First impressions don’t always have to matter for videogames. A slow start is permissible if it’s followed up with something exciting. Poor visuals can be forgiven if a compelling plot and pitch-perfect worldwide are propping it up. If you’ve made a game like Divide, you’d do well to learn from that, because here lies an example of a badly-executed introduction to a potentially interesting world. One that’s dragged further down by glaring technical issues, and crippling design choices.
Divide’s concept is at least intriguing, a blend of sci-fi cyberpunk ideals with isometric adventure and twin-stick shooter gameplay elements. Divide bravely attempts a merging that, if done correctly, could have the potential to be something quite special. Alas, the concept has not so much as been in the same room as execution here. This is incredibly frustrating because I genuinely believe the intent and passion was there to create something more cohesive and compelling than the result.
You play as David, a man who has been taking solitary care of his daughter since his wife died in an accident. One day, a former associate of his wife requests a meeting with David and his daughter, and the events from this encounter ultimately culminate in David becoming stranded in a strange facility he knows nothing of. Getting to this point, however, is a painful experience.
The actual opening is a flash-forward of David and another character battling their way through a heavily-defended building. After a bit of fumbling due to a lack of obvious instructions, you discover David can turn and aim 360, with aiming on L2, and interaction/shooting confined to R2. This means to even simply shoot a gun, you have to combine the stick and back shoulder buttons in an unwieldy manner. At best it’s fiddly and tiresome. At worst, it becomes incomprehensible frustration incarnate. Mercifully, it’s a brief sample you get handed before the game flashes back to the present with David’s mysterious meeting with his wife’s former colleague, and this segment shows the best and worst of Divide.
The interaction between David and his daughter is often mawkish, cringe-inducing even, but it has brief moments of genuine warmth that fight their way out of contrived writing and labored voice acting. The actual meeting and the events that follow close after provide a bit more stability on the adventure game side, with secretive, sideways statements bringing the intrigue as you go down conversational paths using the same right stick and R2 dynamic you’d been using for shooting and world interaction (whatever you or I may think about the control scheme, there is at least a sense of uniformity to it). It’s a familiar tale (dead person didn’t die like you thought, future-tech cloaked in mystery and wanted by shady corporation etc) that’s told in a largely clunky manner, but holds enough of an interesting mystery/setup to at least will you on a bit further than the opening. I sadly can’t say it does enough to hold the entirety of Divide’s playtime up.
It’s also worth mentioning at this point that the conversations are accompanied by emotive still images of the characters involved in the chat, and they are godawful at effectively representing the dialogue tone. When the voice acting is at its most cloying during father/daughter time, the addition of these stills presents the whole thing as a cheesy parody of what was meant to be. They serve no purpose, and I honestly believe the game would have been better served by omitting them entirely.
After the meeting and subsequent displacement of David, the game switches to the futuristic-looking facility previously mentioned, and the mystery picks up while the game itself begins to descend from what was hardly a great height to begin with. The game requires you to search the facility for clues as to your whereabouts, whilst avoiding patrolling sentry bots. You’ve acquired some snazzy futuristic lenses that seem to share a connection with the building you’re in, and they allow David to hack into various terminals, doors, bots et al around the facility. Sounds good in theory, but as you may have noticed, good theory is about as far as most of Divide’s ideas go.
The aforementioned control setup is badly thought out for the reasons already mentioned, but also because there’s an irritating lack of verticality to combat, even though enemies aren’t blighted with the same problem. It limits your actions in battle, effectively handicapping you in an unreasonable manner. Running is sluggish, making the excess of backtracking you’ll be doing all the more torturous as the game goes on. Throw in unmemorable NPC’s and bland enemies and there’s very little reason to care about the reasons behind the death of David’s wife, or the shady goings on of her former employers. By the time the credits roll ( thankfully only after a few hours) I felt numb to the whole thing.
Visually-speaking there’s a bit more to be positive about. I had accepted the graphical quality of Divide was not going to be spectacular having seen screenshots, but it has moments good and bad. At times the isometric design works wonderfully in tandem with the world design, especially in earlier areas, really nailing a neo-future style. Unfortunately, as with a lot else in Divide, the good is dragged down by a multitude of issues. There’s some jagged edges where they shouldn’t be, and some aggressive frame rate drops that get worse in certain transition areas, but perhaps the most disappointing part is that there’s just a lot of uninspired design work accompanying the good parts. Most of the game is a case of copy/paste future corridors that lack much in the way of an identity. The motivation to finish Divide dwindles the closer you get, and the visual design is just one of the factors.It’s just a shame it was one of the more promising things about the game early on.
There is one thing about Divide does well and remains so throughout, and that’s the soundtrack. A pleasingly slick electro-synth score runs through the game, evoking the intended tone of the sci-fi futurescape far better than the story or visuals manage. It seems a little unfair to suggest it might be wasted on a game like this, but it does feel like a shame the package doesn’t better suit such fine audio delights.
Divide isn’t a terrible game, just one short of backing up its ideas with anything cohesive. I very much wanted to like it, but every new technical and design fault built on top of the last until it was a frustrating, dull chore to actually end the game, and by then the story had fizzled out completely to the point I just did not care about any of the revelatory points that occurred. I was able to look past a poor opening to see the potential beyond it, but that potential is never fulfilled.