The latest thing to carry the Tom Clancy cattle brand is The Division. It’s a much hyped online multiplayer game set in a dystopian New York. While it’s all a bit bloody grim, Liam Maguren chronicles the off-game diversions one can create for oneself in the crumbling aftermath of a societal meltdown.
Ubisoft are fan-bloody-tastic at flipping crowds into a fanatic frenzy with surprise video game reveals at E3. They’re so good at ascending the hype, in fact, that the games themselves almost have no chance of jumping over it. In the case of Watch Dogs and Rainbow Six: Siege, they ended up Fosbury Flopping straight into the bar.
This puts The Division in a funny spot. Even though I went nuts over the E3 2013 reveal like a monkey at a monolith, past experience has taught me to tame those expectations. So I refrained from calling it an MMORPG version of The Last of Us and came more accustomed to what it actually is – a third-person Destiny set during Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion.
That sounded fun to me, and fun is exactly what I’m having. And I suspect part of the reason is because the game makes it way too easy to get distracted.
Firstly, there isn’t really a main character to really invest yourself in, for the one you create ends up being less of a Commander Shepherd and more of a valiant vessel of emotionless do-goodery. The only expression my avatar seems capable of is mild disinterest…
And mild concern over the stove that may or may not have been left on.
Instead, the city itself becomes the protagonist in a way, with main objectives and side missions gradually revealing how the virus caused the devolution of civilisation and how it can potentially rebuild. One task will show you the dehumanising destruction caused by ‘the cleaners’; another will have you investigating the death of a woman who walked out on her company to search for a vaccine.
These segments are small and usually don’t take long to complete, which gives you ample time for being a fuckwit. And when I’m playing with the three guys I regularly game with, such fuckwittery comes in bulk, which generally includes taking turns doing jumping jacks on a roof…
Slapping a bullet mustache on a graffiti portrait of pseudo Donald Trump…
And greeting the last guy in the team with a patronising clap for finally finishing the tutorial level.
Our buffoonery looks extra ridiculous in a setting where humanity is on the brink of collapse, and perhaps the game was designed to be taken 100% seriously with its striking attention to visual detail (falling snow actually builds up on characters’ shoulders) and its insistence on having virtual players literally wait in line all for the sake of really real realism.
However, that sense of realism goes straight out the window and into a wood chipper when you get into a firefight. Since players and enemies level up in a very Destiny-like manner, lower level players will find it much harder to take down higher level enemies. This means you’re likely to come across some dude with a baseball bat who can absorb bullets like the T-1000 because, you know, he’s just better than you.
At least the actual shooting mechanics are solid, strengthened by an incredibly useful cover mechanic that lets you pick and choose which cover you want to run to before you even put a foot down. Holding the button allows your character to auto-run to the spot, but you can always let it go to regain complete control, which makes weaving in and out of tough firefights a free-flowing breeze.
Unfortunately, getting kills feels somewhat unsatisfying. Like Evolve or the Left 4 Dead series, there’s hardly any weight to pulling off a good series of shots. It’s fairly common to see an NPC not flinch or react to a hit, forcing you to rely on your crosshair to flash red or a damage number to increase in order to confirm that you’re contributing to the cause.
It’s just a minor niggle though, and it doesn’t change the three-step strategy I use for every other third-person shooter:
I’ve played for a total of around seven hours so far, and we’ve killed waves and waves of human beings without batting a moral eye at the virtual consequences. And yet, all four of us became emotionally invested in the case of an innocent dog that was shot in cold blood – by one of our own.
After finishing a mission, my crew upgraded gear while I took out some rats for some cheap EXP. Suddenly, a massive shot was fired, followed by the sound of the most heart-breaking yelp in the world.
We instantly accused each other of the despicable act, like a messed-up cross-over between The Thing and Old Yeller. Eventually, the collective finger was pointed at me, the person who was shooting rats before the incident occurred. This, apparently, was counted as motive, and despite a lack of supporting evidence, I was instantly sentenced with the names ‘Dog Killer’ and ‘Liam: Killer of Dogs’.
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But I wasn’t going to let these accusations go untested, and after digging through my media archives in the PS4 Shade folder, I can finally share my account of events.
Who REALLY shot the dog? I’ll leave that decision to the power of the people.
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