Tom Clancy’s The Division – Preview

Title   Tom Clancy's The Division
Developer  Ubisoft
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4
Genre  MMO, Shooter, Action
Release Date  2015
Official Site

Remember that trailer? No, not that Dead Island bollocks, I’m referring to the E3 2013 trailer where they first revealed Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division, a MMO third-person shooter taking place in a ruined USA following a viral outbreak. It impressed professionals and punters alike, showcasing some impressive gameplay and immersive visual effects and, for me, the highlight was watching the individual bullet holes appear in the police car windows. I’ve played hundreds of shooters and have shot millions of bullets into thousands of different surfaces, and I have never seen anything look as awesome as that. That was when I knew that The Division was something special, and that feeling was only re-enforced following my exposure to the latest demo.

The Division will see players take on the role as a member of the ‘Strategic Homeland Division’, or The Division for short, and it’s their mission to try and restore some sort of order to the affected areas. The premise of the game doesn’t sound particularity revolutionary, but then it doesn’t have to for all the other elements to come together. What I will say about the story is that it is certainly an excellent framing device for an MMO, although I’m unsure what rationale will be applied to getting players to fight other human-controlled characters at any stage, if we’re all supposed to be fighting for the good ole USA.

Throughout the demo of The Division I saw plenty of awesome gadgets and trinkets come into play, and while I’ll come to those shortly, I want to cover the most impressive one first – the Echo. The Echo is a clever little device that draws information from all surrounding tech devices by means of a cloud; it then re-produces a visual display in front of you to show you what was going on at the time the viral outbreak occurred. In this demo, the team were approaching an underground metro station platform, when the Echo burst into life and produced scenes of panic and pandemonium. There were orange outlines of adults and children running onto a nearby train, carrying luggage and items. Just further on, back in reality, lay several rows of bodies covered in tarpaulin. Were these the same people, or just those less fortunate, and how did they die? The Echo looks to be a cool feature as much as it will be an interesting plot and narrative device.

Getting out of the dingy metro tunnels, the team emerged into the snowy wreck of the city. It was here that they were engaged by a group of bandit-types who wanted control of some local buildings. In turn, the team wanted these in order to set up a forward operating base in the area, reducing panic, bringing in supplies and generally helping to stabilise things. The fight kicked off when one of the Division members chucked a ‘strobe’ (basically a flashbang) into a group at the mouth of the metro stairwell. The gun fight was quick and vicious, with the opposition getting cut down left and right. The Division group soon got pinned down and called upon some technological reinforcements.

Firstly, someone launched a ‘Firefly’ – a small support drone that peppered the opposition with some heavy gunfire. It looked to be highly effective and made short work of anyone it engaged. It combined well with an automated turret that was placed on the bonnet of a car and started to spew out flames at the people already cowering behind the vehicles. It was a clever tactic that allowed the players to flank the enemy and finish them off. The combat looked incredibly polished, improving on what we had seen in the E3 2013 trailer a year before. Given the large amount of options on hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the little we have seen barely scratches the surface. The encounter finished with the team focusing their efforts on an ‘elite’ – one of the tougher enemies, who required much more effort to be taken down. With his defeat, the area was locked down and the fighting stopped, with the Division members coming out on top.

The demo then ended and we were brought to the same area, but several hours prior to our earlier arrival. Owing to this fact, the enemies that had given us so much trouble the last time were not yet there. This kind of change isn’t routine in bigger games, so it was impressive to see, and prompted new questions. Would we have to defend this position from the same enemies, in time, and who are the guys over there in the thick black bondage gear? Due to the fact that we were arriving earlier in the day, other bad guys had arrived at a shopping market down the road, clad in black armour and gas masks, going through what was left of a small shop. They turned out to be the same guys from the latest trailer, known as the ‘Cleaners’ – they’re obsessed with fire and love areas that contain high amounts of contamination. Thankfully, we had the element of surprise as they proved to be much harder to take down than the other group.

Another new tool – a ‘Seeker’ – came into play here which, once deployed, acted as a mine that rolls to its target in search of a big hug from your opposition. When it reaches the thing it wants to hug, it gets so excited it literally explodes, killing everyone nearby. I may have been a little liberal with the term ‘hug’ but you get the idea. The sudden explosion alerted other members of the enemy team and they were keen to bust out bigger, more powerful flame-throwers than our turrets could muster. Sustained fire and some smart tactics were employed in order to best the new foes, but it was touch and go for a period of time.

I walked away from The Division feeling very impressed. I’m not surprised that Ubisoft have listened to the PC community and granted their wishes to bring this to their format too; it feels and looks like the sort of game that you would expect to find on the PC. This is a stunning game and if it’s managing these sorts of graphics on a console, I’m almost giddy with excitement to see how it will look on the PC. That being said, plenty of criticism has been levelled at Ubisoft recently for their titles feeling very similar. Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs have all suffered from a degree of similarity that make them feel like carbon copies from the same company. I can’t currently see these problems arising in The Division and, although I say that having not seen that much of the game, I believe they’ve got it going in a decent enough direction to dust off the cobwebs from their tried and trusted formula.

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