Publisher/developer Ubisoft (Massive) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2015
Massive is in a confident mood. When we bump into MD David Polfeldt at Ubisoft’s E3 booth and say we’re off to interview The Division game director Ryan
Barnard, he smiles. “Ask him about graphical downgrades,” he says, referencing the furore over the difference between the
Watch Dogs announced two years ago and the one that shipped. So, will The Division end up matching the standard set by its announcement footage? “Setting a graphical bar for this generation has been one of the pillars of the game,” Barnard says. “The new demo is that bar. It will actually get a little better than that. We’re not creating fairytales: of course there’s going to be speculation, but all we can do is take care of our own business. What you saw on stage is absolutely what we will hit graphically on all platforms we have for the game.”
The behind-closed-doors demo seems designed to make that point. First, we have a second viewing of the Microsoft stage demo; then one of the dev team sits next to us on a sofa and returns to the same area at night. The two are indistinguishable. Resolution doesn’t matter when there is so much else going on – global illumination, lit smoke, a Perspex information booth shattering under enemy gunfire. We see new factions – the Cleaners, with their hazmat suits and flamethrowers, destroying potentially valuable supplies in a contagion-zone convenience store – and gameplay systems, too. An echo formed from CCTV footage and smartphone data provides intel with an AR glimpse of the past. We see a skill tree that eschews a traditional class system and allows for abilities to be switched on the fly. Gear can be tweaked too: with a few button presses, a seeker mine is turned into a flashbang, and a recon drone modded to strobe and stun an enemy. We’re shown the companion app, in which the tablet player controls a support drone. The team is debating whether or not enemies should be able to shoot it down, another design challenge in a game full of the things.
But it’s the look of it that sticks in the mind. “I’m an eyecandy guy, a graphics whore, so it’s important,” Barnard says. “Of course we want the game to be beautiful, but it’s about immersion. The less distracted I am by how something looks, because it looks real, the more immersed I am in the game. Games are about transporting you into a situation, and every element that pulls you out of it detracts from it.” There’s little of that in The
Division. Massive has the ambition and the tech to pull it off. On this evidence, the studio has every right to be bullish.
WatchDogs has shaken players’ faith in Ubisoft’s trailers, but The Division’s new Snowdrop engine might surprise everyone