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Saturday, October 11, 2014

THE DIVISION

Adding up to one of next-gen’s freshest experiences
It’s fair to say the apocalypse is a well-furrowed path in videogame narrative. And you, the tooled-up survivalist, might be starting to feel the blisters forming inside those size 12s after such an exhaustive trek down that road. But where games have previously placed you post-downfall, piecing together the disaster that did for mankind after the fact, Ubisoft Massive’s MMO-like shooter takes place during civilisation’s meltdown. 

“A lot of games are post-apocalyptic, but there aren’t any that take place in a mid-crisis scenario,” explains game director Ryan Barnard. “This setting could only be achieved on next-gen hardware, since we wanted to explore a very real and frightening threat to our current social collective, and showcase it as a plausible and realistic scenario. Beyond graphics, next-gen consoles are incredibly powerful when it comes to player immersion, realism and offering huge, open worlds to explore.”


The Division’s version of New York, mid-meltdown, is so interesting because it’s still recognisable. You imagine its state of chaos and decay could be achieved in just a couple of weeks from this very second, unlike Crysis 3’s grand sci-fi concepts of a financial district suffocated by jungle.

ATTACK THE BLOCK

Unlike other apocalyptic titles, you’re not just fighting for survival by stealing tins of ham from bearded lunatics. There’s still some semblance of society in and among the violence, and as a member of the eponymous Division, you’re fighting to restore order.

Achieve that, and the tins of ham will come to you. “[You’re] society’s last hope to save New York from total collapse,” Barnard continues. “[You] will fight to restore society while exploring familiar landmarks in an unfamiliar, devastated setting. New York City is a symbol, recognisable to anyone, that mirrors the complexity of our society. It’s one of the most renowned locations in the world, so the contrast between what we have and what we lost will be instant and frightening to most of us.”

There’s a culture of fear in North America, perpetuated by rolling news channels that need big hitting stories around the clock, and maybe that’s why The Division has struck such a chord: the chance to take an active, bullet-spewing role against the mysterious forces that generate all that fear. It’s certainly clear that Massive grounds its end-of-the-world drama, in true Tom Clancy fashion, in as much reality as possible.

“The whole foundation of this game is based on realism,” says Barnard. “That’s what makes our story so scary and engaging it could actually happen. We spent months researching the subject, and the more we learned, the more frightened we became. Our objective is to create a setting that is as plausible as can be, which is why we consulted with experts and even had some of our team attend ‘mid-crisis’ survival training. All of this showed us how quickly everything can spiral out of control, how unprepared we are, and how vulnerable our society is.” 

But just what are you fighting against? In-game footage so far has showcased combat against other survivalists, but it’s the pandemic itself, in its many forms, that’s your chief adversary. There are sick people to help or, indeed, to euthanise.

Contaminated zones, people reduced to fighting over the scarcity of food. And, as you might suspect, there’s the suspicion of a grander, Umbrella Corporation-like villain behind it all. “In every game and especially Clancy games  there are bad guys,” says Barnard. “So, there may be a really bad guy behind all this, but we don’t want to give away any spoilers.”

Quizzing Barnard on the theories and stories behind The Division’s eye watering reveal is encouraging, because it’s clear there’s a solid bedrock of fiction to support the as-yet limitless clans duking it out from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We can’t wait to occupy Wall Street and beyond.

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