|System: Xbox One, PS4|
|Dev: Ubisoft Massive|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
With Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and other anticipated games pervading Ubisoft’s Press Conference at this year’s E3, I was looking for something fresh from the lineup. Surprisingly, Tom Clancy’s The Division was it. Despite the compendium of games bearing the author’s moniker, The Division feels like a true break from the standard design. It’s a highly organized tactical shooter, yes, but this time developer Ubisoft Massive is taking a plunge into the MMO realm. With a twenty-minute closed-door demo, I was able to glean some extra information about this ambitious title.
The plot revolves around a pandemic scenario that holds enough merit that it feels like it could realistically occur. Using Black Friday as the catalyst, an acute strain of the flu virus infects the population en masse by the simple transfer of cash changing hands. The illness spreads quicker than hospitals can manage, causing widespread panic and a complete breakdown of social order within the span of only five days. The government’s contingency plan, put in place after a monumental failure of the Emergency Test System back in 2001, is the dispatch of a classified, elite agent group called The Division, trained specifically to restore order in the aftermath of a pandemic.
The setting is New York City, with the metropolis now in ruins and anarchy running rampant. You’ll take your customized character into the wasteland to bring down volatile resistance groups seizing the opportunities presented by the lack of law enforcement; you’ll also be aiding those with the same cause as your own.
The game can be played as a single-player campaign, but the developers stressed the value of joining with friends and strangers online. The world is massive and persistent, and meeting up with other players by pure happenstance changes the social dynamic of the game. Checking your map displays information about distant players caught in their own struggles miles away, but doesn’t highlight nearby events unless you’ve checked notice boards or functional computer terminals at, say, a nearby police station (as was the example in the demo). The developers are encouraging you to explore and deal with situations, because they arise without warning.
Combat relies heavily on a cover system, though the level of permanent structural damage caused by weapons fire will continually force you to adjust your tactics. There is no class system in The Division. Instead, your gear, weapons, and skills you choose upon leveling up shape your character’s growth and combat abilities. Ammo, the health of both yourself and your team, and other pertinent data are displayed on a dynamic HUD that hangs beside your third-person character on-screen.
The console action can also work in tandem with a tablet-based support player. With real-time, simultaneous updates between the two devices, the second-by-second action will be visible on the tablet’s top-down view of the area. The support player on the tablet can mark targets, heal, and provide defensive and offensive boons to the “companion” players on the console. Performing these support actions builds a meter that unlocks special attacks, such as a missile strike on an enemy group.
Despite the fair-sized demo, there are still several questions left unanswered, such as how many characters can populate a single game, whether enemies will scale as you level up, how the game compensates for large gaps between character levels, and whether the city is separated with level-specific areas and high-tiered missions.
Ubisoft has created a proprietary game engine called Snowdrop, specifically designed for the persistent massive game world built within The Division and next-gen game development. Despite the sprawling open world, the level of detail of the ruined New York City is incredible, with nearly every piece of the environment having some interactive quality to it. Global illumination adds to the ambience as sun rays creep through boarded windows, and a fading red sun heralds in an evening of anxiety. Character animations were slightly rigid in the demo, though that was remarked upon by the developers as something that will be smoothed out in future builds.
Tom Clancy games have a renowned history of requiring some of the most skilled combat tactics and teamwork in order to succeed. In The Division, this concept adds additional elements with an MMO backdrop and tablet-based support. The demo was clean and bug free, and it will be interesting to see how that continues considering the pervasive issues these game types tend to include, even in the final build. Tom Clancy’s The Division is scheduled for a 2014 release, giving Ubisoft plenty of time to shape a polished product. We’ve got a lot of shooters already heading to the Xbox One and PS4, but this one might just shake up the genre with its new features. We’ll see.
Date: June 13, 2013