Tom Clancy’s The Division – Review (PS4)

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It seems like an absolute age ago that The Division was revealed at E3 2013 and gamers everywhere marveled at the footage released. Then we all remembered that Ubisoft’s previous title Watch_Dogs didn’t look quite as good as the promo materials and sighed. Over time though it felt like The Division might end up being a great game, a mix of cool story beats and multiplayer co-op.

Let’s start with the story stuff. The Division opens strongly, with an interesting video about the virus that has decimated New York. Essentially Smallpox, it was transferred to bank notes on Black Friday in an attempt to spread the virus as quickly as possible. Soon enough the city is on quarantined lockdown and the government calls on The Division – a set of sleeper agents in place for exactly this sort of emergency. You are a Division agent and your first port of call will be creating your agent. I managed to make an avatar I was happy with but the selection of faces and hair etc. is pretty limited compared to most other games, which was disappointing. Add to that the fact that your character never speaks and it means you end up not really investing in your character at all.

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Despite that strong start, the story ends up being almost non-existent. A lot of it is buried in side missions and collectibles which, excluding a few interesting side missions, felt like effort for nothing. A good example of this are the missing agent missions – essentially following a set of arrows to a point where you pick up a file and get a written paragraph about the agent. Unless I missed it these aren’t agents you ever see/interact with during the story and it was a case of wondering why I was actually bothering doing the missions, which is never a good sign. The story told by the main missions isn’t particularly interesting either and when the majority of bigger ‘boss’ enemies are just the same guys you’ve already fought with an extra bar of health, it makes things a lot less dynamic.

And that’s the real disappointment of The Division because the game itself is pretty brilliant. The control of the characters and the feel of the weapons are great. It’s a super fun, third person shooter that requires elements of teamwork to excel. You can play the game on your own and matchmake with random people to play missions (something I did a few times with no problems) but The Division is best when played with friends. It’s been compared to Destiny more times than I can remember but it’s a valid comparison, especially in the sense that playing with others makes a huge difference to the overall experience. I had a massive amount of fun in my time with the game but the lack of story really did sting, especially by the end of the game when I had no investment in either my own character or the events that were unfolding.

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As well as story content there is also a Player v Player arena called the Dark Zone, in which players defeat AI enemies for loot that needs to be extracted via helicopter. The twist is that players can turn on one another and steal each others loot. Doing so will mark you as a Rogue Agent for everyone else though, so you need to weigh up whether it’s worth it! It reminded me of the great heist mode in Kane and Lynch 2 and gives each moment spent waiting for the helicopter to arrive a large dose of tension. It was good fun, perhaps not enough to keep me playing but it might be the thing that brings me back from time to time.

Graphically I’m pleased to say that the developer got pretty damn close to those initial promo shots. The game looks gorgeous and the amount of detail is stunning – there seemed to be a wealth of different environments without reusing a ton of assets. It made every new arena feel like a different place so it was always a shame when the enemies turned up and were one of a set of generic types we’d seen hundreds of times before. I suppose that is a drawback of setting the game in the current time – you’re limited by enemy appearances unless you head further down the Warriors gang style of enemies.

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Overall The Division is a really great game in terms of how it handles and the feel of the moment to moment gameplay. It’s wrapped in an impressive representation of New York that, at times, can be jaw-dropping. The problem is that it all feels like it’s for nothing in terms of story and character. I’m really hopeful that we will see another installment of The Division because I believe there is a really solid base here to build on. They don’t need to change the gameplay much, if they can get a more involving story around it and find a better way to tell that narrative, Ubisoft might have something very special on their hands.

Rating: 7/10

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