After watching the gameplay for the latest in Ubisoft’s host of Tom Clancy games, The Division, I was left feeling a little disappointed. I saw the trailer first, and I was genuinely excited. Generally, the Tom Clancy games have had stronger stories than most military shooters, but that doesn’t take much. This looked like something different. Sure, it’s mostly a gimmick, since it seems like dystopian fiction is what’s in right now. That’s what’s going to sell, so that’s what the powerhouse that Ubisoft is is going to put on the market. And, let’s be honest, just because it’s a gimmick doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome.
Then game the gameplay footage, and I honestly have to say, I was let down. It uses the same color pallet as nearly every other shooter out there – every single shade of gray and some brown thrown in for a little variety. Right from the start, that was a let down for me. That being said, I loved the opening. Based on both the gameplay we’ve seen and the story trailer, it looks like Ubisoft is doing a lot of world building here. This is to be expected, as they’ve done such a good job with it in the past, namely in the Assassin’s Creed games. The intro to the gameplay demo gave us a good look at the US after it’s been decimated by a virus of some sort, and it certainly looks cool.
Then comes the gameplay itself. Aside from a change of setting and a slight graphical upgrade, this could have been Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line, one of last year’s standout games. In many ways, I feel like that hurt the game, at least for me, from the start, because of how much I loved Spec Ops. Unlike many critics, I really, really loved that game, but the last thing I want is more Spec Ops. I don’t want to see a bunch of copy cats popping up all over the place. Granted, The Division doesn’t completely copy Spec Ops, and it incorporates some elements that would seem fresh – had other developers not already used them.
What strikes me as odd is that people are raving about how it’s incorporated RPG elements into a shooter. Seriously, that just strikes me as odd. It’s basically exactly what Dues Ex did. And I’m not talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’m talking about the original Deus Ex game. It was a first person shooter that incorporated RPG elements. Need more examples? Fallout. Mass Effect. So ti’s really not all that innovative after all.
Granted, that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome that we’re seeing these two genres being melded again. I love playing shooters that have a little dash of RPG to mix up the formula a little. It makes the game feel a little more fresh, even it has done before. So that isn’t my problem with The Division, not at all. Actually, my problem with The Division is the fact that it basically takes Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and makes it a third person shooter. Dystopian future? Check. Shooter with ROG elements? Check. Shady government/corporate operatives? Check. Really, it feels too similar to past games.
Sometimes, this works. The best example is probably another game that came out lat year, Dishonored. It’s essentially a scaled down, steampunk version of Skyrim or Oblivion. Most of the gameplay elements are similar, the two games look similar, and they have similar story structures. However, Dishonored mixed up that formula by throwing in a moral choice system, which allowed it to carve out it’s own identity. My biggest fear is that The Division won’t be able to replicate Dishonored’s success. I look at The Division like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Spec Ops: The Line having a kid. I’m sure that we’ll also probably see the main character fall into the pit of insanity.
On the surface, many will probably ask “So what? If you love Spec Ops and Deus Ex so much, why wouldn’t you love The Division?”. First of all: I never said I won’t love The Division. Second: I love both Deus Ex and Spec Ops, but that doesn’t mean I want to have that same experience again. Some games are very similar to other games, but mix up the formula enough to give the gamer a new experience that feels fresh. Could the story in The Division be this variable that changes the formula? It could be. I hope it is, because the story sounds amazing, from what we’ve seen so far. I just can’t see it being too different from what Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Spec Ops: The Line had to offer.
Is true innovation really possible anymore? Yeah, it is, but it’s extraordinarily hard. Therefore, I don’t expect 100% innovation from every game that comes out, because it just isn’t feasible. However, I feel like every game should be able to separate itself from all of the other games on the market. And, so far, Tom Clancy’s The Division doesn’t do that. Is that subject to change? Certainly. I mean, we haven’t really seen a whole lot of the game itself yet. I really want to love The Division, but so far, all I’ve seen is an experience I’ve already had, and don’t necessarily need to have again.