Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: The Division

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Price: $59.99 USD (Standard), $99.99 USD (Gold)

Release: March 8, 2016

Rating: M for Mature (Full ESRB Synopsis)

Platform Reviewed: PC

Ubisoft's newest series inspired by Tom Clancy launched last week.  Ubisoft's Tom Clancy games have been rather hit or miss, but they seem to sell well for the company.  How did this one fare?  Find out more after the jump!
The Division is set in Manhattan after a viral outbreak that started on Black Friday.  As more people catch the "green poison," Society inevitably collapses.  Manhattan is placed in full lockdown, quarantine zones are established, and riots, looting and other madness take over.  You play a member of elite agents known only as "The Division," a top secret organization that nobody knows about until they're needed.  They're the epitome of the citizen soldier, waiting until the need arises. You go into Manhattan to try and rebuild the city.  This involves setting up a base of operations, fighting off gangs and rioters running rampant, and helping civilians.  As the game progresses, you'll acquire resources to upgrade your base.  This will give you additional skills, perks, and tech for your missions.

The controls are standard third person shooter controls.  Run up to cover, poke out and fire off a couple shots, then move to the next piece of cover.  I still haven't figured out how to run or sprint, and I'm not sure it's available. [Edit: I figured it out.  On the PC, it's Shift.]  The tutorial covers the majority of the basics, though.  They're pretty good about making sure you learn the important skills.

I like the way they captured New York City in ruins.  It feels like it should: a ghost town, without many people in the streets.  Trash and litter is everywhere, mixing with the snow and abandoned cars.  The audio is crisp, you can hear the snow crunching underneath your boots, there's sirens in the distance, and weaponry sounds the way it should. Putting a suppressor on a rifle doesn't completely mask the sound, but it muffles it.  It sounds the way a suppressed rifle should.

Character customization is decent in terms of clothing and weapon loadouts, but the facial features seem a little...neglected.  Case in point, my beard comment when I tried to stream on Sunday night.  Some people really like a lot of options, others not so much.  I would have liked a little bit more options in terms of facial hair.  Also, they limit you to one type of scar, facepaint, and it doesn't really let you change where those are placed.  It doesn't break the atmosphere, but for those that like to create themselves in game, the lack of options leaves a bit to be desired.

Weapon and ability customization is relatively robust.  You find weapons and equipment in the field MMO-style, with different stats and abilities.  You can also find modifications such as forward grips, magazine extensions, suppressors, and optics to improve your weapons.

When you first set foot in Manhattan, you're tasked with setting up your base of operations.  There's a forward base at the James A. Farley Post Office Building, which is under assault from looters and pretty much bare.  You're tasked with rebuilding your base, which gives you several options to choose from.  Your map lets you choose where you want to go at each turn, which side missions you want to take (and there's a lot of 'em!), and gives you waypoints to reach your destination.  Exploration is encouraged, however, as there are supply caches off the beaten path.  Finding components will let you craft new weapons and equipment, some of which are really, really worthwhile.  The openness of the island is fascinating, but also means it's really easy to get in over your head.  It's best to pick missions close to your area, then go back to resupply.

So much for "the most wonderful time of the year"
After unlocking each wing in your base, you'll be able to run "encounter" missions that give you resources to upgrade your wings.  Most missions involve intercepting drug or weapon transactions, defending supply drops, hostage rescues, or assisting the Joint Task Force (JTF) against attacking enemies. They're a decent diversion from the main story mission, and completing them is all but a necessity to complete the game.  It's also a good way to upgrade a few smaller sections of your wings before going into the main story missions.  I do enjoy going to the different bases and safe houses, finding all the side missions and encounters, and clearing out a whole location.

There's one type of mission that has you uploading virus sample data to the JTF servers.  What struck me as odd about these missions was that you have a time limit to find all the sample scanners and get the data uploaded.  The timer felt tacked on, something that wasn't really necessary.  I mean, data scanners can keep running even if the data doesn't get uploaded right away.  There's another side mission that involves rebooting a server, and that's on a timer, which makes sense.  There's times where a reboot can be a multi-step process, and there's a time window to do each step. 

One of the early missions after you set up your base involves rescuing a Virologist working triage at Madison Square Garden.  It's meant to give you your first taste of multiplayer missions and matchmaking, and while it did that just fine, I noticed that I very much rather play lone wolf during the story missions.  It's not quite worth the hassle of trying to find a group, as the matchmaking is fairly unstable.  Thankfully, I was able to find a group to complete that mission, and then go on my way.  It took a few tries, though.  The first game I played, my teammate fell through the floor and died.  And then when he respawned, he fell through the floor a second time.  He was a nice chap, we joked a little bit, but then he went to relog and I went on my way.

I'd have laughed more at this glitch if it hadn't happened during the beta to comedic effect for Smii7y. Sure, it's funny the first couple times you see it, BUT THAT IS WHAT A %&#@ING BETA IS FOR! YOU FIND THE %$&#ING BUGS AND YOU SQUASH THEM! If it were a one or two off, I'd be less bothered by it, but AAA developers should be looking at what their fans are showing during the beta and fixing the major issues.  Missing collision detection with the floor probably counts as a major issue.

Which brings me to another point.  This game crashed three times just trying to load the intro cinematic.  I'm not running a bottom-barrel PC, by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm forced to run the game on low graphics settings, in windowed mode only.  If I run it fullscreen, the game crashes.  The game also crashed after I finished a mission at one point during the tutorial.  My system also couldn't handle streaming while playing the game.  The stream would drop to 8 frames per second.

Compared to the Console versions and the trailers, the actual game textures look...dated, I guess is the right term.  Compared with when I played Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay for the first time, I feel a bit let down.  Granted, I ran EFBB on low res textures and the game looked amazing.  I'm not the only person that's noticed the texture disparity, even on the higher resolutions.  Others have raised this concern online in various forums and social media.

This isn't a new thing for Ubisoft.  They're fairly notorious for dialing back their texture resolution on the PC version.  It happened in Watch Dogs, to the point where modders had to release their own patch to fix it. This shouldn't be allowed.  No developer should be able to get away with this and think everything is fine.  Ubisoft is a very capable studio.  They have a bunch of really, really good games under their belt.  They have an amazing group of dev teams, with some really, really amazing artists.  There's no reason for them to cut corners, especially when the PC crowd will fix it and then badmouth them for the audacity of cutting corners.

Which brings me to my verdict.  I like the story, I love the atmosphere, I love the world that Ubisoft has crafted.  But the issues that plague the PC version make it much more difficult to love this game.  If you're looking to play the Division, look at a console release before PC.  Or buy the PC version and wait for the fan fixes.  They'll happen soon enough.

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