Tom Clancy’s The Division: New Direction/Same Direction
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Update 06/21/13: This article was based on a viewing of an non-playable demo behind closed doors. As such, there are many questions that will be answered as the game gets closer to development. This article reflects my own opinions, based solely on what I saw and what we were told during this demo, and should not be taken as a final estimation of the game. I have edited slightly to make this clearer. Check out the demo shown off during Ubisoft’s press presentation to see most of this for yourself, and definitely keep letting us know what you think in comments – Ross Lincoln.
During the closed-doors demo of Tom Clancy’s The Division, Ubisoft Massive told the assembled viewers that “we wanted to take [the Tom Clancy Brand] in a direction it’s never gone before.” Like, you mean not a paranoid fantasy?
Zing! But seriously, yes, Clancy long ago ceased to be anything but a brand name, but whether looking at the works he actually penned or his licensed works, the trend has been an exponential increase in paranoid flights of fancy about the state of the world and the proper response to it. Perhaps it’s fitting then, given the visceral nature of gaming, but Ubisoft’s long-running series of Tom Clancy-branded games have, more than anything else, reflected the vision of their namesake handily.
Rainbow 6 suggested that the threat of terror justifies the employment of incredible military violence on US soil. Splinter Cell was, essentially, 24: The Game. Ghost Recon fantasizes about the possibility of belatedly turning the Cold War hot. These games are lots of fun – honestly, I’ve enjoyed many of them a lot – but these themes are extremely long in the tooth. So when I hear someone telling me they’re finally going to do something different with the Clancy brand, my ears pricked up.
Which is why it was all the more disappointing to find out that Ubisoft’s idea of taking a Tom Clancy game “in a direction it’s never gone before” – Tom Clancy’s The Division – means doing everything they’ve always done, only as an MMO, and post-apocalypse.
In The Division, a horrifying outbreak of an unnamed disease on Black Friday cripples New York. In the aftermath, roving bands of what I can only call survivors have taken over the city. Under the auspices of the real life Executive Directive 51 (look it up), martial law has been declared and elite military units have been sent into New York to calm things down. From here, the game appears to be nothing more than an extended justification for the slaughter of civilians. But more on that shortly.
As described during the demo, The Division is designed to incorporate stronger RPG elements into a shooter. The majority of the demo was exactly as seen during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, and if you’ve seen it, then you know that RPG elements seem to be more important than we’re used to in shooters, at least when it comes to squad composition.
To briefly recap, the demo focused on a battle which started in a parking lot outside a police station. Individual players in this segment showed off a variety of skills and weapons, including shooting, grenades, and healing; players coordinated with voice communication and at one point a new player dropped into the fight to control an aeriel drone.
Once the firefight ended, the team entered the police station, where they rescued several officers who’d been locked in their own jail. After leaving, they faced off against a new band of enemies, all of whom were controlled by living, breathing players.
Again, it was exactly as seen in the press conference. But at this point, we got a closer look at how the player-controlled drones actually work. As we’ve seen from our look at Assassin’s Creed 4, Ubisoft is going all-in on mobile functionality with its upcoming slate of games. The scene was a rooftop battle, the events almost not worth describing as they were essentially without context, but in short, a squad of players fought their way across rooftops and gangplanks to reach an objective which wasn’t entirely revealed. Taking heavy fire, the squad was joined by the director of Ubisoft Massive, who controlled a remote drone using an Ipad.
While we didn’t actually see how the interface works firsthand, we did see a projection off screen the operator saw on his tablet. If you’ve played a Call of Duty game, then you know the basic aesthetic: a top-down, God’s eye view of the battle; lobbing ordinance or missiles at enemies; experiencing some of the thrill of aiming death from a safe distance. The only thing missing is the revelation after the fact that the enemies you thought you were taking out were only a wedding party.
With smooth drop-in/drop-out play, riveting combat that at least appears to emphasize combined squad abilities rather than Everybody Shoot, and the promise of a big world to play around in, it’s entirely possible the final retail version of The Division will blow our minds. Unfortunately, from what we saw during the demo, The Division looks to be a by the numbers shooter distinguished from countless other, similar games by a Tom Clancy-inspired setting, that happens to be an MMO.