Some genres work better on certain platforms and with certain peripherals than others. The Wii Remote, for instance, made first-person shooters a little more palatable for a lot of people because of how intuitive it was to use for shooting things. On the other hand, it’s pretty rough to make a real-time strategy game that works on a console or with a controller. That’s not to say the concept hasn’t been tried, see the Halo Wars series, but it generally hasn’t worked out.
And speaking of Halo, series co-creator Marcus Lehto figures he’d go where no developer has before, at least not effectively, integrating a true first-person shooter with real-time strategy in a game you’d actually want to play. These are noble ambitions, but Disintegration doesn’t really live up to them either. Let’s take a look anyway.
In the future, people have decided to shed their mortal shells and continue their lives in the cold, metal husks of artificial bodies. They turn into robots, a process called integration. It’s a pretty sweet deal with plenty of perks, including free regular oil changes, getting a cool robot voice and so on. The problem is that being a robot means that you’ll have to contend with evil robots! Bad guys! Take control of Romer Shoal, famed Gravcycle driver (basically Evel.Knievel.exe) and pilot your hovering combat bike while leading an army of good robots to blast the bad robots! When it comes to deep, thought-provoking stories about transhumanism, Deus Ex this ain’t.
Disintegration is an attempt at creating a console-friendly real-time strategy game within the framework of a first-person shooter. That’s not easy as these genres don’t necessarily complement each other, especially when attempting to keep track of everything happening onscreen. There’s been a few efforts at making this genre blend work in a simplified format, most notably with Microsoft’s Halo Wars. Creative Assembly, in one of their rare flubs, got it terribly wrong with Stormrise back in 2009 or so. Ever heard of Stormrise? There’s a reason why, and it’s unfortunate that Disintegration has more in common with that game than Halo Wars.
In Disintegration, you’re riding on a futuristic armed hovering motorcycle while commanding a small group of robotic rebels across large and mostly unpopulated environments. Your cycle can hover way up for better vantage points, but you’ll mostly stay level with your troops during the heat of battle. “Your troops” means all of your troops. From the confines of your Gravcycle you’ll point and direct your entire troupe to move, collect items, regroup and kill baddies as they swarm you, over and over. There’s some strategy in activating green health replenish objects to keep your hitpoints up, but it’s mostly kill, kill and kill some more.
This is the kind of thing where you tell everyone to kill That Dude while also manually aiming at individual enemies yourself. Eventually they die and you move on to the next. That’s pretty much the game. Sometimes you fight a boss. Bosses’ weakpoints are essentially Dudes, so deal with them in much the same way. If one of your Dudes dies, just drive over and pick ’em up and they’ll be back.
If one of your troops “dies”, you’ll have a limited time to fly over their corpse, triggering them to “return” in a new body and get back in action. Failure to revive them means game over, man, as does your own death. Failure means having to restart at your most recent checkpoint, which can mean replying large areas of missions before hitting the next checkpoint. This would be fine but making things worse is there’s no way to save your game in-mission, meaning you must complete the whole thing in one go or replay the entire thing again.
Just play like a coward, use your Dudes to solve most problems and you’ll be fine. You can also upgrade individual units between levels but none of this radically changes gameplay or level progression. Play safe, use your Dudes as meat (metal?) shields and sources of damage and you’ll eventually wear down the AI. You can also play multiplayer, but with an all-time high of 120 users on Steam – and we’re long past that all-time high – I wouldn’t expect to get too much out of that.
I feel bad for Disintegration. I really do. Someone obviously cared about this production, even is the end result is disappointingly unfun to play. It’s trying to be charming, and it doesn’t look bad running on most hardware. Characters and environments look pretty nice, all in all, even if it’s difficult for faceless robots to seem especially expressive. On the other hand, you spend most of your time floating a long way out from your units and their foes, both of which are so small and nondescript its difficult to tell who is who, unit from unit.
That kind of summarizes the whole problem with Disintegration, really. Despite its ambitions to be blend the FPS with the RTS, the end result is a pretty generic game in a market filled to the brim with better games. It’s not terrible, per se, but we’ve entered the phase of the industry where the concern is less about what games you have and more about how much time you have to play them. From that perspective, Disintegration has quite the battle. I’m not sure it manages to come out on top of the many similar shooters (did you know there’s a remaster of Forsaken?) that do what it does and does it better. When it hits fifteen bucks, maybe we can talk.