The Divi­sion

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Ubisoft Mas­sive Pub­lisher Ubisoft For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Swe­den Re­lease March 8

We could shoot The Divi­sion’s cars all day. Aban­doned ve­hi­cles line the streets of this virus-stricken New York, but are more than mere set dress­ing: ev­ery yel­low cab, po­lice car and soc­cer-mom SUV is a po­ten­tial show­case of Ubisoft Mas­sive’s won­der­ful dam­age modelling, and we leave road­side af­ter road­side in tat­ters. We pop the tyres first, caus­ing a vis­i­ble puff of air be­fore the ve­hi­cle above slumps to­wards the dam­age. Then we take out the lights; the alarm might go off but never mind – we can shoot that out too. And then the win­dows. Oh, the win­dows. We empty our heav­ily mod­ded as­sault ri­fle around the perime­ter, and the pane holds firm un­til the last shard hold­ing it in place shat­ters un­der gun­fire, and the lot falls away. It’s hard to tear our­selves away to the real busi­ness of The Divi­sion: re­claim­ing New York City from the as­sorted ne’er-do-well fac­tions that have moved in af­ter a small­pox out­break. Even­tu­ally our ammo sup­plies run dry and we’re left with no choice but to move on.

It’s just as well, be­cause we re­ally should get go­ing. This, af­ter all, is a long-over­due first proper hands-on with a game an­nounced more than two-and-a-half years ago. There was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it demo at E3 last year and a brief Xbox One al­pha in De­cem­ber. Here, fi­nally, is The Divi­sion, playable al­most from the start (the tu­to­rial isn’t ready yet) in near-fi­nal form. It’s cer­tainly been a long time com­ing. “There are so many new things,” Mag­nus

Jansen, cre­ative di­rec­tor at The Divi­sion de­vel­oper Ubisoft Mas­sive, tells us by way of ex­pla­na­tion for the de­lay in the game’s re­lease. “We’re do­ing a new server struc­ture – this seam­less [mul­ti­player], no load­ing, no match­mak­ing, no lob­bies. Then all the game­play it­er­a­tion, just try­ing to make it work. It’s an open world, with co-op: does it work not be­ing guided? Doesn’t the group get split up? How do we solve that? There’s just so much, get­ting the tech right, and the game de­sign; build­ing a whole new en­gine; new plat­forms for Mas­sive, too, with PS4 and Xbox One. It’s not re­ally sur­pris­ing that it’s taken some time.”

Ubisoft’s part­ner­ship with Mi­crosoft means that our demo is on Xbox One, where the game runs at 900p and the re­mark­able ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Snow­drop en­gine Mas­sive was so keen to show off when we vis­ited its of­fices for E259’ s cover story have been nec­es­sar­ily reined in. But this is no Watch

Dogs- style down­grade scan­dal. Some of the sheen may have gone but the spirit of the thing re­mains, and what the Xbox One game lacks in pixel count and flashy ef­fects is more than made up for by a won­der­fully de­tailed, at­mo­spheric world. The PS4 ver­sion will run in 1080p, while, mind­ful of its his­tory on PC, Mas­sive is at pains to stress the ex­tra ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Win­dows ver­sion, play­ing up its multi-mon­i­tor sup­port, ad­vanced GPU ef­fects and a fully cus­tomis­able UI as ev­i­dence that it hasn’t sim­ply taken the money and run.

Yet as Jansen says, The Divi­sion’s long road from E3 stage to store shelf has been about more than tech. This is a re­mark­ably com­plex web of in­ter­lock­ing sys­tems that, in a pleas­ant sur­prise, es­chews much of the mod­ern Ubisoft open-world tem­plate. Rather than fol­low its pub­lisher’s house style, Mas­sive has bor­rowed from else­where – chiefly, the looto­b­sessed MMOG – and welded it to triedand-tested, tac­ti­cal Tom Clancy com­bat. Odd as it is at first to see dam­age num­bers, rather than blood mist, when pop­ping en­emy heads in a con­tem­po­rary mil­i­tary set­ting, it does work – al­though there’s a fun­da­men­tal ten­sion be­tween the plau­si­ble moder­nity of

The Divi­sion’s set­ting and a set of RPG sys­tems that are more read­ily as­so­ci­ated with fan­tasy. An MMOG’s loot curve might see you aban­don a bog-stan­dard longsword for one that is twice as long, then ditch that for one that’s on fire. Here, you dis­card one as­sault ri­fle for an­other with a higher dam­age-per­sec­ond rat­ing. It seems telling that DPS is mea­sured in four fig­ures from the word go; how else do you make mod­ern mil­i­tary gear ex­cit­ing in this con­text?

In a pleas­ant sur­prise, it es­chews much of the mod­ern Ubisoft open-world tem­plate

The an­swer, early on at least, is the gun mods, through which you can tweak a weapon to suit your playstyle with new sights, bar­rels, grips and mag­a­zines. You can stack sta­bil­ity mods to tame an un­ruly as­sault ri­fle, per­haps, or com­pen­sate for an LMG’s slow reload with a big­ger clip and higher dam­age. Later, spe­cial bul­lets – caus­ing fire or shock dam­age, say – will take you a lit­tle closer to the feel of a fan­tasy war­rior’s flam­ing sword. And once you start us­ing leg­endary gear, as we do when our char­ac­ter is bumped to level 20 and given some new toys, perks come into play. Our as­sault ri­fle has a 12.5 per cent chance to au­to­mat­i­cally re­fill its mag­a­zine af­ter a kill; a sniper ri­fle’s crit chance in­creases for a few sec­onds when we use a skill.

“A flam­ing sword is im­pres­sive at a dis­tance,” Jansen says, “but with the de­tail you have in a third­per­son shooter, you can get re­ally close to a gun. There’s a tremen­dous amount of de­tail, with all the lit­tle dents and scratches, and the minu­tiae of chang­ing the scope, the bar­rel and so on – we dive right into that. And in third­per­son you get so close, you re­ally see your gun when you’re shoot­ing. The guns are spec­tac­u­lar on a dif­fer­ent axis than a flam­ing sword, I think.”

Mods aren’t bound to a sin­gle weapon type, but can be placed on any­thing you pick up. The sta­bil­ity build you had on your weedy as­sault ri­fle can go straight onto the pow­er­ful new ma­chine gun you just got from a boss fight – if you re­ally want to put a 3.5x zoom sniper scope on an SMG, you can. It’s a smart de­ci­sion that gives you a mea­sure of con­trol over the loot curve, rather than forc­ing you to com­pro­mise on your de­sired playstyle for the sake of do­ing more dam­age.

It’s an ethos that ex­tends to the skill sys­tem. The Divi­sion re­jects the tra­di­tional class-based struc­ture and lets you pick three abil­i­ties at a time from three sep­a­rate trees, based on the holy MMOG trin­ity of healer (here called Med­i­cal), tank (Se­cu­rity) and dam­age-dealer (Tech), even when in com­bat. The fi­nal tier of each un­locks a Sig­na­ture Skill, which of­fer tremen­dous ben­e­fits on a whop­ping 15-minute cooldown – though that can be re­duced by killing en­e­mies, with head­shots bring­ing a big­ger bonus.

They’re the equiv­a­lent of Des­tiny’s Su­pers, in other words, which proves to be just one of many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Mas­sive’s shared­world shooter and Bungie’s, de­spite the vastly dif­fer­ent set dress­ing. There’s a sense Des­tiny has laid some of the ground­work for The

Divi­sion: the con­sole-own­ing shooter player has a far greater un­der­stand­ing of the in­ner work­ings of a loot game’s power curve, and how it trans­lates to a gun­fight, than it did when The Divi­sion was an­nounced. But the com­par­i­son isn’t al­ways a flat­ter­ing one – move­ment here is stiff and un­wieldy, a world apart from the Bungie game’s grace­ful flow – and else­where Mas­sive re­peats things Bungie has al­ready ac­knowl­edged as mis­takes. Bul­let­sponge en­e­mies are in­tro­duced early on and get even stronger as you climb up the lev­els; it’s an un­der­stand­able con­se­quence of mea­sur­ing a bul­let’s dam­age out­put in five fig­ures, but of­ten seems at odds with the re­al­is­tic set­ting. OK, that LMG-bear­ing en­emy in the heavy armour is go­ing to take some putting down, but why does that hooded sniper take min­utes of sus­tained fire to send to the af­ter­life?

Mas­sive’s mar­vel­lous re­make of New York, and the in­tox­i­cat­ing lure of more pow­er­ful toys, means we’re left want­ing more, but how

much more is im­pos­si­ble to say. Just weeks be­fore launch, Mas­sive still won’t be drawn on what The Divi­sion’s endgame – the ac­tiv­i­ties that will keep you in New York long af­ter you hit the level cap of 30 – ac­tu­ally in­volves. All we know about for now is the Dark Zone, a cen­tral area that blends PVE and PVP in fright­fully tense fash­ion and leads to pow­er­ful gear, pro­vid­ing you can stay alive and none of your al­lies de­cide to turn on you. Mas­sive’s post-launch plans in­clude free con­tent and fea­tures, as well as paid DLC. Be­yond that, though? “There’s ob­vi­ously an endgame,” Jansen says. “Not only like other open-world sin­gle­player games, but also in a so­cial, mul­ti­player con­text. It’s im­por­tant that you have in­ter­est­ing and dif­fi­cult-to-achieve goals that you and your friends can strive to­wards, but we’re not go­ing into de­tails about what those ac­tiv­i­ties are.” Two-and-ahalf years on, with launch around the cor­ner, the si­lence is puz­zling, and a lit­tle con­cern­ing. We can’t shoot up cars for­ever, you know.

Mag­nus Jansen, The Divi­sion’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, has been at Mas­sive since 2005

In ad­di­tion to guns and gear, you can ac­quire new items of cloth­ing, but if per­son­al­i­sa­tion’s the goal we’re go­ing to need more from the fi­nal game than the drab coats and bean­ies we find dur­ing our demo

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.