E3 2013: The Division First Look Preview – Dark Days
Written Sunday, June 23, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
When one thinks of the Tom Clancy brand, certain expectations spring to mind. Everyone has to say stuff like 'Oscar Mike' and things like 'Tango down' or 'hoo-rah!' In Tom Clancy's The Division, there doesn't seem to be anything of the sort, and is a more low-key, muted affair. This is in part down to the incredibly bleak setting that takes place in the wake of a flu virus pandemic that leads to the complete deterioration of society and its infrastructure, leaving civilisation on its knees and fighting for survival. It's a new direction for the Tom Clancy franchise.
“In The Division you face a mid-level crisis,” Associate Producer Andre Tiwari notes. “ There's still hope for the world. Everything hasn't completely gone to hell yet. You're not past the point of no return.” You play as an operative for the eponymous highly classified government agency sent in to restore order to cities plunged into chaos, meaning you'll have to make use of whatever you can find, while dealing with hostile survivors.
At its heart, The Division is an online open-world RPG that has all the hallmarks of a third-person shooter. In fact, upon first seeing it The Division brought to mind Ghost Recon, and in a sense it is a lot like that with cover shooter mechanics and near-future technology and weapons at your disposal. We say disposal, but there's actually nothing disposable about your weapons and gadgets. You'll need every single resource you can lay your hands on, as our first look at the game shows.
Commencing on a snowy New York street, designed to feel “familiar yet somehow alien,” we pick up proceedings with one of The Division's agents alone en-route to a police station. Built using Massive Entertainment's Snowdrop Engine, The Division is another superlative example of next-gen graphics at work, rendering an immersive world in rich detail, from the abandoned yellow taxi cabs at the roadside, to a pack of scavenging dogs fighting over scraps down an alleyway.
You can play The Division solo if you like, but there's more to the game when played with allies, as we see when Megan and Bronson join the team. Each player in your squad can play differing roles whether it's providing additional offensive and defensive support, or healing the team by distributing medical aid. The Division stops short of giving you preset classes to choose from however, instead letting you choose what kind of a character you want to tailor, defining their abilities and strengths.
Every character can access their in-game menu via their high-tech wristwatch, including a world map we're shown projected onto the floor, presenting a detailed overview of New York City. Here the police station is highlighted as a place of interest, the sound of distant gunfire adding to the impetus to venture forth and scope out the place. Looking around, a constant situational readout projected by your HUD shows street names and the status of people, like when looking at a dead body the readout notes that the person died from head trauma.
You're able to muck about with your character's skills from the same wristwatch menu on the fly too, and access gadgets like mines to hurl at enemies. From the police station parking lot, our team entrenches itself behind parked cop cars as a firefight unfolds. Bullets have a realistic impact upon materials, leaving behind actual bullet holes and punctures procedurally created in glass, metal, wood, flesh or whatever else gets hit, making it all look rather visceral.
Players can also join in using a mobile tablet, offering tactical help via a drone, marking enemies or providing covering fire. It's a smart touch, and one in keeping with Ubisoft's ongoing strategy to introduce tablet integration into all of its games. The person playing via the tablet is involved with the game in real-time, seeing exactly what the console players see, albeit via an isometric top-down perspective. It's clever stuff.
With the drone's help, the squad progress into the police station having bagged some XP from the firefight, freeing the captive police officers and restoring the precinct to operational status once more. Like any RPG worth its salt, you're rewarded with a nice bit of loot in the shape of a spiffy new assault rifle from the police armoury, as well as some more XP for upgrades and whatnot. Megan calls in extraction for transport to the next hotspot in need of restoration in New York City, firing a flare to signal a helicopter. From the tablet, support choppers can drop in friendly Marine Corps to help keep the area safe from threats alerted by the flare, while you focus on getting out alive.
The Division has all the makings of a genuinely innovative and unique shooter fused with some deep and engaging RPG elements. Visual aspects like dynamic lighting and incidental detail make for an engaging world that'll pull you in, while playing co-operatively with friends or with strangers using the multiplayer matchmaking ought to make for a satisfying team experience. And if you'd rather play alone, you can do that too. The Division might just be the most interesting IP to come out of the Tom Clancy brand in some time, with a story grounded in terrifying reality and gameplay that looks like it'll be utterly absorbing and almost impossible to walk away from. That right there makes The Division a very tantalising prospect indeed.
Tom Clancy's The Division is scheduled to release on Xbox One in 2014.