This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Division.
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!
- 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