At first glance, Disintegration looks like a whole lot of ingredients from different genres stylishly mashed together: one part futuristic first-person shooter, one part action-focused airship piloting, a heavy dose of strategy elements like troop commands, abilities combos, and cooldown rotations. It can seem like a lot.On paper, that's the core of Disintegration – a game of many different layers. You’d think those elements might clash, that they'd cannibalize one another: the precision gunplay, the frantic aerial dodging, and the careful issuing of orders from on high. But all those pieces, somehow, working harmoniously is what supports V1 Interactive’s grand design – thanks, primarily, to V1's actual design.Going into it, I had reservations. How do you pilot a flying Gravcycle on three axes, command a squad of troops and manage their abilities, and still find the free time to gun down your robotic enemies? Sure, it might work on a keyboard. Lots of inputs, better precision to spend less time aiming between the list of other things you've got going on. But, Disintegration is slated to be released in 2020 on PC alongside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. So how does all that work on a controller? Beautifully, as it turns out. Cleanly.Five minutes after I put my hands on a controller, before I’d even finished the tutorial, really, I hit that moment where everything just… clicked. And while I blasted through each engagement managing my Gravcycle gun triggers while marking targets for my squad while whipping sweet boosted hairpin flanks while lobbing healing orbs and calling in artillery barrages it dawned on me – Disintegration just… works. And more than that, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play.
The Story So Far
While I can’t talk too much about V1 Interactive’s story just yet – there's a surprising amount of character in a game about machines fighting machines with machines. I've seen some early story mission cinematics and I'm still surprised by how personal, emotive, and human the team at V1 Interactive have managed to craft these robotic humanoids. The sense I got from the bits of story I was shown reminded me of an ensemble war film: a group of strangers with agendas, objectives, desires, and flaws are banded together for a common goal against a common enemy. And we're treated to all the messy details and humorous defenses of those personalities coming together as a family unit against the backdrop of war and the loss of their identities.In any case, though I can't expose the marrow of the heroes' journey, here are the loose basics of the universe: Disintegration takes place over a century in the future where the war for resources and widespread famine have driven humanity to the brink. The final nail in the coffin is the arrival of a plaguelike outbreak that will be the end of the species as we know it. Or would have been, but crises precipitate change.To survive, humans discover a stopgap measure – a process called Integration – whereby they literally transplant their brains and beings into alloy armatures to survive until a cure is found. The idea is that once they've stopped the outbreak, they can revert to their fleshy, organic selves and everyone will collectively wipe the sweat from their brows, breathe a heavy sigh of relief, and hopefully learn a lesson. Everything's looking up and integration is big. Many are doing it voluntarily; some aren't. But as time moves on, not everyone wants to eventually go back to being an organic human.In the wake of this global shift to Integration, a militarized, aggressively black-and-red-clad regime of Integrated called the Rayonne (pronounced: Ray-On) emerge. They've no intention of returning to natural, organic beings. They quickly become a global superpower and welcome any and all who wish to integrate into their ranks – voluntarily at first. Soon enough, those who won't volunteer for integration are conscripted. Those who won’t be conscripted resist, ushering in a kind of worldwide civil war. And that’s where we pick up.The battle for North America is already over when Disintegration kicks off – it's now a glorified junkyard littered with the scrap of futuristic conflict being combed over by the Rayonne for survivors. While the real war front rages on other continents, the Rayonne roam the world in their city-sized ships called Iron Clouds, hunting for natural humans or freethinking integrated known as Outlaws to capture and conscript.We play as Romer Shoal, a Gravcycle pilot and de facto leader of a group of freethinking Outlaws in the smoldering husk of North America, looking to rescue and rebuild some semblance of the resistance while dodging the relentless pursuit of the Rayonne. But Romer has a special connection with the Rayonne and one commander in particular – which we'll introduce later this month – that creates a sense of drama between the hunted and the hunters.
But the soul of Disintegration is the Gracycle – these single-seat vehicles that hover in the sky and spit shells from twin Gatling guns or pound round after round of explosive-tipped Heavy Cannon ordinance at an endless menagerie of robotic enemies. Though I started the game in a medium-sized chassis, Disintegration has three distinct models: Heavy (stronger but slower), Medium (fastest and good all-around), and Light (the most nimble). As you progress through the story you'll unlock more Gravcycles and are able to enhance them through a straightforward upgrade system: collect scrap to put toward the cycle (think of it like XP), then find Upgrade Chips in missions to cash in that progress and upgrade your cycle.I still find it kind of nuts that V1 has boiled down an entire system of squad commands into one or two buttons.
“But the Gravcycle is only a part of your arsenal. Using your birds-eye view you’ll command your up-to-four person squad as an extension of yourself. You'll do everything from assigning them locations to move to, which targets to focus on, and when and where to use their abilities. And while all that may sound overwhelming, it’s all intuitively done with the press of a button: click on an enemy, they focus it; click on the ground, they move to it; hold a direction on the d-pad to bring up the corresponding ability, move the AOE reticle to the target, release to lock in the ability.I still find it kind of nuts that V1 has A) boiled down an entire system of squad commands into one or two buttons, and B) in a matter of minutes it feels second nature. That's what makes Disintegration feel so good to play.These companions that join you throughout the campaign – with their own fleshed-out stories, personalities, and banter – come fully loaded with stun-inducing concussion grenades, salvos of artillery, seismic AOE ground pounds, and much more. And they all combo with one another in some way. In fact, that's a huge part of the gameplay. You've got to time your abilities alongside your Gravcycle primary fire because if you stun or disable an enemy you do more damage to it. It's straightforward and easy to grasp, but still offers you the opportunity to feel like a tactical genius when you execute the perfect stun-artillery combo against a horde of mindless robotic zealots or get off a crucial, vital, necessary stun against a mammoth, building-size, plasma-spewing tank monstrosity seconds before it deletes you from existence.It’s not just about reaction time, it’s about how best to spend each second – one second at a time.
“Your squad’s abilities are vital because in some cases, I found abusing that fact to be the only way of surviving particularly nasty encounters. Disintegration isn’t what I would call easy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in a fight when a dozen drones descend from the sky as the vanguard before a swell of robotic ground troops charges forward in a blitzkrieg-like maneuver. With so much on your plate – flying, shooting, commanding – there's a high ceiling for skill and knowledge and just keeping track of what new sci-fi fresh-hell superpower is being lobbed at you at any given time.That’s what’s really refreshing about my time playing Disintegration. It’s not just about reaction time, it’s about decisionmaking and efficiency. It's about how best to spend each second – one second at a time.
Mechs on a Mission
But there are many seconds to be had between the checkpoints of each long story mission – both missions I played took between 45 minutes and an hour, playing conservatively. And both missions I played had me salvaging scrap for repairs and upgrades at the start, but things always seemed to go sideways at some point and I found myself defending enclaves of Outlaws or disabling some new Rayonne threat we discovered along the way.Each level unfolds with these subplots, supported by off-the-path exploration that usually rewards more scrap and upgrade chips, secondary objectives, scripted counterattacks and ambushes, and a constantly growing bestiary of mechanical Rayonne enemy types that hurl techno-wizardry with excellently throbbing sci-fi sound design.And between the unyielding shooting, commanding, prioritizing, and just surviving each mission, there are small hubs where you can talk with your squad members to get to know them, dig into the lore a little more, and pick up challenges for the next missions to the tune of "kill this many things with this weapon" for more rewards.They're still grasping at individuality, striving to broadcast a personification of who they are.
“But those characters seemed to be the main draw for me – I'm a sucker for tragic stories – because they're humanized with unique visual touches and little adornments that help to remind you that these are people. Sure, they look like robots, but regardless of race, or gender, or class, or whoever they were before integration, they're still grasping at individuality, striving to broadcast a personification of who they are. And that's all any of us are trying to do, really. Better still, these characters are brought to life through by some top-notch voice acting that someone manages to convey emotion on a character model without facial muscles – or eyebrows.But before long you’re onto the next pressing mission, leveling up your Gravcycle with salvage materials, and trying to survive another frantic engagement in the long shadows cast by the Rayonne. There’s always something you could – and probably should – be doing at any given second. And I love that feeling.We've got so much more Disintegration to unpack so stay tuned all month long as we dive into more of the story elements, reveal the full gameplay missions I played, and deep-dive into Disintegration’s awesome multiplayer to get you ready for the eventual beta.
Brandin Tyrrel is a Senior Editor at IGN. You can find him on Unlocked, or chat over on Twitter at @BrandinTyrrel.