When I first saw the trailers for Disintegration, I was excited. The talent behind the scenes, an independent studio founded by Marcus Lehto, the co-creator of Halo (a personal favourite), and some slick-looking future robots! What could go wrong? Unfortunately, V1 Interactive’s newest game has a few issues, gameplay is chief among them. Sadly, their central mechanic the “Gravcycle” floats above battles, but never truly gets off the ground.
To be clear, I enjoyed many parts of V1’s game. Disintegration has a solid voice cast, an interesting spin on its futuristic world, and a fine enough story featuring RTS robots. If you put all those elements on a whiteboard, it sounds like a game I’d love to play. Where this game falls short is its gameplay, and when you’re missing a key element like that, every other aspect of your product has to work overtime.
To fully understand my frustration with the gameplay, you need to grasp the star of this game, the Gravcycle. V1’s floating racecar-like speeders never clicked for me. From the beginning of the game, you’re strapped into a speedy blasting spaceship scooter and stay with them from start to finish. The primary malfunction with these future bikes is that they limit your agency as a player. The game is billed as a sci-fi first-person shooter with RTS elements. You play as Romer Shoal, an imprisoned robot celebrity (racer? Pilot? It’s pretty unclear even after I hit the credits), as a band of outlaws breaks out of the bad guy’s robot prison. This is where the Gravcycle comes in, every level star Romer (the reluctant hero) on a Gravcycle with weapons you can’t choose.
In multiplayer you can decide which cycle you wish to combat in, but in the single-player campaign, you are stuck with whatever V1 Interactive gives you. To me, this seemed like a cheap way to mask or make a challenge. It manufactures difficulty. The game robs players of a staple aspect of shooters. Picking your guns/loadout makes combat more personal because you’re taking on the problem in the way you deem best. Disintegration makes you tackle enemy encounters the way they decided, and that’s a shame. This is where my frustration begins with the cycles, but admittedly there are plenty of awesome weapons to fight the red-eyed robotic Rayonne’s with. Again, I just wish I could choose the weapons I embark with after they are unlocked. On each level, you load in with a preset cycle. The shotgun only pops up once in the entire campaign, and the same goes for the very slow, sticky grenades that you have to self detonate via a button press. The former I kept hoping to see again, and the latter I dreaded being stuck with once more.
Sticking with the Gravcycle for a few final notes. When your weapons systems are “zoomed out” I felt strangely far from the action, and when I zoomed it felt too close. This is maybe a silly complaint, but it all comes down to balance. If you haven’t got it by now the Gravcycle hangs above battles, giving players an unintended disconnect from their gameplay and the action.
Players glide around levels as Romer to execute the lite RTS elements of Disintegration. You can direct your allies (typically between two to four party members) to attack a target or hold a location. Those are extremely lite options when it comes to strategy. What I need to explain is you can’t open chests yourself, you can’t activate bombs or power down the generators. Many times in Disintegration you’re sitting around waiting for a squad member to do something on your behalf in or out of combat. Only your squad members can interact with the world, and that left me feeling unfulfilled and removed from the experience. What makes matters worse is all your squad members are tied to the same button, so when there are six salvage chests in an area, you have to open them one by one. It doesn’t matter that you have three party members, that one button overrides the last task and they all stand around watching one ally do the thing you said to do. These robots should be smarter than this, even with human brains inside their shells. These outlaws lack the smarts to split up and do other tasks. Individual control would have really added a lot of strategy and depth to a game in dire need of it.
To highlight some good, Disintegrations’ destructible world feels right, there’s a lot of fun to be had blowing up junk in the world and taking down your enemy’s cover. I also really enjoy the voice cast and more specifically the loveable rogues they bring to life. These portrayals kept me going when the Gravcycle let me down. Romer is what you’d expect from an “I’m not a leader” leader, and the rest of the team brings a ton of flavour. Doyle, Coqui, and Seguin are great; not only in design, but in performance as well. This crew has great combat banter and you feel a real camaraderie between them. As I mentioned at the top, I like robots and these former humans look the part. Ox-eye has a helmet/head that reminds me of Optimus Prime, and Six-oh-two’s big old body makes me laugh. Speaking of humour, the game’s main story has little room for levity, but it’s great that the stars of the show (Romer’s Outlaws) bring joy to a bleak world.
The main story starts off by giving a cliff notes version of the 2160s. The “integration” process is the scientific answer to immortality. Humans can leave behind their fleshy bodies and “integrate” the brain into a robotic shell before their mortal one expires. One hundred and fifty years in the future humanity is facing climate change, a massive financial crisis, and global pandemics. Ah yes, Video Games, what a way to escape from the real world… My understanding was that the 2163 humans had transcended the need for their vulnerable flash bags, but after researching I found that the “integration” process was a temporary measure to limit resource intake and at some point, the robots would return to their bodies. This fact was lost on me during my playthrough and I thought I had done all the optional dialogue.
In more of my research, I found that this game was intended to be an RTS first and then later added the FPS elements to make the game more unique. It would be too harsh to say the shooter elements were tacked on, but it makes sense that this was the order the game was built in. Many times when I darted around levels in my cycle, I was dumbfounded that there is no melee in this game. I often accidentally clicked the right thumbstick when I was in a Rayonne’s face because surely I should be able to ram or punch this robot in the head. Alas, no melee for me.
Another odd omission, I mentioned that squad commands are all tied to the same button, but that button lacks contextual options. My main gripe is that you can’t park allies in cover. You can send them to a place or area and sometimes they will get behind walls/barriers to avoid damage, but the levels of Disintegration have a lot of destructible cover in them. It sucks that in most cases the cover and debris are only for the enemies. This lack of a tactical element removes the strategy from this real-time strategy.
Some other oddities. It seemed like my squad would walk wherever I was looking. That frequently leads to me shooting red barrels near enemies as my squad members charged right into the explosion, damaging them and the bad guys. I mentioned the chests before, but you have to scan them to loot them, even if you already know it’s a lootable box, and then the suck comes in when you have to arm an explosive to open them. Again, your team is only smart enough to do one thing at a time, so you end up sitting around waiting for them to do things for you, like exploding experience chests, a lot.
Another bright spot is the music. In the open environments, it’s a mix of simple ambiance and combat tunes. I think what Jon Everist does with this game’s score works at every turn. It sounds like a robot’s future when it needs to, and then the score sounds just like a mountain when you’re exploring the world. I would have asked for some small background tunes in the in-between level areas like the hanger. The non-combat areas are all kinds of large and empty, but I understand that what a hanger actually is… you know, big and empty.
Somehow I’ve got this far in the review and I have yet to mention the raccoons!!! Those trash pandas are wonderful and I wanted more of them. More, I think that’s the final line on Disintegration. It has a lot of cool parts, but I wanted more of them. More strategy commands, more control of the hero I was making, or at least more options with the flying death machine I was on. There could have been simple story reasons for the weapon changes and why I couldn’t decide what I wanted to shoot red-eyes with, but they never showed. It’s really the little things when I think about it and attention to detail. For instance, your teammates move unrealistically fast, this is an effort to match and meet the speed of your cycle. If they can move just as fast as me, then what’s the point of even being on a Gravcycle. I think the game would have been better if it was more grounded. Not in reality, but with Romer on two feet. This game has a lot of cool pieces, but unfortunately, they never come together to fully form the version of Voltron that V1 is going for. As Romer glides over the gameplay, Disintegration fails to “integrate” one key element, fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 4.5/10
Graphics - 6/10
Story - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 6/10
Disintegration fails to “integrate” one key element, fun!