Life isn’t a game. There are unintended consequences. There are unexpected results. But sometimes a game – or, in this case, a computer simulation – can show us just how much reality can spiral out of control. And when faced with a catastrophic event – after which the smothering fog of murky chaos quickly casts a smothering shadow over a once-bright society – only one question remains: What will it take to save those fading remnants of civilization that cower in the dark crevices? It’s a tough question to ask, but it’s at the crux of Tom Clancy’s The Division – the newly announced online open-world action-RPG developed by Ubisoft Massive.
But before we jump in to the game, a bit of history. Back in 2001, a group of scientists and politicians launched a project called Dark Winter, an exercise to test the emergency response to a bio-terrorist attack. The simulation revealed how quickly everything would fall apart, with massive civilian casualties and a complete breakdown of civil society. Or, as the narration in The Division’s launch trailer says, we’ve created a system so complicated that we don’t even know how to control it. Our society is a too-elegant house of cards: remove just one, and everything topples.
Shop Till You Drop
Some say consumerism will destroy America. Others worry about a Dark Winter-esque bio-attack breakdown. The Division puts these two strains together, and the results are devastating.
The flu virus (we’re reminded in The Division’s E3 trailer) can survive on a bank note for up to 17 days. In the game, a pandemic begins on Black Friday – the biggest shopping day of the year – jumping from money to person, from toys to food, from parent to child and back again. And then everything crumbles. In just one day the hospitals reach capacity. In another, entire zones will be quarantined. By the third day, the stock market has collapsed. Day four: the power fails, the taps run dry, the shelves are empty. And in just five days, everyone is a threat.
Which brings us to the game demo. It’s three weeks after the pandemic struck. We’re in Brooklyn, near the Manhattan Bridge. And we have one last hope for survival: a highly classified division created back in 2007 via Presidential Directive 51, which calls into action a group of self-sufficient tactical agents who emerge from the shadows and, God willing, will lead us all back into the light.
But at first, all we see is holiday joy: A child’s necklace, adorned with trinkets and charms, hangs from a rooftop railing, with festive music fluttering in the evening air. As the camera moves downward, we see the snow falling, and fluffy clouds cover the sky, with the flat winter sunlight, so common at this time of year, peeking through. The Manhattan bridge twinkles off in the distance, reaching ever so gracefully away from Brooklyn. But all is not what it seems. The charming Christmas crooning gives way to ominous chords – a soundtrack befitting the streets below. As we move past the fire escapes we peer into an open window and spot a shadowy figure rushing by inside the ransacked apartment. And finally we see the ground-level devastation. Wrecked cars line the street. A looted pharmacy stares back at us accusingly. Garbage is everywhere.
Moving through this madness is a Division agent. At first he appears to be alone. He’s wearing a backpack with a hollow-circle icon glowing on the shoulder cross-strap. Although the game is in the third-person, we see what the agent sees: elements of his HUD dance lightly on the screen – small details and key bits of info subtly (but unobtrusively) appear around him. We see his health, we see info about his location – including the fact that they are in what’s called as the “Dark Zone.” We also see three other agents listed in the HUD: Megan (who has a healing cross near her name), Bronson (turret) and Chris (who is manning the tablet controls – more on that later.) Our agent (named Nick) looks at his wrist, which triggers a virtual map that appears all around him. They are seeking out the location of nearby gunshots. Nick marks a nearby police station on the knee-level holographic cartography, then the map disappears, and they head off in that direction.
After Bronson emerges from the pharmacy, the duo pass a pair of civilians, and Nick scans them, learning they’re infected and contagious. They all ignore each other and the duo of agents move forward, past a car with lights still flashing, avoiding a pack of wild dogs, then down toward a construction site. Underground tunnels lead off into the distance, but the team decides to check those out later. They meet up with Megan, and the trio hear shots fired, spurring them to rush toward the action (while some nearby civilians duck and run in the opposite direction).
The Rotten Apple
And now the agents are running. On the way, they pass the body of a dead cop splayed out a burning police cruiser (a quick scan indicates that “head trauma” did him in).
Soon enough, the agents are all gathered in the police station parking lot, and a quick scan of the building ahead shows the warm infrared glow of living bodies hiding within. Megan lets the others know she’s got the “Group Heal loaded,” then suggests the others check their skills. Nick then peers at his wrist, and quickly moves past a few menu items, making subtle adjustments to his loadout before pulling out a Seeker Mine. Bronson then lures the hiding foes out of the station, and he leaps over a parked cruiser, taking cover as the firefight breaks loose. Nick is firing off shots, Bronson sets up a turret on the hood of the cruiser…then Megan warns Bronson about an incoming Molotov. The agents are clearly working together, sliding from cover to cover, picking off the bad guys one by one. Red life bars hover over the enemies – part of the Division’s tech, it seems, and despite the realistic environment, it feels like a natural extension of the agents’ virtual HUDs. We also notice that every kill results in a numerical XP gain that pops up on screen. This is, after all, an RPG.
After Bronson’s car-top turret is destroyed and Megan heals her fellow agents, a fourth teammate joins the fray. Chris (who was marked in the HUD as AFK, or “away from keyboard”) takes control of a drone via a tablet, and he offers up a group buff, then provides aerial support. Flying above the fray, Chris spots a hidden gunner, setting up Nick to use his Seeker Mine – which does exactly what the name suggests, rolling around a barrier to blow the bad guy away. Chris then “marks” a pesky rooftop sniper, allowing Nick to track and take down the shooter while he’s skulking behind cover. Throughout the firefight, the agents remain in constant communication, adjusting tactics and targeting enemies to help each other out. Chris then jumps out of the game, and the original trio enters the ravaged the police station.
Inside, the Division agents free an imprisoned police officer, who tells them that two more cops are being held within cells. The officer then gives the agents the access code to the armory. They grab some waters (supplies are likely scarce in quarantined New York), peer at map on the police station wall (which updates their own HUD map), then head to the armory to grab some new gear. (We also notice that the police station is now marked as “secured.”)
Along the way, the building rumbles, and a fluorescent light drops from the ceiling. They rush ahead, grab a powerful new rifle and restock their ammo, then head out the back door. Outside, they look across the river toward Manhattan. Megan shoots a flare into the air to call an extraction, but while they’re waiting another group of players suddenly appears, and the agents “brace for PvP.” It’s at this point in this tense, dramatic demo that the camera moves upward, shifting into a map showcasing the territories around New York City, with pulsing dots indicating flare-ups and conflicts among factions around the region.
This is Tom Clancy’s The Division, coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014. Society is on the brink of collapse, hope doesn’t come easy, but you can join with others in helping take back New York in this genre-redefining online open-world action-RPG.
Be sure to read our Q&A with Game Director Ryan Barnard (The Division – Classless Characters, Second Screens and a Mid-Crisis World) for more insights into Tom Clancy’s The Division. And check back with the UbiBlog for all the latest on this stunning new game.