Disintegration Multiplayer Review in ProgressJune 15, 2020
At the metal heart of Disintegration’s multiplayer is an interesting idea: a first-person shooter that blends aerial vehicle combat with real-time strategy tactics. It’s a great pitch, but after jumping into the fray during a handful of pre-release multiplayer sessions, that concept doesn’t seem to live up to its exciting potential. Disintegration is undoubtedly different from any other competitive FPS out there, but the novelty of zipping through the sky on a hoverbike eventually gives way to its relatively shallow strategic core.
Each player in this 5v5 squad shooter pilots their own levitating gravcycle while also commanding a small team of AI robotic troops to fight from the ground and directly interact with objectives. But with guns bolted to your ride, you’ll act as both soldier and general, having to simultaneously engage in firefights while directing your team to support you, adding an extra layer of decisions to make during each encounter.
The first-person floating and shooting can be jarring to even the staunchest FPS player, but the controls are straightforward enough that it only took me a couple of rounds to get a hang of sky surfing. That said, it’s made more complex when you consider that there are nine different types of cycles to choose from, all with their own set of generally familiar weapons and maneuverability quirks to learn. Shotguns, for example, have that recognizable boom, but lack the recoil and devastating bite featured in most contemporary shooters – presumably because it’s mounted to a flying metal death machine and shooting other armored death machines.
I’ve come to really like zooming around the three mode-specific maps. They feature plenty of tall structures to weave between and low overhangs to dip under and over when you’re trying to lose a pursuer. Faster gravcycles feel especially fun to blaze around in, as the speed really ramps up the pressure during some tougher chases. Oddly, though, the selection of slower, tankier gravcycles don’t always feel more durable, and in my limited time with them often felt more like a liability than a force to be reckoned with.
While you’re chasing enemy hovercraft and dancing around oncoming fire, you’ll also need to issue commands to your ground units. This team features three or four robotic companions who range between balanced, assault rifle-wielding Warriors to heavy-duty Tanks that run headlong into the fight for melee attacks. Disintegration’s one-button contextual pinging system does an adequate job of intuitively issuing orders at a moment’s notice, but your tactical options are also extremely limited when compared to something like a traditional real-time tactics game. Telling all of them to focus on an enemy, move to a designated spot, or interact with an objective is pretty much the extent of your control outside of a few activatable abilities.
In the most hectic of matches, it can become overwhelming to trade fire in the sky while also giving effective directions to my ground squad. Keeping them safe rarely felt possible, as I was often too busy sparring directly with enemy pilots to get them behind cover. Their unique abilities, like tossing disorienting stun grenades or doing big damage in a large area with a mighty ground slam, are very useful against enemy crews, but they largely won’t affect their pilots. And since killing a pilot also kills their henchmen, it has so far felt like aiming for anything that isn’t the floaty, shooty thing in front of me is a waste of time and resources.
Disintegration Gameplay Screenshots
Before each match, you select a “crew” that dictates the stats and weapons of your cycle, the abilities of your squad, and your snazzy dress code. Gravcycle loadouts from crew to crew are satisfyingly diverse: putting on the pink and black leather of the Neon Dreams means you’ll be cruising through the arena with vehicle handling as sharp as your outfits, and its dual light machine guns and single-shot stun gun really spoke to me, as well. By contrast, the blue and orange King’s Guard are literal armored knights whose gravcycle features a charged bolt that is slow to fire but does big damage and slows enemies unfortunate enough to be hit by it.
I wish the aesthetics went beyond just color schemes and costumes, though. When you get into the action, all of the voice lines and sound effects are the same generic one-liners no matter who you’ve picked. Looking at The Sideshows, a crew full of killer clowns a la Twisted Metal’s Sweet Tooth, you would expect some fringe, Joker-fied quips to match, or maybe circus music to accompany their rapid-fire sticky grenades. Disintegration does the rest of a crew’s aesthetic so well that it’s disappointing and a bit jarring to see this part missing.
Of its three competitive game modes, I’ve thus far had the most fun with Retrieval. One team of attackers must grab explosive cores and take them to designated goals while defenders work to prevent that from happening. It’s the only time online where I felt incentivised to use my squad as more than just a ball of guns, as only they can carry the cores from point to point. Escorting them to the goal is properly tense, and the white-knuckle skirmishes that break out around core carriers is always engaging. Retrieval is similar in design to modes from several other online shooters, but the combination of first-person shooting and light RTS tactics really make it feel fresh here. This is the only mode that seems to fully embrace what makes Disintegration so unique.
In contrast, the other two modes, Zone Control and Collector, are your standard FPS fare. In Zone Control, ground teams must occupy a zone without enemy interference to contest it, but there’s no nuanced way to have your troops go in and secure those areas. Without being able to individually set certain troops in defensive positions based on their supposed strengths – for example, splitting more fragile units up behind different cover points to keep eyes on every approach angle – things often devolve into pinging your gang into a central killing zone and letting the AI figure it out while pilots hover in a circle shooting at each other. There could be deeper strategy still to learn here, but it doesn’t feel like I have the tools to enable anything more than an all-out brawl when fighting for a control point.
In Collector, there seems to be even less strategy, as killing enemies drops “Brain Cans” that need to be physically picked up by your squad to score points. More often than not, Collector games devolve into teams lining up, Revolutionary War-style, and firing into each other until one side breaks and runs. There’s almost no incentive to get creative outside attempting basic flanking maneuvers. I’m sure some of this brutishness is due to the community being young – time and experience often lead to techniques and play styles that will come to define a game. But so far Disintegration’s multiplayer doesn’t demand much of you outside of pulling the trigger.
Review in Progress Verdict
It may be too early to tell what kinds of clever tricks and strategies get teased out of Disintegration once it’s in the hands of a larger playerbase. But in its current form, this genre hybrid comes off as little more than a very interesting idea stuck in a very run-of-the-mill shooter. The mix of FPS and RTS never gels in a way where the inclusion of one fully justifies or elevates the other. Hovering gravcycles are fun to fly and shoot, but don’t spice up Disintegration’s otherwise uninspired game modes in any meaningful way. I still need to spend some time playing on its live, post-launch servers before I’m ready for a final decision, but right now Disintegration’s multiplayer isn’t much more than an amusing but thin curiosity.