Last week, Disintegration developer V1 Interactive opened up its game’s competitive multiplayer mode for technical testing, giving us a preview of what’s to come. The long and the short of it? This hover-bike-based tactical shooter still has a way to go.
Disintegration is an upcoming game that promises squad-based fights with players behind the handlebars of the aforementioned flying bikes, tricked out with weapons, all while commanding a few AI units on the ground. The foot soldiers shoot at enemies, use control consoles, and complete other tasks you assign them — though it’s not always easy to tell how much impact these disconnected drones have on the battle. There will be both a single-player campaign and PVP modes available when Disintegration comes out later this year (no release date yet, but estimates say April 2020). Maybe the ground troops will feel a bit more impactful in the story mode.
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V1 Interactive has much ado about the Disintegration development studio being founded by the co-creators of Halo and SOCOM: US Navy SEALs. It should know something about what makes for a good shooter, not to mention a good team-based game. Or so the talking point seems poised to imply. But after diving into the multiplayer beta, it feels like the company has drummed up a good idea, while the execution isn’t quite there yet.
It bears repeating that Disintegration is in beta, and that only multiplayer modes were open for testing here. There may be some aspects still in development and some functions may not have been working as intended or bugged.
Even so, multiplayer in Disintegration will feel familiar to people who play other shooters. There are three modes: Zone Control, Retrieval (capture the flag), and Collector (loot enemies when you kill them). Quickplay will predictably drop you into one of these modes randomly with other players: five to a team. But I only played Zone Control and Retrieval. Either those were the only ones available during the beta, or Collector simply never appeared.
Neon Samurai Nightmare
At the start of every match, and on death, players get to choose a themed crew. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some will feature player hover-bikes that are fast and nimble, but with low hit points. As you might imagine, larger bikes tend to be slower, but can take a beating. Each bike also has its own type of weapon, too, with some sporting gauss cannons, healing “missiles” for allies, or large grenade launchers.
The crews themselves, meanwhile, vary from Neon Dreams (an 80s-themed outrun gang in leather jackets), to King’s Guard (with knights in shining armor), to Lost Ronin (robot samurais with large swords). Your crew will follow your ship and attack targets on its own, but you can also instruct the team to go anywhere or attack any enemy you wish — including other crews or other players. Each crew member also has its own ability, such as a grenade for hitting other ground crews, or missiles to launch at hover-bikes.
The Disintegration beta’s biggest weakness was simply on-boarding new players. Even more traditional class-based shooters (e.g. Overwatch) have a learning curve to get the most out of every system, but the best ones still make players feel powerful while they figure things out. Here I felt as though I was stumbling my way forward, and “Aha!” moments were always followed by “Why is that this way?”
Lost in Translation
For example, the only way to find out what each crew can do is during the selection stage of a match. When I loaded the game up for the first time, the Crew Customization option on the multiplayer screen led me to assume all crews did the same thing — and I was simply choosing a team of cosmetically inclined killer clowns, junkers, or knights that all had the same functionality.
Crew members are labeled things like Sniper, Destroyer, or Warrior, but those labels don’t tell me much about what they can do without experimentation. And experimentation is tough when you don’t have direct feedback or control over the units from your bird’s eye view. Meanwhile, an unclear instruction in the short tutorial led me to believe all ships have a special heal ability assigned to one button, when in fact this button cycles between two unique weapons or powers that every hover-bike has.
And while Disintegration centers around team play, unless you’re playing with friends or communicative teammates, choosing larger, “tankier” ships feels like putting yourself at a disadvantage without people to work around. Most games following this track also wind up with their own meta of what is “best” to use, and this is very early in the game, but every time I chose a slower ship, I felt like an easy kill — a sitting duck. I took a few extra seconds to destroy, sure, but that didn’t overcome the disadvantage of being an easy target. Most of my success came with sticking to the small and nimble Neon Dreams or Tech Noir crews.
Blending It All Together
The bike-to-bike combat does feel good once you get the hang of it, thanks to learning to lead shots and the use of a quick boost button that recharges every few seconds. Chasing down a weak enemy to blow them out of the sky as they try to hide around a corner is just a delight.
But then there’s always the crew and how it feels. Rarely did I ever feel like my tactical units were contributing much to fights. They were clearly doing something, though. A difficult-to-read text pop-up would appear when combat stopped saying they did X amount of crew damage to my target, but without hit point values on enemy ships, those figures were next to meaningless. Some sort of graphical visual would go a long way to telling me they’re doing their job (and how effectively). On the receiving end, though, I could definitely tell when I was being targeted specifically. My health bar would usually drop incredibly fast.
Walking away from multiplayer in Disintegration, the best I can muster is “It’s fine.” I didn’t walk away wowed by the tactical element, despite the zippy dogfights, but I can see some promise of an enjoyable experience — especially when playing with friends. The concept of commanding crews fell a bit flat, but that mostly felt like a feedback issue. I had no idea if my little people were doing enough. I still think V1 Interactive can find something that makes both parts of this quirky little shooter talk to each other more clearly.