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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Division.

Transcript Edit

Whenever a new Tom Clancy game comes out, I always have to double-check his Wikipedia page to make sure he's still dead. He's prolific for a corpse! Still, it explains a few things. You'd have to be pretty fucking brain-dead to think The Division was any fun. Arf arf, heyo, games journalism, etc. Division is a third-person cover-shooter set in a near-future Manhattan where there was a total breakdown of law and order on Black Friday. No change there, then! On this occasion, however, a terrorist released a weaponized virus and the resultant pandemic has reduced New York City to a post-apocalyptic gang-terrorized quarantine zone. Which, on the bright side, might finally bring down the average rent.

We are a member of a secret government agency called "The Division", that consists of agents secretly inserted throughout the general population for... no particular reason, now being activated to go into ruined Manhattan and jolly well sort it out! 'Cause it turns out, Wayne LaPierre was right all along: the only thing that can stop a bad roving pack of murderous thugs is a good roving pack of murderous thugs.

So let me see if I've got this straight, the corpse of Tom Clancy: We're a member of the secret police under no official scrutiny or accountability, and our job is to go into an area of civil unrest and murder dissenting citizens without trial, and it's not set in Stalinist Russia. "Now we can take these back to the people!" said my earpiece friend after a supply recovering mission. Sorry, which people were those again? Presumably not the people in whose corpses I now stand knee-deep? Oh right, you meant the real people, the ones that bowed and scraped when the government assassination squad showed up.

See, the premise would have worked perfectly well if we'd just been some random citizen doing our bit to take back the city, Charles Bronson style, baby! The only thing the secret police thing adds is to make us less relatable and give hard-ons to the paranoid authoritarian lot, who want to believe that the government will finally sort out those intimidating young people who stand around outside their house talking loudly.

I wouldn't normally pick on it for the dodgy ethics, 'cause when it comes to modern shooters, and especially ones with Tom Clancy's corpse to rot about them, that's like picking on a rhinoceros for being shit at kayaking. I'm only airing this out 'cause the game's all so pillow-smotheringly dull! For a start, as well as being another Tom Clancy coffin-belch, it's also a Ubisoft sandbox, and you know what that means these days! A big splattery faceful of samey missions with a flimsy, overarching plot as detached as a the chocolate top from a badly-made caramel slice, and all sense of progress is conveyed solely through incrementing numbers. It's very much the gameplay that Borderlands refers to as "shoot and loot", and which I refer to as "shit and piss".

So you have to take five minutes after every mission to make sure you've equipped the most optimal kneepads, bunny ears, and nipple pasties. Oh, that reminds me, what is the fucking point of cosmetics when every single outfit conveys the same overall look? You will never not look like a Gap Year backpacker got dragged through a climbing gear warehouse. But what specific fabric of murky orange parka and barely-visible undershirt do you think best conveys your quirky individual personality?

If you ask me, the overt RPG mechanics make the game even more frighteningly tone-deaf. I mean, there are moments when certain characters beam down from Planet Sensible and call out the whole "unaccountable secret police" thing, and the game does present it like he's making a valid point. But then the cutscene ends and we go straight back to "Oh boy, time to fight some Level 20 disenfranchised citizens! Watch out for the elite enemies, they get more health from being extra disenfranchised!"

The tone's all over the place. One moment you find an audio log of someone using the mummified corpses of their children to get the campfire started, the next you're talking to one of those wacky section commanders who all have a single hilarious personality quirk, like they keep talking about their TV career or how they used to work at the zoo jerking off polar bears. It's a big fat indicator that the game had nine different writers who spent the whole dev cycle locked in different toilet cubicles.

But just to repeat myself, they could have crafted all the dialogue by cutting lines out of old episodes of Masters of the Universe, and it wouldn't have mattered so much if the core gameplay was fun. And it really, really, really isn't! Would you like to go to a place full of naughty men and shoot them all, or stay in one place and wait for naughty men to come to you and shoot them all? Don't worry, there'll be plenty of opportunities to figure out which one you prefer, and after each samey shootout you can trudge down empty streets for five minutes having a really good, hard think about it!

Normally I'd say that it's one of those bad sandboxes where the open world adds little beyond than a tedious between-mission commute, but then I tried to imagine the game with the commute removed, so it was nothing but the missions back to back, and concluded it probably wouldn't have improved matters, after I woke up twelve hours later. Moving up and shooting the baddies trundles the gameplay along like a fridge on a tricycle before an elite enemy shows up, and the game flow stops, lies down on its side, and starts to gently dribble on the carpet.

Fighting elites is an absolute chore. Their health bars are so massive they have to turn themselves sideways to fit through a standard doorway. I'd rack up ten headshots as they nonchalantly stroll towards my position, and there'd be nothing to show for it but a slightly ruffled mustache. And if elite enemies are a chore, elite snipers are ten days chained to a sewing machine in Beijing! I swear, they can get a bullet out before they've even finished standing up properly, so either they're cheating or the speed of light has gotten as tired of this bollocks as I am.

Can I digress for a moment? ... Well fuck you, I'm doing it anyway. I'm getting kind of sick of the style of visual interface wherein GUI text is presented as some kind of physical object in the world, appearing on top of and angled alongside the object it's indicating, 'cus it means I can't read the fucking things if my character's standing too close! And I'd have thought "stay within my field of vision" would've been the first thing a young text box learns at readability school, after the location of the fire exits.

Blimey, that was petty, but I have nothing more to add on The Division, because I stopped playing it halfway through. Maybe it comes alive at the end, when you and the gang leaders compete in the big tap dance contest, but I'll never know, and I don't care anymore. I can't remember the last time a game left me so paralyzed with boredom! The remainder of the game stretched away in front of me like an endless, swirling vortex that absorbed all joy and interest from its surroundings, so I tried to put on some music, but Guns N' Roses just put their instruments down and had an earnest conversation about civil engineering.

The Division gave me a priapism and a week-long bout of constipation. I was bored stiff and bored shitless!

Addenda Edit

  • Toeing the party line: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • I suppose it's asking a bit much for a game named after mathematical terms to be interesting
  • Watch out for The Division 2: Go Forth and Multiply
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey

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