Disintegration hands-on preview – is this the next big thing in online shooters?

GameCentral plays the new game from the co-creator of Halo and discovers the most original online shooter of the year.

Over the years, we’ve read so many press releases that claim their game is by veterans of Halo and/or Bungie that the boast has lost its allure. As such, we didn’t pay that much attention to Disintegration when it was first announced by new Take-Two Interactive label Private Division, even though it’s by Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto. To be fair to us, the teaser trailer gave absolutely nothing away and it’s only at Gamescom this week that it was revealed to be a first person shooter that looks very much like Destiny… but plays like nothing else we’ve ever seen.

A lot of the basic elements in Disintegration are fairly standard for the genre. The art style will be very familiar to any Destiny fan and the game mode we were playing had two teams of five alternating between defending and trying to steal MacGuffins. Nothing very original in that, except that rather than playing as a typical first person shooter protagonist you’re riding around on one of several different anti-gravity vehicles, which look and work like a more heavily armoured speeder bike from Star Wars (or indeed Destiny).

On top of that you have a team of two to five robots following you around at ground level, which act autonomously but can also be told to go to specific locations, like a simplified squad-based shooter. That’s a peculiar mix of elements but based on our half an hour hands-on it has the potential to be one of the most exciting new multiplayer games for a long time.

Apart from the overall set-up the most surprising thing about Disintegration is that none of the eight different ‘gravcycles’ have a typical first person shooter loadout. One of them has a light machinegun but even with the tank-like Gunhead you don’t get anything like a turret or a minigun, but instead a launcher that fires clusters of grenades and a nuke that takes a very long time to power up and recharge.

Each cycle has different stats for speed and armour, so some are best for direct assaults and others for support, but very few of the loadouts are as simple as just pointing and shooting. The King’s Guard has a high-tech crossbow, that’s more powerful if you charge it up and also slows down anything it hits; while our initial favourite was a support team called Tech Noir that has a sniper(-ish) rifle that sets enemies on fire and a health grenade that can repair both gravcycles and robots.

But if you’re worrying that the game sounds like it has a step learning curve that’s not how it came across to us. In a room full of international journos everyone was cheering their victories, and bemoaning their defeats, within the opening match. And when we were all asked if we wanted another go before the next group came in there was nothing but shouts of encouragement – much to the obvious pleasure of an initially nervous-looking dev team.

Although the weapons of the gravcycles require a considerable amount of experimentation before you even understand how they work there seemed to be a lot of nuance to the robots as well. Their exact nature varies from group to group – with teams made up of snipers, tanks, and other familiar class types – but we had a lot of initial success directing them manually, including one match where we all snuck round the outskirts of the map and managed to steal a power core when everyone else was fighting in the middle.

We suspect our love of real-time strategy games gave us a slight advantage but since all you’re doing is pointing where you want your team to go and pressing a button it’s more a case of remembering to keep giving them orders than anything else. Each robot also has its own recharging special move, from artillery barrages to buffs and healing abilities, but we admit we did keep forgetting to use those. But that’s fine, as they’re clearly meant for more practiced players and can easily be ignored while you’re learning the ropes.

Before we played the multiplayer we were given a brief overview of the game as a whole and were promised that it would have a proper, substantial campaign and was absolutely not multiplayer-only. The story revolves around mankind being forced to install their brains in robot bodies, which some are not happy about and rebel. Hopefully the storytelling will be more on par with Halo than Destiny but we couldn’t really vouch for it either way at the moment.

If we do have an issue with the game we’d have to say we’re not entirely sure why developer V1 Interactive actually went with anti-gravity cycles, as it means there’s less visual character to the game than there might otherwise have been. And although the controls are very intuitive, floating around in mid-air feels a lot less tactile than being a boots-on-the-ground soldier.

Previous experience of playing experimental shooters at the likes of E3 and Gamescom also makes us a little wary, with Evolve being the most obvious example of a game that seemed like a classic in the making during previews but proved to have no longevity once released.

Something tells us that Disintegration won’t be like that though. Whether it’ll have the impact or success of Halo we wouldn’t like to say but it’s the most interesting new shooter we’ve played in a long time. It’s always better to try something new than rely on just copying what already works, and by refusing to play by the normal rules Disintegration could be Halo: Combat Evolved all over again.

Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: V1 Interactive
Release Date: 2020

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