Tom Clancy’s The Division: New Direction/Same Direction
What’s The Point?
We’ve been here before, of course. Take away the smoothness of drop-in, drop-out play, and you’re left with an MMO that is also a military shooter that also involves an America Has Fallen scenario. As one Game Front reporter quipped after the demo, it’s essentially Shooter: The Game.
That’s fine. If you’re into that kind of game, then you’ll probably be into this too. The problem I had watching the demo is that The Division, impressive in many respects, looks like it’s swimming in the cliches of the current generation, and wading in a deep-seated misanthropy. “Save what remains”, the game’s tagline says, but what remains seems only to be citizens who exist only as cannon fodder, constitution be damned.
Ubisoft has taken pains to emphasize that this game will be about more than just shooting. Images (some of which are included in this article) show the whole “defending the weak” thing, and supposedly this game will be about rebuilding infrastructure as much as it is about shooting baddies. But with the exception of getting the police station up and running again, none of this was shown off in the demo. Instead, we saw indiscriminate slaughter of the sort we’ve grown used to in shooters.
Forget any moral qualms you might have about violence, the reliance on military style shooting is horrendously boring and very over-used. So much so that games with far better premises and much more artistry have ended up being hobbled by descent into just shooting people, for no other reason, so far as we can tell, because it’s expected. But rest assured, given the setting of The Division, the violence was also disturbing, if only because it actively trades on the paranoid idea that at any moment, everyone you know could become your enemy.
We live in a complex world, the trailer tells us, and that’s accurate. So, can’t we assume the people who live in this complex world are themselves complex, and capable of handling disasters with more nuance than “kill everyone you see and sort it out later?”
All of that said, The Division looks gorgeous. Cross-platform functionality between console and tablet is a cool idea. A Tactical shooter that really appears to force players to behave cooperatively, with different skillsets supporting one another, means it will probably be very fun to play. At minimum, it will be fun shooting people amidst the architecture of the country’s largest city.
But watching the demo, I felt this creeping sensation that The Division is going to be a missed opportunity. Not as a game – no doubt it does precisely what it’s supposed to do, and makes Ubisoft a ton of money. But for gamers as an audience for the art we call gaming. The way it essentially treads the same old ground worn inches deep by countless other games, the way it only superficially upends the shooter formula, while reinforcing its most troublesome aspects. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s everything that has made the end of the current generation so tedious.
I’m not saying that Ubisoft has a responsibility to make Humanism: The Game out of Tom Clancy’s brand. But one would hope that taking advantage of the next generation of processors would also allow for the employment of smarter premises than the one seen here. All of that money being put to the service of so much misanthropic retreading is disappointing.
Here’s hoping Ubsoft gives us a reason to think otherwise before next year. A Q&A about the game published this week suggests they might; we’ll see.