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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Ghost Recon: Future Soldier – Review (PS3)

Ghost Recon: Future Solider puts you in the boots of a member of the Ghost Recon squad ‘Hunter.’ After a bomb denotes and wipes out another squad, ‘Predator’, you are assigned the task of finding out who set the bomb off and where it came from.

So far, so military third person shooter. What supplements the usual gameplay here is that because the game is set in the near future the developer has given you a few ‘toys’ to play with.

Active camouflage is probably one you’ve seen in other games (most notably the Metal Gear Solid series) but it’s done well here and comes in very handy when making your way into enemy territory. You also have UAV drones that can scout/mark targets, a big hulking robot walker that looks a bit like ED-209 from Robocop and a few other, less impressive, gadgets.

The gameplay is solid, this is a third person based shooter that also features an iron sight view for those that want it. It reminded me of SOCOM 4 in terms of control and feel but obviously having those extra gadgets makes it a different beast to play through.

There were times when the game dragged a little – that troublesome 2nd act around halfway through that trips up a lot of games – but for the most part Future Soldier was a really enjoyable experience. I didn’t see any of the techincal issues/glitches that we reported in early reviews of the game but I suspect most of that will have been patched out by now.

The online is good fun but with so many other great third person shooter multiplayer games out there (Uncharted 3/Mass Effect 3/Max Payne 3) I just don’t think there was enough to tempt me into coming back and really putting some serious time into the online experience.

Overall I would recommend Ghost Recon: Future Soldier if you enjoy third person action games. It’s not a title that will blow you away but it’s a really solid, enjoyable experience.

Rating: 8/10

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TOM CLANCY’S HAWX – Demo Impressions

The Tom Clancy brand has got to the stage where the standard of games put out is of a consistantly high level – and so when a new one is released I’m always inclined to check it out.

HAWX is a new genre for the Clancy brand – taking the fight to the skies for some aerial dogfighting ala Top Gun.

This is a hard demo, let me start right there. HAWX has a lot going on with a fair few different controls to remember but once you get the general controls down, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The demo is basically the tutorial, explaining how to fly and how to fight, essentially.

The game has two viewpoints – assisted and unassisted.

Assisted is your traditional ‘After Burner’ viewpoint (as below) with all sorts of additional info displayed on screen – such as a set of triangles that form the best route to take avoid a chasing missile etc.

Unassisted takes a while to get used to as it’s much further out but this is much more rewarding as you have total control over the plane.

You’re taught how to survive if the plane stalls, which is very handy as it seemed to happen quite a few times to me 😀

Although it was extremely cool on one occasion when I managed to pull up out of a stall almost at ground level and then rose up again through the trees 😎

The graphics are excellent, with buildings etc at ground level looking great.

Overall I’d say this will be a tough one to play but ultimately I suspect if you give it enough time and learn the controls it could be a very rewarding experience.