Review Price to be confirmed
Available on PS4 (tested), Xbox One and PC
The Division release date: March 8 2016
By all accounts, The Division has been through the mill since it was announced at E3 in 2013. First it was delayed from original 2014 release date to this year, and then subsequently delayed again until March next year.
During that time, the gaming community and press lambasted Ubisoft for issues in their releases (Watch Dogs had its visuals downscaled and Assassin’s Creed: Unity sported more bugs than a slab of ripe Gouda). News that The Division’s companion app has been canned took a little more sheen off the game’s hype.
Dare players hope that the game, when released, will perform as advertised? After a brief hands-on with The Division, we can report that, yes it will – although there are some caveats prospective punters should bear in mind.
First, the good news: The Division looks as gorgeous as it did when it was demoed at E3. The visuals haven’t been downscaled and the game’s environment – New York City reduced to a snow-covered ghost town after a flu epidemic – is intricately designed and shot through with an atmosphere that’s positively eerie.
For our hands-on I was plonked in the boots of one of three ‘Division ‘ soldiers, which incidentally are class-based. Players can pick your standard variations on RPG classes – damage-dealer, tank or support – but Ubisoft’s devs say that the classes are more rigged towards a suggested playing style, rather than rigid structures. For example, if a player picks a support character, they aren’t bound by that class and can kit their avatar out with any weapons they choose.
The demo was split between two sections and involved a total of nine players (split into teams of three). For the first section, all of the teams were tasked with entering The Dark Zone, which essentially is an area of Manhattan that’s been abandoned by the military. Loot here, I was told, is valuable, but the zone itself is very dangerous so the risk matches the reward.
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Inside the Dark Zone it isn’t long before players run into trouble, at which point, the different advantages of the three classes come into play. At its core, The Division is a third-person cover-based shooter with some nifty Tom Clancy-esque gadgets thrown into the mix. Support class can deploy a healing spray that mends the damage of any soldiers in their vicinity, the tank has a deployable turret and the attack class has a body-heat-seeking explosive called a Seeker Mine. All Division troops can activate a radar burst that briefly gives them the locations of enemies hiding behind cover.
The first encounter in the Dark Zone involved meeting up with and capping a group of criminals who’d escaped from Rikers Island. They were easy enough to get rid of – The AI that controls the game’s enemies isn’t going to win any contests – and then the teams had to head over to a landing zone for a helicopter pick up. It’s here that The Division revealed one of its more interesting aspects.
As the three teams converged on the pick-up zone, I was told that all of them could work together to cover their combined escape or they could go rogue and shoot the other players and help themselves to their loot. Pro-tip: in video games, players are opportunists and the idea of working together is pretty much always trumped by self-interest, so the guns come out pretty quickly.
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It was also at this point that The Division revealed one of its weaknesses; the weapons in it feel shockingly underpowered. Drawing a bead on enemies that aren’t being controlled by the game’s predictable AI is hard enough, but dumping a clip into them and seeing them not fall is fist-clenchingly irritating.
The other caveat players should bear in mind is that, from the brief demo we played, it’s hard to see whether The Division has much appeal for anyone other than the ‘shoot-‘n-loot’ crowd. The world-building is absolutely stunning in this game, but there’s the slight fear that – much like Destiny – The Division could become very repetitive very quickly.
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That having been said, Ubisoft has revealed precious little about the game’s narrative – and there wasn’t a hint of plot in the demo.
It’s a bit to early to judge if The Division is a one-trick pony. Let’s just hope they tweak the weapons before launch; firing frozen peas into bullet sponges is no one’s idea of fun.
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