I’ve been keeping my eye on Disintegration since New York Comic Con 2019, where I got an early demo of the game alongside other gaming journalists. I had a blast with it back in October, but that was a carefully curated press demo with the developers on-site to coach and offer insights into development. So when I had a chance to dive back in over the weekend with a bigger test audience I jumped at the opportunity. And I gotta say, this game has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the year.
For those who don’t know, Disintegration is a first-person shooter/real-time strategy hybrid from V1 Interactive, the California studio headed up by Halo creator Marcus Lehto and SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals co-creator Mike Gutmann. The game places players in control of “gravcycles,” which play like hypermobile command centers replete with firearms, as they command a squad of ground troops in various battles across a techno-apocalyptic future Earth. Think Halo: Wars with a Destiny aesthetic, only the battles are slightly smaller in scale and rather than watch helplessly from above you get directly involved in the action… also from above.
Players engage each other in five vs. five multiplayer battles with slightly twisted takes on typical capture the flag and conquest style game modes. There are seven “crews” for players to choose from, each with their own unique gravcycle, ground troops, and armaments suited to specific playstyles. Neon Dreams, for example, offers a more typical FPS playstyle with dual rail guns and offensive focused ground troops while the Knights Guard plays a more defensive experience equipped with healing nano emitters and the javelin launcher to slow enemy movements. Each set of ground troops also comes with their own special attacks, like mortar strikes and seeker rockets that deal heavy damage to enemy gravcycles and troops alike.
The mixture of diverse FPS sensibilities with tactical RTS strategies makes Disintegration an unprecedented multiplayer experience that is really coming together well. This is a technical beta, so there’s obviously room for improvement and some parts of the game are certainly better than others, so I’ll break this down by gameplay, visuals, sound design, and player customization options.
Disintegration’s fresh take on both the FPS and RTS genres is its #1 selling point and it works extremely well. Whether you’re escorting your flag-carrying troops across the map in “retrieval” or fending off surging attackers in “zone control,” all of Disintegration’s game modes capitalize on the unique gameplay to create intense shootouts with large scale feeling. There is definitely a learning curve to understand the best strategies and how to maximize each crews’ offensive output, which I understand could be off-putting to some players. Players who stay patient enough to master a particular gravcycle and the included ground troops, however, will be rewarded with a challenging and frenetic experience that expertly balances the best aspects of both FPS and RTS gameplay.
The key to making Disintegration‘s balance successful is making the ground troops important enough that players don’t solely engage other gravcycles. For the most part, the game succeeds- but there’s room for improvement. In “retrieval”- the capture the flag mode with atomic payloads in lieu of flags that eventually explode – players can’t ignore the NPC ground troops since they’re the only ones who can carry the payloads. So in this mode, the ground troops feel absolutely vital to success and often become a focus of fire and strategy. But in “zone control”- which is, uh, well, a zone control mode- there’s not much reason to pay attention to your opponent’s troops. Your own troops still come in handy to put the hurt on enemy gravcycles, but since taking out a gravcycle eliminates the troops commanded by said gravcycle there’s really no reason to pay mind to enemy ground troops.
Mastering the RTS elements of Disintegration separates good players from great players, but also offers the perfect balance to the gameplay. Calling in a special mortar strike or concussive grenade at the right time can give the player a noticeable advantage over an opponent. The offensive capabilities provided by the RTS aspects of the game establish the necessary balance to distinguish Disintegration from the pack of shooters that will flood the market this year.
That said, the FPS side of the gameplay is fantastic in its own right. There’s a tremendous array of weapons providing a variety of offensive, tactical, and defensive opportunities that allow for plenty of playstyles. The gravcycles control incredibly well. No auto-aim requires superior skill to down enemy gravcycles, not dumb luck. Really, Disintegration would probably succeed even without the RTS additions.
In today’s modern gaming market, graphics and animations have gotten so good that it’s easier to lament poor visuals than celebrate good visuals — the bar has just been set and met at a consistently high level. Luckily there’s not much to complain about with Disintegration, as the environments are rendered with great detail and the gravcycle designs give each a distinctive personality to complement gameplay experiences. The graphics and designs certainly aren’t groundbreaking or earth-shatteringly unique, but there’s little to critique in terms of visual presentation.
There are still a few visual issues that must be addressed before release to establish Disintegration as a truly elite experience. Much like the framerate dips that plagued Control at launch, Disintegration occasionally features severe frame rate drops when battles get particularly chaotic. These dips result in the player’s screen hitting a momentary standstill, particularly during climactic encounters during “retrieval” matches. Luckily this is an easy fix that V1 can undoubtedly remedy before launch. Additionally, designs on the gravcycle can take a second or two to fully render, but that is, once again, a very easy fix that should be expected in a technical beta.
If Disintegration has any shortcomings, it is in its sound design. Weapons sound thunderous and intimidating, but overall each level is eerily quiet. There’s a bit of ambient noise like birds chirping and trees rustling, but the gravcycles themselves and the accompanying ground troops are surprisingly soft.
This wasn’t noticeable during my initial press demo, but that’s because there was plenty of team-chatter that made up for the lack of noise from the literal war machines marching to battle. With noticeably less team communication in the beta, the uncanny lack of noise was undeniable. Sound design is incredibly important to creating an immersive player experience, and the lack of impactful sounds really harms the sense of immersion in this experience.
Given the personality inherent in each crew and gravcycle design, it’s somewhat surprising that there aren’t more expansive customization options in Disintegration’s multiplayer. Being that this is an open beta, however, I assume V1 is simply holding the majority of the aesthetic customizations at bay until launch. There’s potential to really allow players to make crews and cycles their own with color schemes, skins, and ornaments, but the beta merely teased possibilities rather than really generate customization excitement. There’s also the banners and badges that seem to be synonymous with online multiplayer games these days, so Disintegration checks that box off.
Disintegration isn’t without its problems, but the whole point of a technical beta is to identify problems before launch. Thankfully, Disintegration’s problems are so minimal and the gameplay is so outstanding that the game remains an extremely promising, possibly game-changing FPS/RTS hybrid.
Disintegration is expected sometime in 2020 and will be available on PC, Xbox One and PS4.