Halo sends me
Disintegration is a shooter in which we play the role of a gravicycle pilot, a fireball of the heavens armed to the teeth, and despite this peculiarity pays a tribute to the franchise of Halo evident from the first moment you set foot: it could not have been otherwise, given the hand from which it comes, and we certainly cannot say that the feeling is sorry for us.
Considering the long wait for a new chapter of the Master Chief saga, and the fact that titles of the genre – definition on which we will deepen later – are now rather rare in the videogame panorama, it has refreshed us to compare ourselves with a similar production, as far as we have recognized practically every single influence – not to mention similarity – perhaps too pushed, from the microscopic detail to the macroscopic aspect.
First, the gunplay: fast, frenetic but also tactical like that of Microsoft’s intellectual property. Perhaps a little too solid, since, probably to follow the fact that we play on board a vehicle all the time in the story and in the multiplayer, there is not the slightest recoil and the only obstacle to punctual aim is the movement of the enemy, the speed of which varies according to whether they are land units or flying units.
Some details of the management of commands strongly recall the series co-created by Lehto: just think that the zoom of the weapon viewfinder is activated by pressing on the right analog lever of the controller and not with the left trigger, almost a habit, now somewhat anachronistic, of the Master Chief saga but which was necessary for integration here of the gravicycle controls.
The graphical interface, as you can see from the images we shot in-game, is borrowed almost entirely by the shooter now in the hands of 343 Industries, from the weapon slots on the bottom right up to, more clearly, the shape of the helmet visor up. Even the multiple difficulty levels and the icons with which they are shown on the screen seem to come from the same source of inspiration. An arrangement that will have seemed almost natural for V1 Interactive, keeping in mind the palmares of its founder, and certainly an ingredient that will not escape the attention of fans.
Always on the subject Halo, the Challenges remember the celebrated Skulls and we can accept them in thehub presented in a third-person style Destiny and accessible before the start of the missions. These challenges are nothing more than reward multipliers that we can unlock by completing secondary objectives, such as eliminating a number of enemies with a new weapon or never running into a game over, and they represent – as well as a way to feed the RPG component of which we’ll talk in a few lines – even a trick to get to know the protagonists of the campaign and discover their backstories.
It would be an understatement to simply present these similarities as something exclusively negative, however, and Disintegration collects the legacy of Halo even in the best possible sense. We have been used to it for years – with rare exceptions such as the Master Chief epic, in fact, DOOM and the brave Titanfall 2 – to see single-player campaigns in shooters such as simple multiplayer preparation tutorials or buns to be entered to reach the symbolic quota of 70 euros.
Interpreting an old school, if it exists, way of developing first-person shooter, V1 Interactive has signed a story mode that took us about thirteen hours to complete, an authentic rarity these days, and has put in it the highest production values that a team of just 30 developers (a figure reached only in its last year of life) could imagine – and perhaps more.
At the time of the judgment we will not fail to underline the critical issues that this approach has entailed, but know that in this title you will find history and narration, interlude scenes (at the beginning and end of the missions) reproduced with a good directorial cut, a high profile technique and original evocative music; all that would not have been expected from what is basically an independent studio, although published as an external reality by the indie label of 2K Games.
An FPS, but also an RTS
A familiar dynamic for gamers is the use of a leader, stylized in the figure of a super soldier in the wake of the Master Chief, who on the battlefield “leads” the simple soldiers to victory. In Disintegration this mechanic returns but makes a qualitative leap, since it no longer represents only a narrative device but a real functionality which adds another layer to what it doesn’t want to be just a simple FPS.
Halo was born as a real-time strategic, after all, and the team assembled by Lehto fished in that same sea without however reaching the conclusion, as it was for the saga in Bungie’s time, that it would have been better to deny him in favor of a gameplay more easily sold to the general public of consoles. Driving our gravicycle, we will be called to manage a group of units as in a real RTS, with a privileged view from above, since this vehicle hovers rather easily in the skies of a devastated Earth.
In the exploration phases, not being able to touch the ground, we will have to delegate tasks such as the activation of terminals to the allies on the ground, after starting a scan that identifies the points of the map with which we can interact, but intelligently managing these units is essential especially in some more complex situations in history: when we measure ourselves with grim enemies, with a rapid firepower from which it will be difficult to escape, it will be for example to ask them to concentrate their attacks on it in order to get rid of them as much as possible as fast as possible.
Each unit has a skill that can be used as soon as the appropriate bar is reloaded, subjected to a cooldown in the event that the unit is eliminated – should even die permanently, it would be game over – or have used its skill. Skills consist of a variety of “moves” ranging from a grenade capable of slowing down enemies in a certain radius to a stunner one, passing through a powerful forest of missiles capable of causing extensive damage.
Although it may seem more complicated than expected in the first few hours, after a short learning curve, the mixture of first person shooter and RTS bears fruit and is produced in a fairly effective gameplay, which works both in terms of entertainment and in the purely mechanical sense – no oddities of artificial intelligence, another sign of high production values, which would have undermined the quality of use.
The conformation and dimensions of the maps, especially those outdoors, will also sound familiar to Master Chief followers and allow a range of different approaches to the action; there are no bifurcations whatsoever, the path from point A of the beginning to point B of the end is unambiguous, but understanding at what distance to position and from which angle to approach the collision is often fundamental to get out of it safely, particularly in the second half of the campaign where more difficult enemies begin to appear.
The gravicycle lives by itself on a precarious balance: it happens to find itself wondering why in a battle between humans and robots someone jumped on this kind of flying motorcycle instead of fighting on foot like everyone else or on board more appropriate means, and the narrative, fairly hasty in the beginning, does not do a good job in providing explanations in this sense.
In the same way, though, in air collisions with other creatures armed with similar vehicles, its use is complex and satisfactory as in an all-round arcade airborne product, thanks to its speed in movement and the requirement to dodge any attack from any enemy unit since each of them can cause lethal damage. The game is ruthless on this aspect, given that the acceleration has somewhat extended cooling times and can be used in a very small number of times in a single meeting, so you have to get your bones on the field to understand when to use it.
When we say “effective enough”, we mean that some things don’t convince us too much and you’ll have to call us at least. We refer mainly to failings by design like the absence of melee attacks that actually erase the physicality to which we have been accustomed by the genre and the possibility of throwing grenades, a trademark of Halo which has been rerouted to our units’ indirect skill. The co-op, another trademark, is a feature that obviously had to be renounced to avoid complications with the management of the units on the ground.
Speaking of the product of a hybrid with a strategic in real time, this “transfer of sovereignty” was predictable and the end result is certainly not unbearable, but especially in the hottest moments of the battle you will find that something is wrong – and this is exactly that somethingin our view.
Other shortcomings that we understand less, and that if bridged would have given another sense to the possibility of replaying the entire campaign through the individual missions, are the inability to change weapons during missions or at least before they start – you will start and end with the two (often one, given that the secondary slot is occupied by a curative gadget) pre-established – and to decide independently the units to take with you in battle. The orders are also assigned to the whole group and it is not allowed to turn to a single unit in order to give one task to one, one task to another and so on, and this would have come back quite comfortable in the collection of scrap.
We are thus introduced to therolistic aspect which represents a further facet in the playful offer of Disintegration: players can collect debris from the bodies of downed enemies or from various crates available in the environments, and with these they can level up by filling a special progression-style bar in multiplayer games.
When leveling up you can use the special chips found in the settings or by completing the challenges selected before the mission (also in this case, it is not possible to select them from a squad but it is a pool of three established at the table by the developer) to improve the characteristics of the members of the equipment – as the parameter of durability , which determines the health, or the damage done.
Chips can only be “spent” on actually unlocked branches, and however many challenges you can overcome, you will not be able to complete all the parameters in one run; a rather marked gimmick, together with the higher levels of difficulty as per single player oriented FPS practice, for incentivize replay value.
Boldness and good workmanship, but the result is quite flat
Disintegration is an extremely ambitious and cohesive project, one of those who believe in it until the very end when he tries to bring original ideas into a genre that has probably given what he had to give and is now looking for more narrative contaminations – that is the promised expansion in the small sense great open world / action adventure promise but not yet confirmed by Halo Infinite or the one that already happened, in the shooter field but in the third person, with Gears 5 – that properly playful.
This pure approach tohybridization, you will forgive the pun, it implies in itself a series of limitations that we have listed up to a few lines ago, to which, however, are added some sins of old age and youth at the same time.
The campaign lives on a basic flatness that makes it start in one way and end in the exact same way, with just a couple, literally, of variations on the theme (a fake-stealth mission and a spare one of a load, however not very successful), and there are no unique boss fights except with a single exception that is not even able to stand out compared to other clashes with stronger enemies compared to the average.
The story is set in a fascinating universe and has vibrations of Halo remarkable, especially when discussing a higher mythology that seems to involve ancestral figures of a new human condition – also hybridized but with the body of robots that host its brain. However, despite the number and the good workmanship of the cut-scenes, the game, which is already based on fragile premises, never takes the time to deepen a certain theme and jumps like a grasshopper from one assignment to another until the plot does not boil down to a trivial mission of resistance to the invading tyrant.
This does not surprise us: in Lehto’s vision, Halo he had to have a profound but not flat face mythology to those gamers who simply wanted to enjoy a fast FPS and maybe with their friends, and could have been drowned in a sea of unnecessary information; from there the gimmick of the terminals, which would have provided the juicy details to those who wanted to find out more about the plot of the game.
Such a vision, which led him to not have sweet words on Halo 5 Guardians (had left the franchise later Reach) because it brought to light the whole submerged part of the saga, it also has repercussions on Disintegration, where it is no coincidence that at the campaign hub it is possible to find interesting details from the members of the equipment, however somewhat dated in the approach, in a modern era of gaming that can directly expose certain scenarios without worrying about the limitations anymore of the medium.
The multiplayer, which in the economy of a similar production represents the foothold that will have to guarantee its sustainability (hopefully) over the years, obviously falls within the judgment of a general unwanted flatness of the game.
It is small in terms of content, having only a handful of maps from it that do not stand out particularly in design and three modes, all variants of the multiplayer cornerstones that do not bother to be unique: Collection is a kind of Confirmed Killing of call of Duty in which to eliminate the enemies and collect the “electronic scalp”; Zone control is a fairly easy interpretation of Conquest of Battlefield; Finally, Recovery, which is probably the most original but ultimately the least understandable, requires that energy cells be collected and deposited in the opposing field but using only their own units – which transforms it into a kind of long mission of two-stroke escort.
With the exception of Recovery, which as you may have guessed, it seemed a little too articulated for our playful tastes (but de gustobus …), we have two solid modalities, which do their job and that is they entertain immediately, involving a good number of players in lively clashes and often unpredictable fate given the care gadgets and the possibility of sneaking away which gets bigger and bigger depending on the equipped gravicycle.
In Collection we have often felt guilty because we collected points left on the ground by our allies, but that’s exactly how we play – and we certainly don’t say it to clear our conscience (not only for that, at least): if the points left on the ground by the downed enemy were to be claimed by members of the opposing team, that kill would automatically be invalidated. Knocking down a gravicycle provides three points, one ground unit one.
The challenges we mentioned for the single-player are also present in multiplayer and in a large quantity; in this case they allow you to unlock internal currency to be reinvested in skins (so far, three per character including the base one) and emblems; these credits can be purchased immediately even with microtransactions by spending real money.
The Seattle software house could not resist the temptation to introduce its own interpretation of the hero-based lodging, with characters created from scratch (we would have liked to see the characters of the campaign, but so much) and each equipped with their own means, more or less fast or resistant.
It is curious how they are all or almost all presented with melee weapons such as spiked clubs and the like when in reality they cannot use them in the game. The differences between the different heroes mainly consist of the primary weapon, which covers all the models crossed in the campaign – the most “gimmicky” adhesive bombs, fired not by chance by a sort of Joker, semi-automatic submachine guns with bursts of three shots instead our choice because (in Lost Ronin) very effective and coupled with a lethal secondary one, or a rocket launcher -, as well as in the units that play a marginal role here.
If these aspects are all in all marginal – of multiplayer that resemble each other we have many, recently we reviewed Bleeding Edge Ninja Theory which adds very little to the speech, although it works and does it well – the biggest problem is in fact represented by the RTS component which V1 Interactive did not want to give up in these modes.
As we said, the Lehto team worked with courage and believing in its concept from start to finish, but in our test it seemed clear that contamination with the real-time strategy is very complicated in multiplayer: having to hold off the clashes in the air against enemies in flesh and blood and therefore by definition more probative than an AI that behaves taking into account the fact that you will also have to manage ground units, you tend to neglect them and a lot because your own attention is captured by another.
The units continue to operate independently but it frequently happens to see them knocked down and left to themselves while we struggle to accumulate some killings that can raise our score and give us the impression that we still know how to do with the shooters, after all.
This is a shame, of course: it is the selling point of Disintegration and neglecting it means in a certain sense not “role playing”, but rather play it as if it were any other first person shooter – which we can imagine will happen as soon as users can put their hands on it.
If you are interested in Disintegration, you may also want to get your hands on Halo 5: Guardians at a special price.