Divide by Exploding Tuba Studios
Divide is a story-driven exploration game that manages to be compelling both in spite and because of what feel like flaws in both game mechanics and presentation. Seemingly designed for PC with its mixture of isometric exploration and hacking, it nonetheless demands the use of a controller, creating an awkward-feeling experience, right off the bat.
Here Comes the Fat Controller
Beginning in media res with an exploration and fight scene, Divide seems intent on irritating players – especially PC players – from the get-go. Coming off like a twin-stick shooter but forbidding players the use of keyboard to move and mouse to aim, it gave me immediate hand-cramps as I attempted uncomfortably to come to grips with controls that were anything but intuitive: one trigger to draw a weapon, another to fire it, and a third button to sprint. A fiddly aiming mechanism didn’t help matters.
After failing the tutorial combat about a half-dozen times, I was ready to throw in the towel, but finally managed through a little caution and a lot of luck to get through the scene (largely by avoiding enemies rather than taking them out), and once I made it to the main plot, things started to pick up.
The control scheme started to feel a bit more comfortable, if never quite natural, and, as it became apparent that Divide isn’t so much a twin-stick shooter as an adventure game with occasional shooting, the burden of its terrible aiming became easier to bear.
Divide isn’t about the fights; it’s about exploring, and more importantly, hacking, and at this it does well. Aiming for simplicity rather than verisimilitude, hacking involves pulling “hashes” from a range of computer terminals – and even vending machines – with a simple point-and-trigger interface.
Terminals connect to individual servers, which are themselves controlled in groups by “control locus” systems, all of which the player must individually locate and turn on. Get enough hashes, and you can raise your security level, opening new areas to explore.
It sounds more complicated than it is. It really just amounts to running around, looking for the right things to turn on in the correct order.
What elevates it, though, is the presentation, which borrows from Minority Report with augmented reality interfaces that float in mid-air in front of your main character’s view. Realism be damned, it might be the coolest-looking portrayal of cyberpunk computer wizardry in a video game since Invisible, Inc.
The Great Divide
The hacking isn’t the only brilliantly presented part of Divide, either. The visuals are stunning, overall, with intricate isometric environments of hallways, twisting staircases and abandoned laboratories, the AR view adding bits of glowing data, capturing a sense of cyberpunk dystopia. Chris Tilton’s Blade Runner-inspired soundtrack adds to the effect, cinematic and moody and rich, with slow sweeping orchestral touches in a pas de deux with gloomy electronic arpeggios.
The story, on the other hand, is fairly predictable and less compelling than its setting: a modern day widowed father discovers a piece of technology that thrusts him into a dystopian, corporate-controlled future straight out of any number of contemporary young adult science fiction series – or Philip K. Dick, for that matter – and must use the computer-hacking powers of his high-tech contact lenses (seriously, high-tech contect lenses) to find his missing daughter and defeat the evil corporation.
It’s not a bad story, per se, but uneven voice acting and some frankly silly character portraits during expository cut scenes make it hard to take entirely seriously. Between that and the counter-intuitive control scheme, Divide has more than a few marks against it. That said, the joy of exploration and hacking make up for most of its flaws.
Divide is available via the Sony PlayStation Store and Steam.
Watch the official Divide trailer below: