Disintegration had so much potential to be a truly unique game that was neither a first-person shooter or a real-time strategy game, but the perfect amalgamation of both. Unfortunately, that idea is much better than the final product, as neither the FPS nor RTS elements of V1 Interactive’s debut title are strong enough to impress players or make up for the lackluster story and overall frustrating game design.
The gameplay is somewhat unique, so here’s a quick breakdown: using a “gravcycle” (basically a mix between a small jet and a mech), players float slightly above the battlefield while issuing commands to a crew of two to three NPCs while using the gravcycle armaments to combat enemy ground troops and gravcycles — hence the FPS/RTS mixture.
Disintegration drops you into a distant future in which war, economic ruin, and a global plague have driven humanity to leave their mortal coils behind and “integrate” their consciousnesses into robotic bodies. You assume control of Romer Shoal, who along with a ragtag group of “Outlaws” escapes a floating prison and embarks on a campaign to fight back against the “Rayonne,” the enemy force who kept you and your compatriots imprisoned.
It may sound like I am being vague, but that is all the context you’re given at the start of the game and you’re really not provided with much more throughout. I logged around nine hours of playtime on the campaign and know as much about the world of Disintegration as I did when it was initially announced— which is very little.
For a game with such an intriguing narrative premise ripe for deep exploration, Disintegration is maddeningly shallow. There is little to no world building and you never receive additional context around, well, anything. No more details are divulged about humanity’s mass integration, no hints about the few humans who remain, no explanation of who the Rayonne are or why they’re apparently the bad guys, no backstory on the protagonist, nothing. There’s no real story here, just a collection of cutscenes that move you from mission to mission.
There’s no hook to keep playing the story and no emotional investment to be made. This is a game centered on the idea that life on Earth had become so unbearable that the overwhelming majority of humans abandoned their humanity to survive. How can this game be so emotionally vacant and not even slightly contemplate the deeper meaning behind the core premise? None of the characters seem to ponder their humanity, nor do the two humans who appear during the story. It’s just disappointing that the story says nothing of value and instead follows a very weak narrative thread of “good guys fight bad guys, don’t ask why.”
Maybe the lack of an interesting narrative wouldn’t be a problem if the gameplay was superb. Unfortunately, the single-player gameplay exposes irreparable cracks in Disintegration‘s core mechanics. There are definitely flashes of brilliance in some firefights; fleeting moments that create massive and intense battles that require tactical superiority and a quick trigger finger to survive.
During these chaotic situations, there’s a legitimate sense of satisfaction when you effectively combine various squad member special attacks to swiftly take down a wave of enemies. Sadly, the allure of these moments wears off as frustrations around the repetitive encounters begin to mount. Despite a variety of enemy types, combat quickly becomes stale and all too familiar or aggressively aggravating, with every mission essentially being an endless parade of clearing out waves of enemies that range from laughably easy to unbearably overwhelming.
There’s little variety to mission structures, and even when there is it just exposes how subpar both the RTS and FPS mechanics are. One mission takes away your crew and forces you to infiltrate an enemy base alone, relying entirely on the FPS aspect of the game. It’s during this mission that you realize if Disintegration were a traditional FPS it wouldn’t be able to stand up with even the more mediocre games in the genre. Without the crew to provide perspective, your gravcycle feels clumsy and slow while your weapons feel like they lack a punch.
The same goes for sections that take your weapons away and force you to rely only on your crew. During these (thankfully) infrequent scenarios, it is easy to recognize how shallow the RTS mechanics actually are. With the exception of special attacks, you cannot individually command your crew members. Instead, movement and attack commands apply to the whole squad meaning you don’t really earn a sense of command over the battlefield.
This is especially frustrating during larger scale battles where you can easily be overwhelmed. Being able to divert each crew member to specific targets while you provide cover fire from above would go a long way to make you feel like you’re truly playing in an RTS game. Having the ability to direct specific special attacks provides a glimpse of this type of gameplay, but having to wait until the cooldown timers wear off after special attacks makes the true RTS experience feel inconsistent.
There are few, fleeting moments where the FPS and RTS mechanics combine to create a genuinely fresh experience, and these moments are awesome. Whether you’re narrowly escaping an overwhelming combat scenario, strategically combining special attacks to take down a goliath enemy, or narrowly avoiding air attacks while issuing ground attacks, there are times when Disintegration is truly memorable.
Particularly, there are weapon combinations and squad deployments provided for specific missions that really stand out to create truly fun 30 to 45-minute stretches of gameplay. One mission in particular gives you dual Gatling guns and automated rockets alongside more offensively capable crew members, and results in an explosively exhilarating mission that actually makes you feel like you’re in control of a large conflict.
Unfortunately, not being able to select your squad or choose your weapon load-outs means these gameplay stretches can’t be replicated. It’s incredibly frustrating to play back to back missions with satisfying load-outs that fit a specific playstyle to then be forced to use just a sniper rifle, sluggish cannons, or squad members with little offensive capability.
Most of these problems, however, fade away in the multiplayer offerings. You’re never forced to rely on just RTS or FPS mechanics, but rather consistently leverage both to gain the upper hand. Players who rely too much on either side of the gameplay during multiplayer will underperform, demanding an engaging mixture of quick reflexes and tactical strategy.
Thankfully, there’s more freedom in your weapon load-outs and crew in multiplayer, too. You’re not beholden to what the designers give you, but instead can pick the weapons and corresponding crew that best fit your play style. This allows you to develop a mastery over specific load-outs and crews for every scenario. Unlike single-player skirmishes that leave you quickly overwhelmed by air and ground troops, multiplayer battles have limited ground troops and a handful of opposing gravcycles that leave the battlefield much more evenly balanced.
The pulse-pounding firefights that are all too sparse in the campaign happen quite frequently in multiplayer games, particularly in “Retrieval.” Retrieval is a take on capture the flag, except the flag eventually explodes if not captured in time. This results in frenetic conflicts that funnel players into close quarter kill zones that require an expert handling of both FPS and RTS strategies.
There are other minor things that Disintegration tries to implement but still falls short. Levels encourage exploration by hiding upgrade tokens in random locations, but the environments are far too uninteresting and the upgrades so unnoticeable that there’s still no real incentive to explore. The Outlaws’ home base and forward operating posts offer an opportunity to learn more about your squad and the world of Disintegration, but conversations with NPCs lack depth and these intermission areas are surprisingly lifeless.
To say I am disappointed in Disintegration would be a bit of an understatement. After a technical beta that showed a lot of promise, Disintegration couldn’t stick the landing and ends up feeling like an admirable but ultimately failed attempt at making something unique. From the narrative to the gameplay mechanics, Disintegration could have been so much more. Instead, it misses every opportunity to be better and ends up being a totally average experience that neither excels as an FPS, an RTS, or a hybrid of the two. Engaging multiplayer aside, Disintegration isn’t worth your time or money.