PAX West 2019: Disintegration Floats Past Conventional Shooter Design

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of the last 38 days of PAX West, it’s that a video game can always have more “video game” in it. People are putting turn-based fighting games into Metroidvanias, co-operative strikes into character action games. Sometimes these hybrids work – Destiny 2 has hit its stride after leaning into the MMO aspects of the game that differentiated it when the first game out in 2014. Other times, that mix isn’t quite right and the flavors haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. Disintegration feels like it needs some more time in the pan.

Disintegration combines a first person shooter with a real time strategy game. The game is class based, with each class having a different loadout, movement properties, and health. The six classes also have their own ability set and AI-controlled crew, allowing players to mix up the combat that’s happening on the ground.

Oh, and you’re flying. The whole time.

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Each player is in control of a “Gravbike”, which looks like a large Sparrow from Destiny, but controls like a Banshee from Halo. From the driver’s seat of your vehicle, you are tasked with taking down other players, commanding your units, and in the case of the multiplayer match we played in our demo, assisting your team’s AI units as they attempt to complete an objective (move a bomb from point A to point B).

In action, the version of Disintegration we played today felt inscrutable. While a cacophonous convention center floor is not the ideal place to play a game for the first time, I struggled to identify anything that wasn’t an enemy Gravbike. For most of the match, I played as a Tech Noir. As a support class, Tech Noir is tasked with staying on the back lines, taking pot shots with a sniper rifle while using your alternate fire to heal your teammates. The ability mapped to the left shoulder button was a “Slow Field”, which temporarily slowed anyone in its area of effect.

Pressing the right bumper commanded my AI units (which were a set of Snipers, Destroyers, and Rangers, with respawn timers mapped to the face buttons) to focus their fire on a location or an enemy. While I was able to figure out where I was telling my units to go, I couldn’t figure out which units were mine, nor could I clock whether or not they were doing anything. In the Assault-style mode we played, we were tasked with protecting an AI-controlled robot as it walked across the map to deliver its payload to the two objectives. Between my units, my teammate’s units, and the enemy team’s units, the mess of explosions happening below me made it hard to see the robot I was supposed to be escorting. Eventually, I gave up on the ground game and focused on enemy Gravbikes, and attempted to focus on the first person shooter part of the game.

There are two things critical to an FPS – movement and shooting. With movement, each shift in direction should feel commiserate with the thing the player is controlling. Sprinting should feel tangibly different from running, the same way driving a tank should feel different from driving a car. On the shooting end, the guns in the game centered around guns should  feel good when you shoot them, the sonic and visual feedback being clear enough that the player understands what that gun is doing.

At this stage of development, Disintegration is missing almost all of the marks. Moving around in this game feels very floaty, and the fact that they are perpetually is more restrictive than it is freeing, because I was constantly hitting the map’s ceiling while attempting to fly over things I felt I should have been able to fly over. The chaos taking place on the ground meant that any feedback I should have gotten when I hit my enemies was lost in a miasma of fire and electricity.

The version of the game we played today was labeled pre-alpha, and it’s not slated for release until sometime next year. With two years of development already put into the game, however, the fundamentals feel lacking.

We’ll have more updates on Disintegration in the lead up to the game’s release next year.