V1 Interactive’s sci-fi shooter has you commanding troops while piloting a weaponised Gravcycle
The easiest comparison to help explain how Disintegration is so different from other first-person shooters is Titanfall. It’s less about comparable story concepts – far-future factions at war – or similar aesthetics – characters and worlds whose weathered design tell of turbulent histories. It’s more that both games try out new ideas in the FPS space.
Titanfall brought parkour flair to character movement and paired it with the ability to pilot a arsenal-packed exoskeleton. Disintegration’s twist has you strapped to an airborne bike, known as a Gravcycle, and hands you command over a group of support troops with unique abilities.
It’s a design approach that makes more sense given the game’s origins: it started out as a real-time strategy title. Yet the earliest builds did little to differentiate the game in an already-crowded market. A realisation that Marcus Lehto, President and Game Director, and his team at V1 Interactive saw as they pivoted development towards the more enticing prospect of an RTT/FPS hybrid.
The robotic troops remained, but the player camera became an in-world vehicle – the Gravcycle. From this you would issue commands and use your onboard weaponry to directly contribute to the war effort. This added interaction meant increased danger: you’re now a target for opposing forces.
“We took our time to find that right sweet spot, where you are engaged in combat but also able to manage that group of units in a fluid and tactical way,” explains Lehto about fine-tuning the core gameplay mechanic that has you juggling two different, yet interlinked playstyles.
Commanding your crew
Because regardless of whether you play the single player story campaign or multiplayer, the gameplay mechanics are broadly the same. The twin sticks allow you to move your Gravcycle omnidirectionally, L2 and R2 fire your onboard weapons.
The D-pad selects one of your ground troops. Once done, a UI reticule pops up to signify the targeted zone that’ll be the focus of that troop’s special ability, which is activated with a press of a shoulder button. Your weapons and their abilities all have cooldown periods.
The story campaign’s key difference in terms of mechanics is time dilation. “Time will slow down, allowing you to issue multiple unit abilities in a time frame where you couldn’t normally do so,” says Lehto.
Your Gravcycle is limited to a height of around 18 metres, while your troops are restricted to a distance of some 15 metres away. Order them to investigate anything within that radius and they’ll react contextually: opening doors, stealing reactors, engaging with enemy forces. You can also call them back at any point.
The point that V1 Interactive makes is that they and you make up a ‘crew’. Crews are considered single entities in the world of Disintegration.
“Treat the Gravcycle, with its weapons and cooldowns as your right hand, the units on the ground as your left hand.” Lehto goes on to outline how the idea is that there’s never a lull on the battlefield. “You’re always actively doing something.”
In addition, the studio is balancing the power levels to emphasise how essential your troops are to survival.
“It’s not just Gravcycle to Gravcycle, as you shoot it out like any other first person shooter,” says Lehto. “You can try and play that way, but it won’t go very well for you.”
A quick blast with multiplayer
In the 5v5 multiplayer mode Retrieval, pre-set crews have loose roles similar to healers, tanks and such. Strategising the right crew combo from a team perspective is important: there’s no time for dallying on the battlefield. This game mode is fast.
The map I played on is a compact industrial zone with small open spaces linked by tight corridors, while pylons and walkways that crisscross between buildings will challenge for Gravcycle pilots. Dotted across the area are reactors which teams will need to either attack or defend.
With a total of up to 40 support units battling it out on the ground and 10 Gravcycles zipping around in the sky above, there is a lot to take in. But despite a barrage of new techniques to absorb I had a blast over a two-round match.
The single player campaign and its story
The story campaign is a “really different beast when it comes to player experience,” says Lehto. Exploration is front and centre, interspersed with “pockets of combat” as you encounter a variety of threats, unique to the campaign, as you complete missions. Its slower pace over a number of expansive maps will let you learn about the world and get to grips with the game’s toolbox.
And why are you battling it out on this future war-torn Earth? Some as-yet unexplained calamity strikes Earth, forcing humanity to integrate their brains into robotic bodies for protection.
Those that enjoy the change and want it to be permanent (the enemy known as the Rayonne) hunt down those that don’t (that will be you).
Yet rather than a war fought by supersoldiers, it’s a fight taken up by ordinary people, who you’ll get to know over the course of the campaign. You take over the role of Romer Shoal, an ace pilot leading a resistance team fighting the Rayonne.
I ask if the light humour seen in the game’s reveal trailer is indicative of the overall tone. Lehto answers in the affirmative, namechecking Joss Whedon’s Firefly as an inspiration.
“I wanted them to behave like normal humans, with a variety of different backgrounds and opposing views… we want that more complex nature to show when it comes to their banter and their interactions.”
The world and its backstory is intriguing, the gameplay mechanics a curious hybrid of styles that cause you to think about more than your targeting reticule. Together, they make for a strategic shooter that promises to be more than a novelty mash-up. I look forward to returning to this robotic frontier in the near future.