As a group of us sat down to go head-to-head against each other with an early build of the sci-fi action game Disintegration, the game’s creative director and Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto told us, “If you play this like you would other first-person shooters, you’re probably going to lose.”
Turns out, he wasn’t kidding.
It might sound a bit ominous, but it’s true. Although the 5v5 multiplayer mode “Retrieval” is essentially a variation on capture the flag, with one team playing offense and the other team defending, Disintegration’s gameplay took on a distinct character that wasn’t quite like other competitive shooter games.
The gameplay mashes a couple of different genres together. At its heart, Disintegration is a vehicular combat game where players pilot hovercraft equipped with a variety of weapons. In addition to that are groups of robotic ground troops that follow each player around, which can be commanded to move or attack. However, it’s unwise to think of them as fodder, since only they can pick up cores and transport them to drop-off locations.
All taken together, playing a class-based competitive shooter featuring heavily armed hovercraft while commanding ground troops meant that I had to employ a different way of thinking.
Setting up for a Disintegration multiplayer match
Retrieval is a fairly straightforward concept. One team is designated as defense while the other plays offense. There are two power cores available for the latter to pick up and deliver to the drop off point. Meanwhile, the defenders do their best to wreck the other team before they can score a single point.
There are six character classes, referred to as “crews.” Each robotic-looking driver embodies a certain theme, including an android samurai named Lost Ronin, an insane clown named The Sideshow, and a medieval knight named King’s Guard. Their vehicles match their themed looks and feature different weapons and stats. Of the six, Lost Ronin soon became a favorite, since he had the most balanced stats and could switch from shooting twin machine guns to rockets.
Each crew has a special ability that recharges over time in addition to a specialized main weapon. Another favorite of mine was Warhedz, who could fire three grenades out at a time while waiting for his nuke to charge up. The devastating weapon requires the player to hold down the fire button for a time in order to launch it, but it can stick to any surface, including enemies.
The game limits teams to two of each crew, which encourages experimentation with some of the others. Although Sideshow has a fun look, he ended up being one of my least favorites. His vehicle is tough but slow, and he lays remotely detonated mines. He would do well in a mode where traps could be set, but having to use two buttons to detonate a main weapon required too many actions for my taste.
Hovering above the destruction
Although the vehicles can go up and down, they can’t fly over buildings. So, there are few opportunities for campers to take advantage of. Hovering also means some extra attention needs to be paid when passing through entryways.
While some are clearly faster than others, I wouldn’t say any of the hovercraft in Disintegration are incredibly so. Dodging attacks and reinforcing teammates can be tricky, requiring liberal use of the boost key, and it’s easy to be backed into a corner. However, it was sometimes easy to flank or sneak up behind foes, since hovercraft don’t make a lot of noise when they move. But at the same time, this was a tactic that was often used on me.
Communications is key, and in addition to voice support, players can bring up a wheel of emoticons to signal teammates for help, ping a location, or taunt the opposing team.
It took a few rounds before I was able to fully grasp the game’s different gameplay mechanics, including ordering my ground troops around to battle opposing soldiers.
We played several matches, with a few that ended in a draw. The others were close calls, with one going into overtime. None of the crews felt too overpowered, but some of the support vehicles can be quickly overwhelmed. Also, healing abilities can be eclipsed by flashier specials, such as tossing nukes in the middle of crowded areas.
Still, playing Disintegration was a blast. It had responsive controls, and though it took a little while to get used to the game’s different elements, they all eventually made sense. I only wish that I could self-destruct my vehicle when it was clear that I was doomed, or could at least ram opponents while my guns reloaded.
There’s still plenty of time for that to be included into Disintegration when it releases in 2020, alongside additional crews and game modes. The game will also feature a full single-player campaign, which might help explain why a robo-samurai, a knight in mechanical armor, and a mecha-clown are all trying to blow each other up in this crazy world.