The Division: Numerical Heroin

Tom Clancy’s: The Division

Tom Clancy’s The Division is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Ubisoft, with assistance from Red Storm Entertainment, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It was released worldwide on 8 March 2016.

“When society falls, we rise.”

 Alone I wandered ever further into the depths of the Dark Zone – tightly clutching my rifle and braving decrepit streets beyond an ashen curtain of fog. Uncertainty is the air I breath, paranoia and fear my companions. A burst of shots ring out in the distance and I dive for cover. I barely survived my last firefight with the thugs in the subway and with what gear I managed to scavenge, I took off in search of extraction – the only way to transport contaminated goods from the Dark Zone.

 The journey was short; the extraction sight was on top of the subway. Two agents had pressed themselves against the remnants of a road block and were exchanging fire with a group of incoming thugs. I check their backs. Like me, they both have that familiar yellow bag strapped on and swelling with scavenged goods. I take up my position in a small fenced off garden and tackle the remaining thugs. I think the agents are grateful for my help. They perform several jumping jacks and as I have come to learn, this is very much a good thing.

 I step out from the shadows and offer a polite wave. I receive more jumping jacks. One of the agents shoots a flare up into the sky as his friend frantically sprints back and forth, latching himself from cover to cover like mad Velcro until finally, our countdown begins.

 We wait patiently and as the numbers roll down I can’t help but think of the numbers… and that something is not right. I expected more thugs to storm our position or even an appearance from the Cleaners but there is nothing. I set off a pulse and scan the area. The collection of white marshmallows indicate there is another agent nearby and of course, he is hiding from us like a massive bitch. He knows what it takes to stay alive out here. I climb up high and wait.

 I hear the helicopter now and the two agents make a push for the landing pad. The third agent also takes a risk and darts from his corner and into their company. The helicopter lowers its large gear grabbing tentacle and the three of them circle it like moths to the flame.

 I laugh.

 I remain up high and scan the area one last time. I drink in the critical hits this grants me on all persons registered and I pull the pin on my grenade. I toss it at the three of them and inject myself with health science, granting me yet more damage against them. I pull the rifle from my shoulder and let rip into the three of them. I make my way over, finishing off two of them immediately before pulling the sawn-off I had holstered from my devilish hips and load two slugs between the wide eyes of a man betrayed.

 I have gone rogue.

 I’m flashing red now and it wont be long before I draw every nearby agent into my arena and have them cut me down with righteous vindication. I extract my gear and grab what I can from the corpses of my fellow agents. I rush to extract that too but I hear something, a hissing of sorts, or perhaps breathing? It’s the Cleaners. Long whips of bright orange flame lick at my heels and I make a dash for the subway. No go, two agents see me and fill me with numbers so I turn back towards the Cleaners but they can’t kill me – not yet.

 The Cleaners and the agents chasing me soon become locked in a firefight and I bolt along one of the adjacent streets. I make a turn off into an alley and keep pressing on, praying, laughing and watching the number above my rogue status slowly counting down. A message pops up and informs me of all the sweet gear I managed to extract and I stop running. I need to leave the Dark Zone now, I need to collect my gear and look at the numbers. I check the numbers on the gear I have currently and they check out. They are pretty impressive numbers but I know the numbers of the gear I found in the Dark Zone will be bigger, more colourful numbers. A purple perhaps?! I slap my arm firmly and pull out a calculator. I smile and throw my head back. God, I am ready. I crush that calculator into my veins and I black out. My pants are wet.

Welcome to Tom Clancy’s: The Division.

Agent Now Active

 The Division is a game that challenges a AAA industry built on the shoulders of franchises, the strong yet flawed original concepts now buckling beneath the weight of tiresome sequels and annual releases but The Division instead offers something a little different in the form of a brand new IP. That alone is something to at least be appreciated as we wade through the brothel of worn out properties like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty and Farcry, their tired bloodshot eyes looking on in admiration at the pert and supple breasts of innovation as their own tits sag idly between their knees.

 Set in New York during the aftermath of yet another terrorist attack, the Division focuses on it’s titular group of sleeper agents who are tasked with dragging the city from the brink of self destruction. There is another welcome return for science here as the population has been mostly decimated by a virus used to infect dollar bills on consumer-driven fight club; Black Friday. The aptly named Green Poison (clever) swept through the city and ruined a lot of peoples days. Except yours. You, as an agent, were activated elsewhere and forced to leave behind the life you once led and in turn the people that filled it. Don’t worry though, the game doesn’t bother to bog you down with any personal or emotion motivation for your silent protagonist so instead we can just pretend that you left behind the niece and nephew you swore to your sister on her deathbed you would care for until their absent father could be tracked down and counselled over the loss of his wife. Or whatever.

 A hop skip and a jump from the flashy and stylized opening, you are left reflecting (literally) in the passenger side window of an old american banger. Here you are offered a small selection of options to customize your face, hair and race to give your agent the look they deserve. The four or five options may seem limited at first but what the game doesn’t tell you is that if you switch up the race of your character, you actually unlock sweet specialized-race hair styles; like cornrows for my black character (no seriously). Despite this wealth of opportunity, I instead re-imagined Lenny Kravitz and slapped a bright tattoo on his neck because I’m edgy and that’s just how we do.

 There is a short tutorial that will familiarize you with the cumbersome UI that is figuratively pissing itself with orange dots and lines, as well as showing you the basics of shooting, running to cover and then shooting from cover. It’s not long before you are given your first objective to head over to a safe house and – you know what, I don’t actually remember because instead, all that springs to mind is me standing in a room filled with jumping jack assholes, all bunched together in front of the ONE computer you need to activate in order to progress. And when I finally make it to this computer to activate my agent, nothing happens. I am stuck in a living nightmare of silent players communicating solely through contextual emotes used completely out of any sane context (clapping at doors, waving at boxes and saluting one corner of the room) and pushing a button that refuses to gift me with progression. I am locked out of my game. This however was a bug, most probably fixed by now but a work around was to simply log out and log back in.

 A short cut-scene later and you’ve been blown up. Hurray! Game over. Just kidding. You and your commander, no nonsense sass-pot Faye Lau, escape with your lives and are swiftly taken into the smoldering husk of New York, now overrun by violent gangs and thugs. The sweeping shot of what remains is a breathtaking sight and I admit that I can feel my hands balling into fists. There will be pumps, that much is clear because this is where things start to get interesting.

 New York Divided

 Your first steps into New York can be pretty overwhelming. I mean once you step off of the helicopter and into the first safe area, you are greeted with hordes of other players running back and forth between vendors doing who-knows-what and suddenly your mini-map lights up like a fucking Christmas tree. All these icons (as simple as they turned out to be) shook my confidence and reminded me that despite trying to ignore it or  dress it up as something it wasn’t, I was stepping into a vast and detailed MMO.

 After a little exploring and a few minor quests later, I finally sunk my teeth in and gave in to what the game had begged of me. I unlocked my base of operations. This is The Division. From this moment on.

 The Division throws up some pretty interesting ideas, one of which is the way you progress your character through the base of operations. Each time you level up, all your doing really is scaling up the enemies around you and in turn the gear which they may drop. To actually unlock your talents, perks and abilities you must rebuild the three major wings of your base: Tech, Security and Medical. The game gives you three pretty meaty missions that sees you rescuing the head of each department and upon completion, unlocks the wings and their upgrades. And of course with it comes three pretty underwhelming personalities though in fairness, they are developed well enough but offer little more than snippets of one way conversations during cut-scenes; something I struggled to find myself invested in.

 Once the beard, the bald and lady medicine enter the equation, you are then given access to a terminal for each wing that can be used to upgrade your base of operations. As well as sprucing the place up a bit and inviting a wealth of moaning NPC’s, you are rewarded with new perks and talents for your character. Each upgrade costs points which you must accumulate by completing wing specific encounters/missions. This is a neat idea for leveling that actually compelled me to want to find all of these encounters so I could save up for that next perk which would increase my medical kit slot by one. Talents are combat centered enhancements that vary from shooting a man in the head to highlight him for other players to killing someone with your sidearm to replenish a fraction of ammo for your primary weapon. You may only use one at a time up until level 15 where you can unlock additional slots to stack these abilities so that they can be optimized to your play-style. Perks as I mentioned are passive enhancements that range from things like increased inventory slots to unlocking an armoury or a re-calibration station or my personal favourite, a canine unit. Doggies!

 The most notable rewards however are the various abilities you unlock. Split into your three wings, each ability is a power available to you during combat. These help lay the foundation for your own style of game-play and can be modified to further specify their effects. I am a huge fan of the scan you unlock early in the game that sends out a pulse and highlights every enemy nearby and further more, once modded, can offer increased critical  hits on those caught in its path. You are allocated two available slots to fill and each ability has a cool-down similar to traditional MMO games so your management of each can work out to compliment each-other and often give you a tactical edge against your enemies.

 Speaking of which, the enemies you encounter in the main game are split into four major factions; Rioters, the Cleaners, the Rikers and the Last Man Battalion (LMB). Rioters are your run of the mill hooded bellends you find littering the streets and threatening the sick and disadvantaged. In fact, i’m surprised they have made it this far since they insist on mouthing off to extremely heavily armed division agents and taking to them with baseball bats. Just borrow a gun for goodness sake. Saying that, some of my biggest scares have come from bat-wielding maniacs blind siding me as I hug cover in the middle of a tense firefight. You have to roll to evade them (they damage you anyway most times) and make a hasty retreat with your gun trained on them. The only problem is that most of the time, I am thumbing the sticks so hard in my panic that I end up involuntarily switching shoulders as I aim and spinning around on the spot thanks to the nifty quick turn mechanic.

 The other three factions however have their own unique backstory and carry a much higher level of threat. While little is done within the narrative to build on these stories with the exception of several minor plot beats and impassioned speeches lost in the heat of battle, the world building in the game is executed perfectly through found footage style videos and a plethora of phone recordings you can come across. The videos in particular are extremely effective and in some cases down right disturbing (Cleaners and subway Rioters). It is a shame there are no more than a handful since the tension they build are so rooted in reality that watching them genuinely fills you with dread and helps immerse yourself in a city decimated by violence and terror.

 There are however a number of ECHO’s;  an interactive tableaux that captures one moment in time and allows the player to listen in on the last words of those long dead. Accompanying the orange shadows of men and women are often their names and where they are now or how they died. One encounter in particular involving a young brother and sister can really impact you on a human level, something I admit surprised me. The story of the Division is by no means the strongest but the world they have created here, if you are willing to dig around, is extremely well thought out and brimming with emotional detail.

 New York itself is beautifully rendered and despite not reaching the lofty heights set during their original E3 vertical slice game-play, the graphics here are some of the best of the generation. Gritty realism is ten a penny in the industry but the single climate on offer here, winter, surprisingly does a lot to vary its environment in terms of graphical prowess. One street in particular is a beacon of Christmas cheer and with it comes familiar red and green lights and a brightly lit Christmas tree. The weather will shift from snow storms to complete white-out to clear winter days and you will see them all. The level of detail here is incredibly impressive and combined with excellent textures, lighting and particle effects, all of which are locked in on a smooth frame-rate (very little chop), it adds up to a real visual treat and from what I’ve heard, a partially accurate recreation of the big apple. The sound here is crisp and dynamic too, especially through headphones. The crunch of snow, the rattle of your backpack and the fearsome crack of firearms goes a long way in its attempt to pull you in. It’s just a shame that the variety of things to do in this elegant sandbox can become a little stale and give the impression that the world is maybe a bit too dead.

Number Wang

  Despite littering the world with things to do and effectively making your map look like a unicorn has farted little rainbow nuggets of encounters all over the place, it quickly becomes repetitive as you rescue your hundredth hostage and activate yet another bloody beacon. But the glue holding all this vibrant coloured shit together is a sturdy combination of its shooting and its matchmaking.

 Combat is as rewarding as it is intuitive. The cover system responds well mostly and is pretty streamlined by having you look at a piece of cover and holding a button until you reach it. It gives the firefights that little added flair as your agent hops walls and frantically sprints before sliding behind a burned out taxi. It works and it looks cool. The crux of any good firefight however is teaming up with three other agents and making use of your pool of abilities. I am fortunate enough to be able to play with two friends of mine and with the use of microphones, can coordinate impressive attacks that utilize all of our abilities and the mechanics offered by the game. One of us can draw aggro, firing a heavy machine gun from behind cover while setting up a turret to increase our DPS (damage per second) while another can hang back with a high power rifle and crush skulls between critical pulses, then player three can maneuver around one side of the map, flanking the enemy and closing in for the kill with a big damage weapon like the shotgun, their seeker mine rolling at their side like a malnourished BB-8 hungry for the blood of our enemies.

 All in all it is extremely satisfying when you pull off an attack like this, especially when you hit the no respawn zone of a story mission and one of you nutters has put it on hard mode for a few extra coins. In all seriousness, the harder you make it, the more chance you have of snagging better loot from the fallen which is in all honesty, the biggest draw The Division has for the player; addiction.

 Like every MMO out there, the biggest thrill of The Division is improving your gear. Now read that again. Now hate yourself. It’s sad but it’s true. There is no equal to smashing a final boss on a story mission and watching a beam of blue light rocket from his lifeless corpse and up into the air like a shooting star of pure Colombian heroin. I want to grab that gear and rub my gums with it. The gun I have right now only does 665 damage but this new gun does 709 damage and the DPS is through the roof.

 The loot here is colour coded to determine its worth, much like the human beings left alive in a post-President Trump world. There are your grey items which you might as well not pick up, your green items which are the bread and butter. Then you have your blue items which are all special with certain abilities and then the mighty purple. And yellow too! And the numbers, well they just keep going up and up. All of this dictates what is worth having on your person. Each piece of gear is another number to add to the three numbers that mean the most; Firepower, Stamina and Electronics.

 A huge selling point for me however was the customization of your agent. Most games give you gear to equip, like boots and gloves or whatever, and these items increase your stats and so on. My only problem is that a lot of top gear in those games looks terrible and makes me hate myself so I will throw on something that looks cooler but offers next to no protection. Vain as shit. The Division on the other hand separates the two by giving you gear to equip for all your numbers then offering a second menu exclusively for you to play dress-up. It is a dream come true.

 As you progress, the game scales with you which means that higher level enemies drop the higher level loot and so on. As you can imagine, it is a constant battle to keep up to date with your gear – spending what seems like forever post mission rifling through all the shit you have accumulated and comparing, then breaking down and selling, then buying and comparing then swapping and reattaching mods (you can mod weapons) and each action performed changes the numbers and as I watch on, unblinking and salivating I finally make my numbers a little higher. Then it’s back out into New York for another sweet fix of Tom Clancy’s: Excel Spreadsheet.

 It is a game designed for you to sink hours upon hours in, to keep its world persistent. That suits me fine I guess since I only allocate gaming time to play with my friends and because of that, I get the bonus dynamic of bitterness and competitive sass. If my friend finds a gun that shoots bigger numbers than mine well, I will tell you now that I am cold and bitterly sarcastic about it. It works for me and them both; it keeps us active in The Division. We keep connected through the party system (I play on PS4) but even if we didn’t, the matchmaking in game is incredibly simple and is constantly offering the single press of a button to get the ball rolling. You hit a menu, click a name and join a group. Bam. Done. You start a mission and the other player can jump right in by holding down the thumb stick and whoosh, we’re all pals together again. The loading times are fairly short (in comparison to most games) and you can get right into the action with little holding you back.

Extraction

There is one more place out there in New York; the walled off quarantine zone at the heart of the city. The Dark Zone. Despite sounding like a sex offenders chat room, the Dark Zone is an absolute landmark in multiplayer gaming. It is a place that sees the player not only tackle a tougher breed of your standard enemy but also sees you potentially facing off against other players for bigger and better rewards. It is a place where every maverick cop from every maverick cop film would settle down since the streets are paved with broken glass and rule books.

 The big draw to the Dark Zone is that it offers some of the best numbers in the game for you to obtain. Be it through fighting a wave of Cleaners or sniping another player. Your end may justify the means. Be warned though that the enemies here are significantly more difficult to take down than your average singe-player thug and they rarely walk alone here. You will need your team to watch your back since if you die here, you will lose experience and all the gear you were carrying as well as some currency and even Dark Zone keys (used to unlock Dark Zone chests duh). The level system here runs parallel to your main story level and the cap is extended to level 50 opposed to the main games 30. This I guess is to provide a place for all the people finished with the main game and simply looking to profit from being a sneaky little dick post completion.

 Should you target other players (and I highly recommend you do) you must know that once doing so will send you into Rogue Agent status and suddenly you are Will Smith in that film about being watched by the government. You will be surprised at how quickly groups of other agents will descend on your position and start hammering you with bullets so it’s best to either run until your incognito again or grab your friends and stand your ground. This mechanic does a world of good for the overall experience of the Dark Zone since it begs the question of who can be trusted.

 Each bit of gear you collect there can only be extracted by helicopter since it’s all contaminated and helicopters are famous for their vaccinating properties, so if you are loaded up with gear and want it out of there, you need to find an extraction point, kill every enemy there, then fire up a flare and wait for every single person that saw it to come running to your position and make you feel edgy as shit. It is a fantastic element that I can’t state enough, it really is a test of wills as you and your group circle one spot and shift from cover to cover, constantly believing that the two agents just arriving are planning to throw down a turret and cause a nuisance. It is risk vs reward and though sometimes the risk won’t seem worth it, I always find that the following firefight I create trying to rob somebody is a hell of a lot more fun than just bumbling over to the chopper and waving off your gear with a smile.

 Log Out

It is difficult to say if this a game for the non-gamer, for somebody looking for the elusive gem that is a video-game elevating the medium to art. It is Escape from New York without the escape and four Kurt Russell’s. It is however a brilliant new IP from one the industries biggest developers. It is a style of game built to hook the masses and have them play until they are dead, enticing us with the numbers and its visual allure. It presents solid shooting mechanics and punctuates each fight with an array of skills and abilities to be utilized in the next good fight and leave you and your friends wholly satisfied with your accomplishments. What it lacks in story and character, it more than makes up for with its excellent game-play and detailed world building. Plus, a whole year of DLC has been announced and those who invested in a season-pass will be privy to all the new story content coming this way so who knows, maybe something special will roll out later in year. For now we have the numbers.

We will always have the numbers.

Juice Box Rating – 6 Pints

 

About the Author

Squeezing out every last drop of madness and exporting it in recyclable oblong boxes, because when life gives you lemons, be grateful you got anything at all. And make juice. Then box it.

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