Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 5th July 2020.
Disintegration (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £39.99)
EVERY new game is a challenge for the development team — do they stick with what they know or take a chance on something new? Washington-based VI Interactive is obviously in the latter camp if Disintegration is anything to go by. They are a new team, but are part of the development dream co-created by Marcus Lehto, who played a huge role in series like Halo and Destiny. So they have a decent pedigree before they start, and this game will only add to their reputation. It is fair to say that Disintegration does not belong to one gaming genre — it’s more of a combo pack. It is part FPS, part RTS and part management and that mix comes as a bit of a surprise. If you fire this up and expect to be a lone wolf hero then think again.
It’s a brave move. There is a danger that many will be put off by this new format and they were not helped by problems in the multiplayer beta. It also needs a time commitment to learn the ropes because jumping into battle isn’t the ideal learning space. Take things slowly and start with the campaign and you can get to grips with the combat. Then you can throw down a challenge to the best players online. The campaign tells a tale 150 years into a future hit by natural disasters. Civilisation has collapsed but there is a humanity invented integration programme which takes your mind and plants it into a robot shell. Instantly, half the issues facing humans are eliminated, but it also saw the rise of an extremist cult called the Rayonne. They are capturing humans and integrating them into soldiers called “red eyes”. You fill the robot boots of Romer Shoal, the wise-cracking leader of a band of outlaws who aim to take down Rayonne while trying to get their human bodies back. It’s an enjoyable tale with some fun interaction between Romer and his gang.
It all heats up as you head into the missions — the gameplay takes centre stage with Romer being a gravity bike rider who “floats” over the battlefield. There are guns but it’s not a shooting frenzy. You also have three robots and they are the key to victory. You have to learn to get them in the right places at the right times. Each crew member has their own abilities and they can really impact a fight. But the biggest hurdle is that you’re not the main gun. You jet around, firing off pop shots on bots but without ever being powerful enough to land the killer blows. AI plays a big part but it can be very good or fall flat on its face. You can tell your crew to flank only to have them walk through a minefield without a care in the world. The enemy AI is also a bit random.
Once you have the skillsets you can head online where two teams of five battle it out across a few modes on a number of well-designed maps, but the kill “delay” makes it’s more slog than tactical battler. Disintegration is at its best when chaos reigns and you’re throwing orders at your crew while darting around the battle. That said, it just falls a little bit short of being epic. Longevity will be the question.
FEW people can boast a gaming CV like Marcus Lehto. He was a co-creator of the hugely successful Halo series and played a major part in the development of the Destiny series. That earns you serious kudos points in the industry but it doesn’t protect you if you take a chance that bombs. In fact, it can increase the pressure along with the expectation. But Marcus, below, has taken that step — he branched out with new studio V1 Interactive and Disintegration is their first offering. It is a game that has been in his head for a number of years. Marcus said:
“It all started with some bits of fiction I was writing about six years ago, shortly after I left Bungie. During the earliest stages of development, I was focused mostly on the foundation of the universe, what happened to the world, why humanity needed to take such extreme measures to survive and what new type of society would rise from this imaginary world. Much of my inspiration came from observing how reliant we continue to become on technology. It also came from looking at the world around us and how many threats are barely held at bay. Ultimately, I took these elements and extended them to some extreme but possible future.”
Marcus has excelled with super-soldiers and guardians in the past — this was a move towards a more normal “hero”. He added:
“The story we tell in the single-player campaign was largely inspired by how people from all walks of life need to work together to confront an enemy that is determined to compromise what remains of humanity. Since these people are normal folks, not genetically modified, highly trained super-soldiers, they need to work past their differences to succeed. I’m a huge fan of Firefly so I wanted our characters to have a similar vibe, where they can joke with one another in the midst of challenging times. The single-player campaign is a healthy offering of missions that take a player on a rollercoaster ride through a story that has a good beginning, middle and end. That said, the universe for Disintegration is much larger than the chunk of story we told. There is more to be told.”
Disintegration blends a number of genres but Marcus believes that was an evolution rather than a preconceived idea. He said:
“It started out strictly as a straight-forward RTS-type game, but we quickly took a very risky move to turn it into an aerial tactical shooter. It took time to find that right balance of commanding and engaging in direct combat. We also had to devise all new means of commanding ground units to maintain a fluid gameplay experience. Players who look at this game with a fresh perspective tend to pick up the core mechanics quickly. They also discover the deeper mechanics that give them a fantastic tactical advantage over AI in the campaign or other players in multiplayer. The biggest risk is people trying to play the game like a standard FPS. If they do, they will be playing with one hand tied behind their backs and never see what this game is about.”
Despite the trailblazing, Marcus was delighted to be able to call on his previous work. He added:
“Having several decades of experience making AAA games has provided me, as well as many others at our studio, with the tools necessary to build complex games with many moving parts, but with a small, more efficient, team. Starting a new studio from scratch has been a wonderful journey. From the first steps of creating a basic prototype with the help of two college students, to finding an office, hiring a team of 30 people, and building a complex game that looks like it was made by 200 people, this venture has been filled with challenges and many exciting moments”.
Disintegration hints at an eSports future, but Marcus insists that will only come from player demand. He said:
“While we didn’t set out to make Disintegration an eSports-focused game, we always kept an eye on this possibility throughout development so, if we wanted to, we could pivot after launch and add the features necessary to make eSports a reality.”
Marcus still keeps an eye on his Halo “baby” but insists his focus is on the future. He said:
“I’m looking forward to what 343 does with Halo Infinite. I’m always supportive of my friends there. Halo will always be a part of me. Disintegration charges into unfamiliar territory for the gaming world. It will take some time for players to adapt and understand what this game is. The team is very excited about Disintegration and are eager to make it even better in the future.”
Waking (Xbox One and PC, £16.74)
GAMING can deliver some truly emotional and thought-provoking moments. From The Last Of Us Part II to Life Is Strange, gaming is a form of media that can build you up or tear you down in a matter of seconds. Others can give you real food for thought long after the credits roll. Waking is the latest title to try this. It bills itself as an emotional action adventure and is the brainchild of Jason Oda. It has been a five-year journey for him. You play as yourself. You enter your name at the start and, throughout the game, it addresses your character. That is a neat personal touch that adds to the impact to the tale as it unfolds. You’ll also add more personal details as you progress as it builds a more sculpted tale. You are in a coma and fighting for your life. The goal is simple — to wake up. However, to do that you have to make your way past mind-battling monsters and demons.
There is a lot to deal with — plenty of different gaming styles from walking sims to Dark Souls and Rogue-likes. That’s where it gets confusing. There are just too many ideas being thrown around. That makes it very convoluted at times. For instance, the combat is a mess. You have neurons as a kind of in-game stamina or currency. You spend them doing actions and attacks, but if you run out, you are left high and dry. There is a telekinesis attack, but it’s not as powerful as it needs to be.
The missions also become repetitive across the 15-hour run time then there’s the finale. Teeth-gnashing is being nice. The style is also a mixed bag — there is a moody vibe with you as a faceless hero but the bloom effects are whipped up to make everything a little blurry. There is a lot of potential here. You need to look inside yourself and, give it the right information, there is a gut-blow coming. But it needs to work out a cleaner way to deliver the thrills.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £24.99)
THIS is not the most obvious contender for the remaster treatment. There, we’ve got that out of the way. However, Austrian-based studio Purple Lamp gave it a go with their “rehydration”. It first came out in 2003 but now it has to share the platformer stage with the remaster stars like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. Those are big rivals. This is a 17-year-old title that needed — and has had — a nip and tuck. But it still shows its age and that is a big disappointment. SpongeBob’s world is great — bursting with colour and with a real feel of the original show. Fans will love it and the fact that most of the cast reprise their roles. But the cult one-liners become a bind when they are repeated time after time after time because each character only has about six lines of dialogue. It just wastes the efforts made to get the original cast, and it seems bizarre that they didn’t go the whole hog and get all the original voices in for the remaster job.
This is very much aimed at younger gamers, which is fine, but seasoned pros won’t find much of a challenge beyond a handful of collect-a-thon levels. You can switch between SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy Cheeks to help you solve different puzzles based on their abilities — but switching means going to set points in the level. That really ages it. There is a new horde mode where you team up with a friend to fight enemy bots but it’s a short- lived blast. Again, the kids might like it more. SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a bit half-baked. Yes, it’s had work done, but not enough to thrill fans and it’s limited even for the new kids.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…