Imagining the collapse of civilization has led to some truly amazing games in the past few years, but almost all of them have one thing in common: they simply accept the apocalypse as the new reality, without actually trying to do anything about it. There’s no hope for the future beyond living to see another day, and “heroes” are, at most, concerned with prolonging the survival of someone they care about. The Division is different; instead of simply learning to live in the dark, you’re out to push it back.
As a civilian special agent activated after a Black Friday pandemic reduces New York to a smoldering ruin, it’s your job to restore order area by area, neighborhood by neighborhood. This doesn’t appear to be a quick process, but it is a clearly measurable one, and the demo shown at E3 2014 reveals how: when you pull up your holographic map, you’ll be able to see your area’s security level, contagion level, and citizen morale, all of which can improve as you complete nearby objectives.
One way to increase local security, for example, is to whittle away at roaming groups of armed bandits. During the demo, a handful of them were laying siege to a post office where some of the more law-abiding citizens were holed up; naturally, it was up to our heroes to interfere. While the bandits’ leader kept his men focused on a megaphone-assisted tirade directed at the defenders, the agents stayed low and crept around behind them, opening fire on a couple of stragglers near the back of the group. One died instantly, but the other went running to warn his buddies. In seconds, the scene devolved into a heavy firefight — which of course was a perfect excuse to show off things like the importance of cover, as the agents ducked behind bus shelters, cars and hot dog stands to avoid hails of destructive bullets.
It was also a great opportunity to showcase some of the secondary abilities players can earn, like a bandit-stunning strobe drone called the Firefly and a deployable, limited-use flamethrower turret that set enemies ablaze while its owner crouched behind cover, reviving a wounded teammate. Those are just the start, however; a look at a broader range of unlockable abilities (gadgets, really) later in the demo showed off treats like sticky bombs, optical cloaking, and a broad assortment of traps, lures, and automated defenses. Picking an array of these for specific purposes lets you essentially create your own class, and they can be customized further, as we saw when a “seeker mine” had its explosive payload removed and replaced with a crowd-control stun effect.
We got to see it in action in the second segment of the demo, during which a small group of players wandered into a contagion-heavy zone at night. You’ll need to wear a gas mask to survive in high-contagion areas, and so do your enemies – in this case, a faction of flamethrower-wielding creeps called the Cleaners. Tough and fire-resistant, the Cleaners are dedicated to wiping out the contamination of the Black Friday pandemic. That actually sounds kind of noble… until you consider that their methods include the immediate incineration of buildings, people and anything else that they perceive as being contaminated.
At this point in the demo, two agents were being assisted by a third support player, who was piloting a drone via The Division’s companion tablet app. Playing as a drone is synchronous with the “real” game; on a tablet, you’ll see the players and their surroundings in real time. More important, you’ll also see their enemies, and can tag them so your allies will spot them, even through walls.
With the Cleaners clearly visible from behind cover, the agents once again moved to outflank their enemies — and then toss a seeker mine toward the nearest one, which immediately homed in on its target and flushed the dazed Cleaner out from cover. As he stood there helplessly, the agents filled him with lead. Cue a short (and literal) firefight with the rest of the lumbering pyromaniacs, and the team was able enter a warehouse the Cleaners were trying to burn down — which, it turned out, housed a generator that could restore power to the entire neighborhood. Switching it on completed the mission, and more importantly, caused the area’s security score to climb… very, very slightly.
Come on, you didn’t expect it to be that easy, did you? The Division is a massive game, and its version of New York — while having clearly seen better days — boasts explorable areas that include high rooftops, deep subway tunnels and everything in between. You’re bound to discover plenty of opportunities to improve the world as you wander. Just be sure to bring a friend.
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Tom Clancy's The Division
ESRB Rating: RATING PENDING