reaching a “Mission Failed” screen should never result with shocked confusion as to what happened.
Then there is the game’s checkpoint system. There are plenty of checkpoints to speak of, which act as save points if you fail the mission, but these checkpoints do not persist between play sessions. What this means is that if you want to attempt a level on Outlaw, and you spend an hour fighting through it but need to stop playing, you will need to start the mission from the beginning the next time you play. Games need to either let players manually save their progress or remember where they were so they do not have to reinvest their time.
Disintegration also had a few technical issues. Many times throughout the campaign, enemy units would clip into one another, occupying the same space. There was also a friendly dropship helping my squad clear a bridge during one mission, and it was at times clipping through the geometry as it flew around.
A few of the waypoints throughout the game failed to either appear or disappear. Some waypoints would persist, hovering in the middle of the air, despite there being no objective in the area.
One of the last missions in the game had me return to an area with an ally to lift an object. No matter what I did, they would not recognize the command. The solution was to revert to the last checkpoint and play through the enemy-filled area once more. On Story mode, this isn’t a lot of time wasted, on Outlaw mode, it could have been an hour’s worth of gameplay.
There were also times when missions did not progress when they were supposed to. One had me return to area with an ally to lift an object, but they would not recognize the command to lift said object. The solution was to revert to the last checkpoint and playthrough the enemy-filled area once again. On Story mode this isn’t a lot of time wasted, on Outlaw mode it’s the equivalent of 30 minutes of work.
Visually, Disintegration is mundane, with a safe artstyle that doesn’t really push many boundaries and skyboxes that are downright poor by today’s standards. A lot of the visuals feel like they belong in an action game from the 2000s.
The one beacon of light in this stormy cloud is Disintegration’s multiplayer. It features the same movement and squad-based controls found in the campaign, with players fighting over control points, defeating enemies to capture their heads, or delivering cores. It’s fast-paced and frantic, and good for a bit of action and excitement. It’s also unfortunately a bit hollow. There’s really nothing unique or exciting on offer here beyond the vertical flight movement and the simple squad controls.
Problems from the singleplayer are still evident here in multiplayer. Having squad members doesn’t offer interesting or unique gameplay strategies, it simply takes away abilities from the player’s character and puts them onto small units that you need to micromanage in the heat of battle. On top of this, the Gravcycle is still so very slow. It's painful having to move around at a snail's pace in order to get back to the action.
When it comes to map design, it’s really where a lot of opportunity was missed. There’s really no verticality to speak of. The tutorial introduced the idea of not being able to hover over chasms for long, and yet that’s not an element in any of the maps I managed to play. Halo 2’s iconic Lockout has more ledges, gaps, and verticality, and players use a character that is limited to a brisk walkspeed and a floaty jump. It’s such a crying shame, as it would have been great to have levels with multiple floors, gaps leading to huge pits, and other designs that take advantage of the fact players are controlling hovercraft’s decked out with guns.
Multiplayer also introduces different crews to use in matches. These crews are made up of a Gravcycle with specific weapon set (some weapons that don’t appear in the campaign) and a few squad members with abilities. Some of these crews feel significantly worse to use than others. One crew uses shotguns, which have a horrifically short range and are often outclassed by the long-range counterparts. It’s as if the class-based shooter genre was also loosely woven into the fabric of the FPS and RTS mix.
Much like the rest of Disintegration, its multiplayer leaves much to be desired. It feels like a flat, slow, and unengaging experience that left me not wanting to play it again.
So much of Disintegration is just puzzling. It manages to eke out a space in a hybrid genre but never manages to capitalize on this newfound territory. It offers squad upgrades and control over their movement as a group but fails to let you select who to take with you on a mission or give you control over individual units. You’re given a flying hovercraft but you’re constantly butting up against invisible walls and fences one inch higher than you can fly. It’s unfortunate when a game is bad and broken, but it’s a damn shame when a game is forgettable. Disintegration does not feel up to scratch for a game releasing in 2020.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Disintegration is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
- Interesting characters and background
- Multiplayer can be frantic fun with friends
- Story is average with characters not really living the experience
- No control over squad and character builds
- Gameplay is bland and fails to capitalize on unique hybrid
- Combat isn't engaging
- Visuals are dated
- Checkpoints don't persist between sessions
- Multiplayer leaves much to be desired
- Problems with controller support and aiming
- In-game bugs, clipping character models, lip-syncing is off
Sam Chandler posted a new article, Disintegration review: Troubleshooting