If I were transferred into a robot body, one of the things I would miss most would be salt and vinegar crisps. Specifically, I’m talking about the thickly cut crisps, with flavouring that visibly coats the fried slice of potato, like a dusting of snow. You know the ones: the taste causes the instant and complete desiccation of your mouth, and your immune system must go into overdrive, interpreting the sharpness of the vinegar to be the venom of a poisonous snake, or something. Those are the top-tier crisps.
It’s this sort of zing that I felt, when I briefed myself on the premise of V1 Interactive’s new FPS and RTS fusion, Disintegration. In a far-flung future, scientists came up with a temporary solution to lighten the strain on the planet’s resources, which are diminishing with climate change and intensive human industries. That solution? Extract a human being’s consciousness and implant it into an artificial body, or an ’armature.’ Robots don’t need food, they don’t fall ill, and they don’t excrete waste. Handy, and, if enough humans sign up for ’Integration’, the Earth’s systems might not tip over into the point of no return. All of this sounds pretty peachy, until the Rayonne faction rises up. They considered the transfer from squish to steel to be the next step for the human species, and began corralling humans and forcing them to Integrate, forming the ranks of their indoctrinated army. This process occurs on the Iron Cloud, a floating prison in the sky, ruled by the ruthless Black Shuck.
Our hero, former celebrity Romer Shoal, breaks out of the Iron Cloud, in a fortuitous opportunity that leaves the prison with a gaping hole in its side. He allies with fellow tin men and woman Doyle, Coqui, and Agnes, and they encounter an old Natural (that’s what they’re calling humans these days), Waggoner. Waggoner agrees to let the misfits stay at his base, so long as they help the Outlaw resistance, and these missions are where Disintegration shines. As aforementioned, the game is a mix of FPS and RTS elements. Romer floats in his Gravcycle, a hovering machine reminiscent of a podracer, and the crew run along on the ground below. The player divvies out commands for their units in battles, attacking a range of grounded and aerial Rayonne enemies, who will throw out attacks like signal jammers and rockets. Luckily, each of the Outlaws has their tricks, like concussion grenades, slow fields, and mortar strikes.
The gravcycle isn’t a wafting war table; it possesses its own weapons, plus healing shots of nanobots for the ground crew. But it’s the zooming about on the battlefield, working out new ways of halting the Rayonne in their tracks by combining abilities and manipulating the surroundings, which is incredibly moreish. The gravcycle’s boost will get you out of the way of anti-air guns, or let you surprise snipers and eliminate them before they harass your team. Its manoeuvrability created exciting dogfights and white-knuckle skirmishes (note: Romer has nickel knuckles), and it’s clear that the developer wanted this Gravcycle to feel less like a vehicle, and more like a fluid extension of the player. Moreover, the crew will chat to each other, which adds to the bond between the player and their team, and to the world of Disintegration.
It’s funny, then, that the story of Disintegration bounces from point to point like the drifting logo on a standby screen of a DVD, never hitting the corner, though you watch it anyway. Each mission is bookended with cutscenes, which are downright beautiful, but I had no idea what was going on. Characters name-dropped acronyms, concepts, and histories, but there was no exposition or explanation of what any of these meant to me, the player. When Romer had to rescue an Outlaw he’d never met, he was assured with a wry smile that he would know who he was when he saw him. I didn’t! I had no idea who I was looking for! I just got here!
With pertinent themes of environmental collapse, bodily autonomy, and war, I wish the game had explored these more thoroughly. I wanted to know who voluntarily Integrated, and for what reasons? How did Integration impact religion, and did Integrated people experience stigma from society? Were Romer and Black Shuck allied once upon a time? How do the characters feel about mowing down Rayonne soldiers, knowing that they used to be humans who thought they’d get their bodies back again? The crew were wonderful characters, but companion quests would have let me get to know them properly. In this manner, Disintegration’s story was like picking up a blue packet of crisps, thinking that they’re salt and vinegar, but they’re actually cheese and onion flavour. The result isn’t bad, because you’ve still got crisps, and you like cheese and onion. It’s just not the one you thought you were getting.
But then I get back on my gravcycle, and I’m like, zoom. The gameplay of Disintegration is undeniably the jewel in its crown. The missions are varied, never too short or too long, and emphasise strategic action as the story progresses to its conclusion. The Outlaws become a growing thorn in Black Shuck’s side, as collecting salvage on the battlefield and implanting new upgrade chips improves their abilities and beefs up their health and regeneration. No spoilers here, but it’s evident that V1 Interactive is thinking about a second road trip for Romer and co., and I’m into that idea.
To sum up, Disintegration is like ridge-cut ready salted crisps. You take a bite, and you think, This is just excellent. This is everything a potato should be. But what would be even greater is some dip. Something to add to this snack, to elevate it to ambrosial heights. This ridge-cut ready salted crisp has hit the spot, no doubt, but you know it could really zing.