Walking the streets of Manhattan at any time of the day can be troubling, this once great borough of New York has fallen on hard times. In the midsts of a truly horrendous outbreak caused by the Dollar Flu, Manhattan is cordoned off from the eyes of the outside world, a shallow shadow of its former self. This once thriving metropolis of business and culture, a glowing symbol of America’s economic power and strength has been reduced to petty looting, heinous, vicious and demeaning crimes leaving the streets that run through this borough awash with the stench of desperation, it’s an overwhelming feeling and it seeps throughout every orifice.
Tom Clancy’s The Division: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Release Date: 8 March 2016
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Welcome to the world of Tom Clancy’s The Division, Ubisoft’s latest outing comprises of a cover shooter set inside an open world with RPG elements that run surprisingly deep. The setting is Manhattan, New York which has been overrun by an influx of crime and violence after an outbreak swept throughout the famous borough during Black Friday, the virus, spreading like wildfire through banknotes, leaving the entire population exposed. The streets and large-scale buildings that make Manhattan such a popular tourist attraction is crafted excellently with incredible attention to detail. To create such a beautifully rendered large scale section of New York City and to then be able to stroll through it at leisure makes The Division a visual masterpiece.
A sleeper in the City that never sleeps
The latest Tom Clancy title see’s players take on the role of a member of The Division, one of many recently activated sleeper agents called into Manhattan to assist the Joint Task Force with bringing order back to the desolated streets. The Division boasts story-based missions coupled with a large amount of side quests and activities to partake in. The levelling system and the sheer amount of opportunities make for plenty of gameplay and hours of fun. You can opt to take on the harsh streets alone or with three friends cooperatively, there is also the option to matchmake with complete strangers if you so desire. Safehouses located throughout the environment provide perfect shelter for players when not tackling missions, these small safe havens also allow players to group up and restock ammo while there is also the option to purchase weapons, mods and gear plus buy upgrades.
Combat within The Division is for the most part exactly what you’d expect from a third person cover-based shooter. You snap to cover and then cover is really clingy for a while, pop your head up from behind, fire a round or two, wash, rinse, repeat. Enemies have different tactics based on their combat role and I found the AI to be largely satisfying. They’ll move to flank, avoid grenades, keep their distance if they prefer sniping and generally at least attempt to offer a challenge. While there are four distinguishable factions in post-pandemic Manhattan, they don’t behave much differently in general and are only aesthetically varied. You have rioters: low-level guys in hoodies and poorly armed which occasionally come at you with baseball bats. The most interesting of factions, in my opinion, are by far the Cleaners: former blue collar workers that have taken it upon themselves to cleanse the disease from the city by any means necessary. They prefer fire-based weapons and will routinely rush you and try to flush you out of cover. You can counter them easily by shooting their fuel can packs. The Rikers are escaped convicts under the leadership of LaRae Barret and are among the more violent and aggressive of factions. The most competent faction is The Last Man Batallion, a Private Military Company that’s assumed control of part of Manhattan. They have the best weapons and will use the most advanced tactics.
Your skills, while not spectacular are useful tools. I’d call them utilitarian at best. You can mix and match between three different trees: Medical (self-explanatory), Technology (support and crowd control) and Security (tanking). You unlock these skills and abilities by upgrading your base through missions as described before and there’s no “class” limitation. You can essentially use and equip skills that fit your play style at any given time. One problem that the game has is that throughout the campaign the non-elite enemies are not particularly challenging and you’ll often forget to use your skills. This changes during the late and end game when you’ll have to use every trick in your arsenal in order to survive.
The gunplay is almost realistic. I say almost for a very good reason, so bear with me. You’re an incredibly frail human being, just like in real life. A few bullets will rapidly chase you behind cover, health takes a long time to regenerate and won’t do it fully without the use of a medkit, recoil is very difficult to control and just holding down the fire button is a surefire way (pun intended) to miss your target. Reloading also takes quite a bit of time. And all the realism falls to pieces because this is an RPG and enemies soak up bullets like high-end sponges. You can empy an entire AK-47 magazine into a hoodie-wearing gangster’s head and maybe kill him. This is because The Division is essentially a looter-shooter, much like Borderlands, and stats trump your skill and accuracy. The dissonance is a lot more apparent here since in something like Borderlands or your favorite loot-based RPG you fight enemies that are far removed from the realm of the mundane so it’s not that distracting when they can take a lot of punishment since you’re probably firing fictional weapons at fictional enemies. Here you use familiar weapons against familiar foes in a familiar setting in a very alien manner. It’s not a dealbreaker by any stretch of the imagination but it is noticeable.
The affair of shooting for weeks at an enemy is made a lot less dull if playing with friends, as your tactics will become a lot more refined. You can draw fire while your friends move to flank, or keep the enemy suppressed while you regroup. It’s a shame that enemies scale to the highest player in the group, however, so if playing with your friends, you’ll want to make sure you all stay fairly within the same level range.
The Division does contain a satisfying gritty and compelling storyline but it is slightly overshadowed by the repetitve nature of the games side missions and activities. There is no simple way to blast through the campaign without taking time out to encounter these missions and no amount of stopping to assist civilians with medkits or canned food will surfice, neither will random encounters with gang members while out taking in the landscape. XP dictates a large percentage of the games play. Level caps are placed on each mission which makes side missions all the more important, they carry with them a high amount of XP and open up a different avenue for players wanting to reach a desired rank to take on missions further into the campaign. Sadly these side missions feel overused and you’ll feel yourself following the same path on more than one occasion, this takes you away from the storyline which makes it less likely you’ll find yourself engrossed with what should be an exciting and powerful storyline. While it’s enough to satisfy from a co-op standpoint, at times it’s the games exciting combat system and Dark Zone that help to bring The Division to life.
The Darkness that consumes
I’ll be the first to admit that I entered The Divisions Dark Zone with a reasonable amount of trepidation. My experiences of the recent beta taught me that this wasn’t an area of the map I should enter or take lightly, it’s an area that breeds caution and for very good reason, it’s a place where fellow players can turn on you in the blink of an eye, it’s something that happens all too often. The Dark Zone provides players that dare to enter with the chance to take down one another, capturing the fallen’s precious loot, this idea alone brings out the inner evil in players, that thirst to kill another human player, relieving them of their loot proves too easy an option for most. There is an undeniable fear that comes from the not knowing and that fear alone makes The Division’s Dark Zone an exciting yet daunting place to be.
My first venture into the Dark Zone was one born out of eagerness, after spending an hour or so wandering the dim lit streets taking on enemies of a similar level, looting their bodies without trouble, I soon had three players surrounding me, at first, they appeared to be assisting me dispatch of a common enemy, in that moment I lowered my guard, I no longer felt the need to have them in front of me at all times, unfortunately, that would prove to be a huge mistake, one that I would have to learn from. With bodies strewn across the icy streets, I approached my newly earned loot, seemingly safe from harm. No sooner had I turned away from the group, a barrage of bullets penetrated my back, stupidly, I turned, to see the three players suddenly coated in red. My first stint in the Dark Zone was a massive wake up call, this really is an area where nothing can be taken for granted, a place where very few could be trusted, where you live by the gun and die by it too.
Of course, not every player walking the Dark Zone is out for my blood, following on from my sobering first experience I found myself again with a large group of strangers only, this time, I really was safe. We paraded the streets together like a motley crue of loot hungry renegades wiping out enemies left, right and centre, looting high-value items before extracting them safely via helicopter. My newly formed alliance assisted me when I found myself in trouble, helping me to my feet when I was downed. When they killed my previous torturers and became rogue themselves they refused to shoot me. My time spent in the Dark Zone is probably a great example of most people’s experiences, a mixed bag of fortunes where sometimes you have to trust those around you, even if it leads to your death.
The Division will certainly draw comparisons with Bungies, Destiny because of the similar nature of the two titles. They both share their positive moments but also have elements that hold them back, they are however, completely different. The Division is undeniably a great game to experience in co-op with a group of friends, I would go as far as to say that it’s the best co-op title out on the current gen console market today. Manhattan is beautifully constructed, if you blink for a second you might be mistaken for thinking you were actually strolling the streets of the real thing, it really is a picture of beauty amidst all the chaos that consumes the borough. I do feel that the story is slightly bogged down by the tedious but necessary side missions, which instead of helping string together the story only help to pull it apart.
Experiencing all that Tom Clancy’s The Division has to offer with friends is a major selling point and one that helps tilt The Division from just a normal cover shooter into an experience worth sinking hours of your time into. The Dark Zone is a daunting prospect for most, adding a diverse element to the game you just don’t get from wandering the streets outside of it.
If you’re looking to switch out Destiny, The Division would be a worthy choice.