While helicopters have been powerful enemies in countless shooters, there haven’t been too many games lately where you get to fly one into combat yourself. But in the sci-fi first-person shooter Disintegration (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), you get to pilot a futuristic helicopter-like vehicle into battle. And while it isn’t always as exciting as trying to shoot down an attack copter with a pistol is in other games, Disintegration still manages to be entertaining despite its many flaws.
(NOTE: With multiplayer unavailable until the game launches on June 16th, what follows is a look at this game’s single-player campaign. A more complete review is forthcoming.)
Set in the far future,
Disintegration casts you the pilot of a Gravcycle, which looks like a speeder bike from Return Of The Jedi with wings, but moves like — you guessed it — a helicopter. It hovers, goes left and right and front to back, and doesn’t fly so fast that you might accidentally slam into a tree while chasing a teddy bear.
Along with being a Gravcycle pilot in Disintegration, though, you’re also a cyborg, living in a world where it’s possible to install someone’s brain in a fully prosthetic body. Hence why you and most of your friends look like Cayde-6 from Destiny if he insisted on wearing pants. But while some people think everyone should go full-cyborg, others — including your fellow rebels — believe it’s my body, my choice. Which is why you’re trying to stop Black Shuck, the pro-life, er, pro-cyborg warden of the prison you escaped from in the game’s opening cutscenes.
Now, with Disintegration being a first-person shooter, you naturally spend the bulk of the game’s story-driven campaign, well, shooting things. But unlike DOOM Eternal, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, and other first-person shooters, this doesn’t have you with your feet on the ground, reaching for the stars. Instead, you hover over the battlefield, dealing death from above. Y’know, like in a helicopter.
Your Gravcycle also, like a helicopter, has guns, albeit ones that only shoot forward. But those aren’t your only weapons. You can also, from the comfort of your pilot’s chair, command a small squad of ground troops. And they’re not just cannon fodder, either. In the campaign, your comrades are fellow cyborgs, each of whom have their own rechargeable special attacks — including mortars and concussion grenades — as well as the professionalism to go where you tell them to go and do what you tell them to do (which mostly just means opening the box you just told them to open).
As a shooter, Disintegration works well. The firefights get nicely frantic, with enemies attacking from all sides. There’s also a good variety of enemy types, including large mechs, drones, other Gravcycles, and one I won’t spoil save to say it was deeply satisfying every time I took one of those bastards down. In addition, you have to contend with EMP bursts that kill your engines, land mines that pop up and hover in mid-air until they’re triggered, and jammers that shut down your weapons. Plus, just when you think a battle’s ended, more enemies will arrive to extend the fight. Not so many that it seems unfair, mind you, but enough to keep things interesting.
The levels in Disintegration…
are also nicely varied, usually with lots of cover for enemies to hide behind. Well, temporarily; wooden barriers aren’t bullet resistant, and along with destructible cover, enemy bases also have lots of electrical panels that short out and red gas barrels that explode.
Good thing your Gravcycle has an endless amount of ammo. Which may seem like it would make this way too easy, but it actually makes this fun in the same way old school side-scrolling shooters that also had endless amounts of ammo were fun. it’s just too bad the people who developed your cyborg body didn’t also develop smart bomb technology.
It also helps that your ground troops are smart enough to be left alone. Which is why Disintegration never feels like a real-time strategy game. Even when you do tell them to do something, they don’t just stop and admire their handiwork when they finish; they continue fighting. So much so that, save for when you need them to hack a jammer or open a box, or your weapons are being jammed, you can basically leave them to their own devices, secure in the knowledge that they’ll keep fighting…and they’ll win.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for your enemies in Disintegration. They often seem distracted, and often don’t notice that an armed, helicopter-like vehicle is approaching from the South with three mechs in tow until it’s too late. Enemy ground troops also seem more concerned with your squad than with you, often to the point of ignoring you.
This, sadly, isn’t the only problem with Disintegration. For instance, while your Gravcycle has a good variety of weapons, including machine guns and cannons, you’re never given a choice when you start a campaign mission. And the same goes for the special attacks of your ground troops.
Disintegration could also use better options when it comes to how it works with a controller. Unlike most games where you pilot something that hovers, this doesn’t use “A” (on Xbox) or “X” (PS4) to go up and “B” (Xbox) or “O” (PS4) to go down. Instead, the default has you using the left bumper for the former and the left trigger for the latter, while an alternative control scheme has you using the right and left bumpers.
But the bigger problem…
with the two button layouts is that both have you pressing in the right thumbstick for iron sights, as opposed to using the left trigger like in every other shooter lately. Granted, this does work better here than it did in the early Halo games, but it’s still doesn’t work well. Which is a problem because having that added accuracy would be helpful, given how you’re usually high above your enemies.
It’s also irritating that you often can’t command your troops to interact with something on the battlefield until you scan the item first, even if you’ve seen one before.
You’re also quickly penalized if you going out of bounds, even if doing so would make tactical sense. In one early mission, enemies break down the gate of a rebel base. But if you try to go out the gate to attack them before they come in — which, obviously, would be a smart strategic move — you get a stern warning to turn around or you’ll fail the mission.
Disintegration could also use variety in its missions. While you can do some exploring, and there are times when you have to go it alone briefly, or be more hands-on with your troops because your weapons are being jammed, this mostly has you flying from point A to point B, shooting everything in between.
It also doesn’t help that Disintegration’s story isn’t all that interesting. My earlier references to the abortion debate go deeper than this game ever does, and the story is largely rote and predictable. And the same can be said for some of the voice acting.
Disintegration also has a problem so common that I basically just cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant review: the text is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have a lot of trouble reading the menus (especially the numbers). The subtitles are also hard to see, though mostly because the letters are really light grey and often against similarly light backgrounds.
despite these annoying — and what would seem to be easily avoided — issues, the campaign in Disintegration still compelling. Sure, it is just a succession of fire fights, but they’re engaging fire fights, and give you the opportunity to shoot people from a perspective we haven’t seen enough lately: hovering above the fray in your very own helicopter. Er, Gravcycle.