This week I watched a few E3 presentations and tweeted annoyingly about them (sorry). For the most part, I saw a lot of vague information about new consoles I have no interest in buying and fancy, glossy, pre-rendered CG trailers for games I have no interest in playing. However, one game trailer caught my eye: Ubisoft’s multi-player third-person action RPG called The Division.
There were actually two trailers for The Division. The first contained the backstory for this Tom Clancy game: apparently, terrorists put some sort of super germs on all our money and on Black Friday, when everyone goes out to buy Christmas presents at two in the morning, they get sick from the terror-germs, which completely destroys the United States. It’s sort of a weird message– don’t go shopping on Black Friday or you’ll die from moneygerms– for a game made for two new game consoles that will probably be sold during Black Friday. Also, people still use cash to buy things? And people still go to stores? If you want to infect us, terrorist, put some germs on Amazon.com’s one-click button.
Anyway. The “everyone is infected” angle led me to initially think: zombie game. Another damn zombie game. Then Ubisoft aired about eight minutes of (what appeared to be) actual gameplay footage, and I found it entirely engrossing. The footage involves the exploits of four co-op human players: Bronson, Megan, Chris, and Nick (whose perspective we are watching from.) You can watch it right here, and I’d suggest doing it on the biggest screen you have, because there’s a lot of detail. Once you’ve seen it, check out my notes below!
The gameplay trailer begins a typical post-apocalyptic video game cutscene fakeout. A jolly Christmas song playing, a scene of a wintery New York City, and a slow reveal, as the song fades, that this is not actually a jolly Christmas, everyone! (Reminds me of teasers for Fallout 3 and the Bioshock games.) As the camera cranes down from the roof to the street, we get a glimpse of someone stumbling noisily in a trash-filled apartment, but don’t see his face. I took this as another sign that the game would be about crazy infected zombies the first time I saw it. But I was (apparently) wrong!
0:43 — As the camera moves down and away from the building, we get to take in some deep detail, and it’s great. Rats scurry across a distant rooftop, dogs bark and scavenge a full block away. You can see into the windows of many apartments. There’s also snow falling and birds flapping around.
Another detail, a welcome though slightly confusing one: the power is still on. Buildings are still lit up, even across the bridge in Manhattan. If everyone is dead or infected and there are no other services, how is the power still on? On the other hand, who cares? I’m glad I won’t spend the entire game trying to find gas for a generator to power an elevator.
0:53 — In the upper left, a shadowy figure in a hoodie is visible through the window, and he or she mysteriously ducks out of view a moment later. Just behind the truck, on the sidewalk, we see two more people on the sidewalk. One is hunched over, maybe infected or perhaps just rummaging for something. Also, there’s graffiti on the pharmacy sign. “KEEP AWAY, *something* ONLY,” it reads. I can’t make out the something. The point is, in video games, people can’t wait for the world to end so they can write all over everything. Terrorists, if you want to wipe out the survivors of your first germ attack, put more terrorgerms on spray-paint cans.
1:04 — At street level, we meet Nick, specifically, Nick’s back, which we’ll be staring at for most of this demo. The streets are filled with slush puddles, uncollected garbage, disabled vehicles, but happily, no piles of corpses. So, I’m pretty sure this game is zombie-free. I hope. I’m just really tired of shooting zombies.
Nick’s got a fairly unobtrustive HUD that sort of floats next to him. We can see a health bar, his ammo count (in-clip and total remaining), and his currently selected skills. We can also see info on his co-op partners, Bronson and Megan, and their skills, health level, and status (Chris is AFK). As Nick walks through an intersection, the names of the streets also appear on his ghostly HUD.
1:36 — Nick is joined by Bronson, who has been searching through a store for supplies. They’ve both heard distant gunfire (Nick could even see some muzzle-flashes reflecting off buildings a block away) so Nick checks his map, which creates a holographic display on the ground around him. Cool and lovely: I enjoy maps that you can look at in real-time without leaving the game for a separate screen (like in Far Cry 2). Also, he can listen to radio feed from the various map locations as he cycles through them. It appears that Bronson can also see Nick’s map being projected on the ground, because he says: “That police station is going critical” as Nick selects that location. Also shown on the map is another co-op player, Megan, who is a few blocks away.
The area they’re in appears to be called the Dark Zone, which is odd because, like I said, the power is still on. The map also shows the locations of several vendors, and blue squares noted as “Events.” The map is also tracking the path of a helicopter flying near the Manhattan Bridge, but there’s no indication if it’s something you can call in as support or otherwise contact. I’m assuming it’s friendly.
1:54 — As Bronson and Nick walk toward the police station, two civilians walk by on the sidewalk in the opposite direction. Nick scans them: the woman is infected and contagious. Bronson says: “She’s gone red. I’m low on packs, though. We have to leave it.” Sounds like, maybe, rather than the typical video game practice of shooting infected people in the face, you may actually get to cure them with some sort of meds. That’s a nice change! I want to heal people who got sick from dollargerms. That is a thing I want to do.
There’s ton’s of detail in the street scene. A pack of scavenging dogs, steam rising from manholes (more signs the power is on), tattered flags flapping in the breeze, and gosh, this game is quite lovely looking. By far, the most next-gen looking game I’ve seen (next-gen means it could only be played on upcoming consoles. Or current PCs. Burn.)
2:25 — After walking down the street (more graffiti on a truck reads FIGHT IMPURITY), they come across a construction site. A giant tunnel leads to “The Underground,” which appears to be an instance level (the display reads “Group Mission” and has a difficulty level of 3 attached to it. Very MMO-like.)
Shots ring out from the police station. A few citizens on the street immediately start running the hell away, as they no doubt would. It’s annoying when NPCs are slow to react to danger in games (or sometimes don’t react at all), but these dudes just haul ass in the other direction. Smart. Meanwhile, Bronson, Nick, and Megan, who has joined them, run toward the police station.
Something to note: Bronson is wearing a gas mask, and Megan and Nick are not. I don’t know if the gas mask is just an aesthetic choice or if it serves as actual protection or not, but in a game about a deadly infection, it might have an actual use.
Nick runs a scan, showing the heat signatures from several people inside the police station (he also scans a dead police officer lying outside the station, whose cause of death reads “Head Trauma.” Bronson runs inside to try to lure out the enemies.
Megan has a group heal spell, er, I mean, skill, ready to use, and we get to see Nick flick through some of his abilities, which include Pulse (which he just used to scan for enemies), a Distraction Device, which draws enemies to its location (maybe it’s a device you plant or throw), Indomitable, which is a buff that prevents the player from dropping below 1 health point for three seconds, and Adrenaline Boost, which can be used to recover a friend’s health and stamina. He finally selects a Seeker Mine, which we’ll get to see during the upcoming fight: it’s a rolling grenade that chases its target for ten seconds.
We also get a glimpse of a few other purchasable skills. Just guessing at their attributes based on how their icons look: one might let you fire bullets through solid walls, one might be some sort of cluster grenade, one looks like it might allow you call in support (the icon is someone shouting), perhaps that helicopter that was shown on the map.
These all look like purchasable items, bought with points that may be earned by gaining XP. However, there’s another tab called Talents that look more like RPG elements. The icons shown hint at weapon proficiencies and health boosts. One shows a set of lungs next to an icon showing crosshairs, which probably signifies the ability to hold your breath while sniping to give you a more stable shot. Another shows a heart and a running icon, which has something to do with extended sprinting, I’d guess. Another shows a brain, a stack of something, and a machine gun — possibly due to added perception, you find more ammo in stashes, or find more stashes overall? Dunno! But probably something like that.
3:15 — The fight begins, using pretty standard cover mechanics. Bronson is using a shotgun, Megan is apparently sniping from further away (she calls out a headshot), Nick has a machine gun thingie (I don’t know from guns). Bronson also uses one of his skill toys: a turret, which he places on the hood of a car and which auto-fires at enemies. The enemies are AI-controlled bandits, and four or five of them pour out of the police station. Two throw Molotovs, the others use automatic weapons. The enemies are pretty mobile: after taking out Bronson’s turret, they flank both left and right, moving behind cover and never staying still for long. Their health bars are shown, however, at all times, making it easy to see where they are even if they’re behind cover.
The animated gif above displays my favorite bit of the entire trailer, and I can’t say exactly why. During the gunfight, Nick is crouching behind a police car. The rear door of the car is ajar. He scoots toward the rear, encountering the open door on the way, which he closes as he shuffles past. Lovely bit of detail and animation. I love it! It’s what you would do without thinking in real life, and Nick does it without thinking in the game. I’ve watched this tiny moment a million times and now you can too!
Another player, Chris, joins the game, controlling a small drone. Nick’s UI indicates that Chris is connecting through the game via a tablet, which I guess the thing that we are all supposed to do now. Play on your Xbox! Play on your tablet! Play on your smart phone! Play anything, from everywhere, all the time! If you’re in line at the post office, you can still drop into a game and then ditch everyone three minutes later when you have to get our your germ-covered cash to buy stamps! I don’t know. I’d rather play with people who are going to carve out some time to actually focus on the game for a while than someone who is stopped at a red light and has sixteen seconds to pop into the game, but maybe that’s just me.
Chris, via drone, contributes a group buff of some sort, though I can’t see any change in Nick’s stats so I’m not sure what kind of buff he’s providing. [In the comments, mAk points out that everyone gets a +20 damage buff.] Nick also uses his seeker mine to chase down a bandit who has flanked him and is hiding behind a car. The mine rolls after the guy and detonates. I look forward to having such a grenade, as I am crap at throwing them.
Chris The Helpful Drone also “paints” a target for everyone, highlighting an enemy who is on the roof hiding behind a police station sign (Megan notes that the enemy is an “elite,” so apparently there are “boss” enemies, or at least specialized, harder to kill baddies). The battle over, the three humans walk into the police station and Chris buzzes away in his drone because his microwave popcorn is finally ready or he’s done pooping or whatever it was he was waiting for that allowed him to join the game for only thirty seconds.
Graffiti on the exterior wall of the police station: “I’ll huff & I’ll puff.” And inside “And I’ll blow your house in” is painted on some open doors. Yeah, not the scariest graffiti from a gang member who is fond of nursery rhymes. But at least he had a theme. Good for him.
Megan frees some trapped AI policemen by shooting the lock off the door (we’ll have to see if you can shoot open locked doors in general, or just special ones). Nick and Bronson gather supplies: a Med Kit and some bottled water. There is also food. So, eating and drinking is involved in the game, but it’s not clear if it’s something related to healing injuries, or if there’s actual food/water meters that need to be filled to remain generally healthy.
5:24 — Nick walks to a map on a wall, which is covered with notations. By scanning it, it updates his own map (and presumably the maps of his friends). The items that are updated are Evac Alpha and Bravo (missions shown as completed), a CDC quarantine (a safe area, perhaps?), and what looks like an optional bounty hunting mission named “Wanted: Oskar,” which I imagine are similar to Red Dead Redemption & Far Cry 3 bounty missions: hunt down a boss thug and his thugettes for a reward.
As Nick follows Broson and Megan down the corridor to the armory, he turns and spots something down another hallway. It looks like a dog, but this being a video game about a world-destroying infection, I initially thought OH MY GOD GIANT INFECTED WARG-DOG-WOLF-MONSTER! But upon closer inspection, I think it’s just a dog. If I were Nick, I’d have gone back, gotten the food, and tried to give it to the dog, because making a dog happy in a video game is relevant to my interests. There’s also some sort of tremor that shakes the building and dislodges some overhead lights, but it’s not explained. Nearby artillery, maybe?
6:08 — In the armory, Nick opens a box and there’s a big gun and I guess we’re all supposed to get a boner over it. Look, it’s a Tom Clancy game, there’s gonna be gunporn. Scanning the Mk17 SR, which Wikipedia tells me is a heavy SCAR, whatever the hell that is (again, I don’t know from guns) we see how much damage it does, its range, and that it has three mod slots: one looks like it can be fitted with a scope, another possibly an extended magazine, and one more points to the stock, but I don’t know what you can add to a stock. Unicorn stickers?
One thing we don’t see is how easily Nick could compare it to a gun he already has, which is sometimes a problem in these games where you’re constantly finding new weapons and having to choose which to keep and which to ditch. I didn’t play much of Borderlands, but at least 98% of my time was squinting at a bunch of numbers relating to which gun was marginally better than which. That’s not one of my favorite things about MMO-style games.
6:40 — Back outside, after Bronson closes the armory door (considerate of him), they get a look at Manhattan, timed nicely with the bridge lights turning off along the Brooklyn Bridge. The lights aren’t going off because it’s the morning (the bridge is West of them, and the sun is behind it, so it’s early evening) so maybe power outages are a thing that happens in the game from time to time. Anyway, Megan shoots off a flare for extraction, which I assume spirits you back to a safe-zone or group base or something.
Then, a bunch of other players attack them. Not AI enemies, but human controlled players. Hey! Other people in this game! It’s not just co-op RPG PVE, it’s multi-MMO-RPG-co-op-PVP! Does that mean Megan could just turn around and shoot Bronson for being too bossy? I dunno. But she should consider it. We can see the names of the new players, their health bars, and the weapon they’re currently wielding.
06:53 — The trailer ends the way many game trailers ended at E3: with a big pullback up to heaven to show a massive, sprawling map the size of the entire country and thousands of human players all playing at once! Actually, in this case, it shows maybe a couple dozen players, and frankly, the map isn’t even that big. Still, pretty neat!
Also, both bridges now are labeled “Blackout”, another hint that the city’s power going on and off intermittently is a feature of the game. (I don’t know why I’m so fixated on the power situation in post-moneygerm New York, but I am.)
No idea if I’ll ever get to play this game. I have no plan or even much interest in buying a new console (also, no money, and also, money will germ you to death), and this game hasn’t yet been announced for PC. I hope it is eventually, though, because it looks pretty neat.