It may not be the best-looking indie game of recent months but Disjunction is an absorbing stealth-action game with complex RPG elements.
The level of importance you place on appearances is very likely going to influence your attitude towards Disjunction. Not untypically for an indie game developed by a tiny team, its graphics – which adopt a top-down perspective and bring to mind the 16-bit gaming era – are pretty rudimentary. The same, though, could be said about the likes of the original Metal Gear Solid and Hotline Miami, which are regarded as classics, and Disjunction brings to mind both those games.
Delve beneath Disjunction’s basic visuals and there is plenty of depth to be found. It’s essentially a stealth-action game, where enemies’ vision cones, in particular, bring back memories of early Metal Gear Solid games. But it also contains the workings of a full-blown role-playing game, in that you can upgrade the skills and abilities of the characters you control, favouring your particular play style, and your actions and conversational choices have an influence on how the story plays out.
Disjunction has a mildly cyberpunk vibe: it’s set in New York in 2048, by which time mankind has begun to experiment with cybernetics and an authoritarian government is looking for excuses to supplant the police force with a private military contractor. A sort of refugee camp for the dispossessed, called Central City, has sprung up in Central Park, as the game offers a Trumpian vision of the future – which is understandable given that developer Ape Tribe Games is itself based in New York.
Story-wise, you initially take the reins of Frank Monroe, a private eye brought in to investigate the circumstances by which his friend Lamar, a figurehead in Central City, has been arrested for the alleged shooting of a cop and for possessing Shard, a designer drug sweeping the country. Frank begins to unravel a murky plot involving both private military contractors and gangsters. During the course of the game you control three characters: Frank; Joe, a washed-up boxer with a cybernetic arm whose daughter has died after becoming involved with anti-cybernetics group Humanity Today; and Spider, a female hacker.
You only control one character at a time but each of them has pleasingly different characteristics and gadgets. Frank can heal himself and has a sort of taser which fires electric projectiles, along with a smoke grenade. Joe is the tank, so has extra health and a devastating melee, as well as a stun grenade and the ability to charge enemies. Spider’s melee is relatively weak, but she is very agile and laden with great gadgets: a holo-projector for attracting the attention of enemies, an immobilising grenade, and, best of all, the ability to become invisible for short periods. All the characters also have guns: Frank a revolver, Joe a shotgun, and Spider a submachine gun.
All of the characters’ abilities require energy, so one of the best upgrades to go for is the one which increases the chance of dead or stunned enemies dropping energy cells. It’s vital to search the levels for upgrade kits, allowing you to enhance your favourite gadgets and improve your characters’ weakest attributes. Disjunction’s upgrade path, in keeping with the rest of the game, is simple but mightily effective, in that it really does allow you to focus on a particular play style and tailor each character accordingly.
Disjunction’s gameplay exists in marked contrast to its basic visuals; although it’s pretty simple, it possesses plenty of depth and nuance, along with a pleasing form of rhythm and logic to which you swiftly become attuned. As with all stealth games though, it will often tax your patience. Entering rooms full of enemies for the first time, it pays to hide behind a pillar and observe for a while, working out how to take them down one by one, without running out of the three valuable resources – health, energy and ammo – in the process.
As well as human guards you encounter patrol robots and drones, security cameras which can be disabled if you time your approaches to them correctly, and numerous traps which deliver health-sapping electric shocks. There’s plenty of satisfaction to be had from working out how to move from cover to cover undetected and then taking out enemies at the optimum moment.
The absorbing nature of Disjunction’s gameplay lends itself to multiple playthroughs, since you soon become obsessed with finding the perfect path through each room and seeing how far you can go when eschewing weaponry in favour of non-lethal takedowns. Once you alert the attentions of multiple enemies the chances are that you’ll soon be respawning at the previous checkpoint, although Joe has an ability which temporarily allows him to take loads of damage, so he’s better equipped to take a more action-oriented approach.
Disjunction isn’t perfect. Although most of its, generally exemplary, control system can be remapped, its menu system is tied to a click of the left joystick, which also governs movement, so on the PlayStation 4, whose joystick-clicks are on something of a hair-trigger, you sometimes find yourself clicking into the menu involuntarily.
Your expectations of it should be tempered by the knowledge that it’s a game developed by a tiny studio with very few staff. But Ape Tribe Games has used its resources where they count, in the gameplay and level design, rather than getting side-tracked by the allure of creating fancy visuals.
The result may look unimpressive on the surface, but below that veneer, you will find a proper role-playing game with very addictive gameplay and a surprising amount of depth. If you believe that looks aren’t the be-all and end-all, and have a penchant for stealth games, you should find it all very satisfying indeed.
Disjunction review summary
In Short: A surprisingly deep and absorbing cyberpunk stealth-action role-player that transcends its low-tech visuals and basic presentation.
Pros: Great gadgets and characters, with an enjoyable logic and rhythm to its archetypal stealth-action gameplay. Branching stories and multiple different play styles.
Cons: Unimpressive, old school graphics and sometimes fiddly controls.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Sold Out
Developer: Ape Tribe Games
Release Date: 28th January 2021
Age Rating: 16
By Steve Boxer
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