Here at The Experience Bar, we’ve kind of carved out an unspoken understanding of the kind of games each of the barkeeps enjoys and covers. Driving games are covered by Sean, weird indie games are handled by Aston, etc. But every so often, I feel adventurous enough to play a game that exists outside of my comfort zone of single-player FPS’s and indie hits. And when that does occur, I’m usually blessed with gaming experiences that I would not normally have had. Most recently, I had the opportunity to play Exploding Tuba’s debut title, Divide. It’s an isometric, twin-stick adventure game with strong influences from titles like Shadowrun and an emphasis on exploration. Divide isn’t afraid to show its influences – the vestiges of old dungeon crawlers are impossible to ignore as they permeate every aspect of the level design. But despite its ability to invoke some of the qualities that made those retro titles great, it also falls victim to cliches and a forgettable story.
Divide starts out in generic sci-fi fashion. Its protagonist, David, is a single father who is unexpectedly thrown into the world of faceless corporations and conspiracy due to the shadowy past of his deceased wife. It’s actually remarkable how quickly the narrative turns into science-fiction tropes. Allow me to illustrate: the game begins in medias res and serves as a tutorial. Shortly after, the game takes the player to the proper beginning of the story, a train ride with David and his young daughter. Things quickly go awry and David is transported into an unknown world and a conflict that is larger than himself. The plot is contrived and the voice acting is mediocre but the story serves its purpose as a backdrop to the more interesting elements of the game.
Divide isn’t afraid to show its influences – the vestiges of old dungeon crawlers are impossible to ignore
By the time I was playing video games in my youth, isometric titles were on their way out of the spotlight but their contributions of the medium were not forgotten. Titles like Shadowrun and Syndicate helped form the basis of the video games we play today, so it seems fitting that with the resurgence of isometric indie games (like Shadowrun Returns), we would see a title like Divide.
Divide‘s pacing and gameplay are more similar to its inspirations than its contemporaries. It rewards and encourages careful exploration, which I would argue is Divide‘s strongest point. This could be attributed to a couple of things that Exploding Tuba nails. For the most part, Divide takes place in an abandoned research facility (think Aperture Science from Portal or Effect and Cause from Titanfall 2). The atmosphere is absolutely the star of the show here; The lighting is dim and the ruined relics of former lives are scattered throughout. It’s a vending machine and computer terminal galore. Since it takes place almost exclusively indoors, there’s a real sense of isolation and even claustrophobia at times. If you’re a fan of long, dimly-lit corridors, I think you’d feel right at home here. But for the rest of us, there’s a sense of unease that Divide accomplishes well.
This mood-setting is supplemented by the use of David’s SOLUS lenses, a sort of augmented reality contact lens that allows him to see things that he wouldn’t normally be able to see. For the player, this looks like holographic images overlaid onto every surface imaginable. There’s a nice contrast between the lifelessness of the research facility and the bright lighting that comes from SOLUS’s holograms. Splinter Cell Conviction’s use of typography and Dead Space‘s holographic waypoints come to mind. As a gameplay mechanic, David’s augmented reality serves as a sort of a flashlight which helps highlight items of interest. Divide‘s twin-stick control scheme encourages the player to slow down his or her pace and fully utilize David’s perspective in order to interact with objects and his environment. The result is a game that is refreshingly slower-paced than most modern action titles.
The player is given freedom as to how to approach combat scenarios.
Combat also appropriately matches the game’s pacing. The player is given freedom as to how to approach combat scenarios (he or she can openly engage enemies, disable them, or simply outmaneuver them), though there is little incentive for experimentation. David is equipped with a laser pistol that requires careful aim via the right thumbstick. However, out of ease and general laziness, I mostly found myself relying on my AI partners to take out my enemies. At times, dispatching enemies feels like more of an obstacle than a gameplay feature but thankfully, the AI is easy to avoid (by design or otherwise). Divide also features basic hacking mechanics, though David is limited by the usage of an inventory item known as hashes, which introduce some interesting trade-off between playing aggressively and playing conservatively. David is able to use these hashes to hack into computers, open lockers, and disable robotic enemies. But since these abilities are limited by the number of hashes in inventory, a bit of strategy is required by the player to determine when to use them.
In an age of large-scale production values, there are certain aspects we take for granted that are noticeably absent in Divide, notably a decent plot and passable voice acting. But these faults are mostly forgivable as the game’s atmosphere and exploration satisfyingly harken back to the isometric games of yesteryear. There’s a true sense of isolation to be found here and the gameplay is unlike that of most modern video games.
A review copy of Divide was provided to The Experience Bar by Exploding Tuba Studios. It is available exclusively for PS4 and can be purchased through the Playstation Store. Kevin played through the game completely in about 8 hours. For more on our reviews and scoring, you can go here.